Sonia Hadj Said
There is a place where men don’t have to grow up if they don’t wish to. A never stopping land of beautiful young girls that will remain young and beautiful. Their smiles will brighten up everyone’s day. Their uniforms, let it be dresses, tight trousers, unisex shirts that will let people wonder what’s in there.
Always happy, like little fairies. Always there, flying all around you with magical plates and cups of food and alcohol. The hospitality world. Never-changing. Never-stopping.
She’s focused on something so not smiling at the moment. Long blond hair and a pretty baby face. She might be making an order, some vodka, juices or crisps perhaps. These seem to be the most important things at bars. Alcohol and crisps or they’ll leave.
He comes up, she gives a brief smile and gets back to work. She’s busy.
‘You should smile more’, her colleague says. The girl raises her eyebrows. ‘Yeah you look prettier then,’ he continues. The girl opens her mouth, then closes it. Walks away.
He is confused. Such a good complement after all. He waves his hand. Ah, them girls.
In “Employee experiences and perceptions of sexual harassment in hospitality: an exploratory study”, Beth H Waudby does interviews with women in hospitality who explain that to them harassment “would be anything that made me uncomfortable; it can be comments as well.”
But in the 21st century, where things like harassment on London transport are being advertised and helplines operating, the danger of being harassed at a workplace is becoming smaller. Women are not afraid to report anyone anymore. Still, what if we were to redefine harassment in a never changing world of catering? Do the same rules apply as well?
They are not considered to be doing an important job while working in hospitality
‘To me harassment is anything that I don’t welcome. It can be a “friendly” hug from my colleague or something that was said. Harassment isn’t only physical and girls keep forgetting that while working in catering, they will always be subjected to it’, said Julie, a 20 year old London student.
Verbal harassment has become a new kind of weapon pointed at women unwilling to put up with unwanted flattery or romance in a workplace. A simple comment or inappropriate vocabulary can be defined as harassment already.
The complexity of such an issue is one that it can’t be simply defined. Words can be a tricky weapon that are hiding behind ‘I was just being flirty’ or ‘that was a joke’.
According to Human Resources Management in the Hospitality Industry, harassment in a workplace “can include a wide range of behaviours that demean, embarrass, humiliate, annoy, alarm, or verbally abuse a person and that are known or would reasonably be expected to be unwelcome”.
If that world doesn’t change, we might have to
Young women are expected to behave in a certain way because they are not considered to be doing an important job while working in hospitality. As if it wasn’t enough that it is a mentally and physically demanding job, there is a constant pressure to be a fountain of happiness and flirtation. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that such behaviour might be confusing to men who feel like their female colleagues are always content.
“I got my very first job in the UK because I had a nice smile”, said Roma, a restaurant waitress. “When you get labelled as a smiley girl, that is how you get on from that point”.
Some believe that the answer could be rejection of all qualities that are seen as girly.
“I learned that if you want to survive and enjoy your work in this world, you have to become one of the guys”, said Sandra, a bartender at Piccadilly Circus. “Swear, make a face, grab them by the balls if they think they can touch you without the consequence. It may not be fair on us, but if that world doesn’t change, we might have to”.
Banner image: Aso Mohammadi