When I was younger, I never thought I’d be an angry feminist at this age, a feminist, of course, but I never thought that in 2015 I would still have to be calling people out on blatant discrimination.
My oldest daughter was always a very vocal feminist. She was not even two years younger than her older brother and was very used to being compared to him, or being reminded that she was a girl. I think it made her very aware, and slightly angry, at a young age.
My younger daughters, however, like many women in their generation, were not very adamant feminists at first. Having not yet experienced discrimination based on their gender, they thought it was an old issue, something long ago solved by the women of the 1970s. As they entered further into adulthood, they eventually became flabbergasted by some of the outrageous ways they were treated, and by some of the ridiculous comments, even well-meaning comments people made. Before long, they jumped on the feminist train!
This could not have become more apparent for them than it did when they both became servers to pay their way through college. For some reason, different from any other customer service role, men seem to feel they can take liberties with the way they treat women who are serving them drinks and food. My youngest daughter, having grown especially weary of it lately, told me that last night when a man kept calling her “baby” while she was waiting on him, she had enough. She told him if he said it again he would be asked to leave the establishment.
The temptation to avoid conflict is to play it down. People will say “oh he probably didn’t mean anything by it.” In no other role would a man dare to call her baby. If she were his cashier at Hannaford, a lawyer, or a college professor, would he call her baby when speaking with her? So why is it okay if she is bringing you a beer? I experienced this myself, as a waitress in the 80s, but never imagined that my own daughters would have to experience the same, all these years later. I really thought we’d be further along by now. I really did.
Think about it. The next time a man is waiting on you in a restaurant, ponder for a moment calling him baby? How ridiculous does that sound? How about sweetie? Nope, can’t picture that either? Now it may occasionally happen to male servers, in fact, I am sure it sometimes does, but considerably far less than it happens to females. Why do we continue to allow it?
Don’t even get me started on the people who think its okay to touch their server on the arm, or put their arm around their shoulder. You do not even want to hear what I have to say about that!
Sexually harassing your servers at a bar or restaurant is not part of the services they offer. Many young women are too scared, shocked or embarrassed to say anything to customers. Some may worry about losing their job if they do. My daughter is lucky enough to work someplace where the management supports the female staff and would be happy to ask anyone to leave who acts inappropriately. Not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone is that brave.
Terms such as honey, dear, sweetie and all the rest are meant to be used in intimate situations with people we are close to. They are reserved for family, close friends or partners. Using those terms on strangers is demeaning; to both you and the bartender you just called “honey.”
It isn’t always just customers. I am now at the advanced age where younger men and women who are in a customer service role will occasionally call me “sweetie” or “dear.” The first time it happened I was speechless. I feel the same way about caregivers who use the terms for the elderly clients they are taking care of. They may mean well, but they are treating a grown woman or man like a child and it is inappropriate.
There is no place where discrimination is still more blatant than when a woman reports a sexual assault. Take a look at the video Huffington Post posted this week that compares the way a victim is questioned about a robbery with the way victims of sexual assault are often questioned. Watch “If reporting a robbery was like reporting a rape” (“Robbers will be robbers”). Think about the language we use, or allow to be used, every single day.
Think about the message that language is sending our children.It is tempting sometimes to brush off words people say, especially if you know the user did not have ill intent. However, every single time we let someone speak to us inappropriately we are reinforcing the idea that it is no big deal. If we do it in front of our children, we are teaching them that it is okay.
It isn’t okay. It is a big deal, and it won’t end until we call people out on it. We don’t need to be angry or rude, we just need to say, “That is not okay, please don’t do it again.” There is nothing wrong with that. It is okay to defend yourself. It is okay to speak up for the women around you. Some people will have no idea they were even being offensive, and making them aware of that is a good thing. Some people won’t care if they were being offensive but at least you’ve set your own boundaries. You’ve let them know that you won’t tolerate it. You’ve let them know if they continue they could get asked to leave and in turn be embarrassed in front of all their friends. Or they could become the subject of a blog.
Words matter, and so do you. Nothing changes until we change it. Stand up for yourself. Be the voice for the women around you who don’t have the courage to speak. Empower your daughters and sisters and friends to stand up for themselves – every – single – time!