The Not-So-Subtle Sexism Of The Service Industry

I have a name, you know.

I do expect to be treated like a professional woman who is doing her job, a woman who is due respect simply for existing in the world. And yet, when I’m on the floor, I’m a made-up, nameless girl who needs to be set up with men and educated about the ways of the world.

For the first time in my life, my jawbone is riddled with acne, and made worse by my need to pick at it. I cover it with makeup — first with liquid, then with mineral powder. The two products, made by different companies, don't match each other, and leave my face more tan than the rest of me. All that product probably doesn't help my skin heal. I try not to think about that.

My eyes get accents of liner and mascara, top lids only. My lips are stained a deep red, and a generous cloud of dry shampoo settles into my thin hair, keeping it from getting greasy.

My jeans are tight, and show off the curve of my ass. My black shirts are fitted, sometimes low-cut, but always flattering to my figure. The only thing that isn't crafted to maximize my appearance are my non-slip shoes.

Otherwise, I have to look pretty. Pretty girls get better tips.

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In the dining room of my restaurant, I introduce myself to every table, “Hi, I’m Liz and I’ll be taking care of you today,” and yet when someone thanks me for a drink, an entree, or extra napkins, I’m “Honey,” or “Darling.”

I don’t need a name when my purpose is to bring food, drinks, and extra napkins. I don’t need a name because I’m not meant to be personalized, or even a person.

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I’m a woman with a day job as a waitress and a second job as a writer, with a pending divorce and a veritable resume of mental illnesses. I don’t expect any of my guests to know these things. Some ask about my life outside of the restaurant, some don’t.

What I do expect is to be treated like a 27-year-old woman.

I do not expect men to hit on me simply because my job is to be nice to them. I do not expect men of fatherly age to treat me like their daughter, or men of grandfatherly age to treat me like their granddaughter. I do not expect career advice, financial advice, or dating advice.

I do expect to be treated like a professional woman who is doing her job, a woman who is due respect simply for existing in the world. And yet, when I’m on the floor, I’m a made-up, nameless girl who needs to be set up with men and educated about the ways of the world.

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These are the things that go on where everyone can see, but behind the swinging doors, it’s not much different. The serving and kitchen staffs are divided by gender lines. Chances are, if you make food, you’re male, and if you serve food, you’re female — with few exceptions.

And with those divisions come consequences.

If you’re a server, you learn quickly that you have to develop a good relationship with the cooks if you want to be recognized when you speak, answered when you ask a question, or be spoken to in a respectful tone. Most times, this means giving recognition, answers, and respect. Other times, it means more.

Sometimes it means ignoring sexist, racist, or ignorant comments that come from behind the line. Sometimes it means fielding requests for dates or phone numbers. Sometimes it means plastering on a smile when a salacious remark is made about your body or sex life.

Not always. If you’re lucky, not often. But sometimes.

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If you’re a man in the service industry, you don’t have to worry about your hair, makeup, or outfit. So long as you don’t break dress code, you’ll be taken seriously and tipped accordingly.

If you’re a man in the service industry, no one will call you by pet names. They may forget your actual name, but you won’t be diminished with an overly-familiar term of endearment.

If you’re a man in the service industry, you won’t be treated like a potential groom at auction. You won’t be given guidance on your life, as if you don’t know any better. You’ll simply be allowed to do your job.

If you’re a man in the service industry, you have male camaraderie with the mostly-male team of cooks. You don’t encounter disrespect or flat-out harassment because of your gender. You’re treated as an equal.

As a woman in the service industry, I would love to be afforded some of these luxuries. I wish they weren’t considered luxuries at all. I wish that my success was based solely on the quality of my work and and the strength of my character.

But I am a woman in the service industry. I have been for six years. And after all that time, I know better.

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