Photo Credit: Upsurve
Article by Joshua Greenberg
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandals, several high profile industries have come under fire for allowing a system of discrimination and sexual misconduct to haunt the professional careers of women. Because so many of these stories have addressed the careers of prominent men, it is important to recognize this damning trend in industries that are far less visible. In December, the New York Times published an article regarding the rampant sexual abuse that occurred in Ford manufacturing plants in Chicago.
This is far from the only industry where abuse or misconduct may occur, however. The restaurant industry is bursting with high energy, tense moments, and dynamic interaction between coworkers. Communication is required for any sort of professional success, and for some, it leads to unwanted advances by coworkers and guests.
A hostess at a popular Baltimore restaurant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job, described inappropriate innuendo and sexual remarks throughout the course of her time there. She is called “big booty Judy” and “snack” by coworkers. “[A coworker] asked me if I f***** black guys, I said ‘it’s none of your business but yes,’ and he said ‘well I’ll try not to let that ruin my image of you.”
These remarks have been made by coworkers alone, but the extent of the misconduct does not stop there. “A man once gave me five dollars for wearing tights, he said it’s flattering when a woman wears nylons, I wasn’t even wearing tights.”
The restaurant in question, one of Baltimore Magazine’s “50 Best Restaurants”, is not informal in its presentation. The staff is courteous, the décor is tasteful, and the food is rather expensive. The setting, however, has no bearing on the conduct of its employees. Restaurants thrive on the appearance of professionalism to mask the chaos in the background. It is no wonder that the industry has gone for so long without much scrutiny.
Miranda Janello, a four year veteran waitress, has experienced innumerable instances of harassment by staff and guests alike. “The dishwashers will send the girls messages saying ‘you’re so beautiful, let’s hang out’ – like repeated messages. One of the kitchen staff tried to grind with me, he came over and put his hands on my hips.”
Ms. Janello is 20 years old, but the harassment is not exclusive to women of her age. When asked if anyone else was the subject of harassment, she said “Definitely the underage girls who work – the 16 or 17 year olds – the rate of harassment is equal among everyone.” Some of the girls had complained to the owner about the behavior of the staff, which resulted in a stern “talking to” for the dishwashers, but no termination.
Every industry deals with inappropriate behavior differently, a problem becomes systemic when the industry leaders are responsible for the proliferation of such behavior. The hostess who spoke anonymously felt uncomfortable breaching the subject with her bosses, “I’ve never felt comfortable telling anybody about the stuff coworkers do – I just laugh it off. That’s how I deal with things that are uncomfortable. [My boss] is a little creepy too, he doesn’t want customers being creepy to me, but if a coworker would say weird sh** to me, [my boss] would be like ‘just ignore him.’”
How to address sexual misconduct in an industry that relies so heavily on interpersonal communication is a vexing problem. The first step may be to address whatever system remains in place that keeps these women from sharing their stories. What is clear, however, is saying “just ignore him,” is not a satisfactory solution.