The restaurant industry is full of “the customer isn’t always right” stories — but although they can often be funny, they’re just as often horrifying. Indeed, some of the worst of these kinds of stories highlight the magnitude of the problem when it comes to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. That’s what a recent post on the r/TwoXChromosomes subreddit underlines; written by Redditor u/alymday, it describes an experience she recently had working at a “cute little diner in a college town.” But although the incident itself is worth examining as an example of rape culture in action, it’s actually u/alymday’s boss’s reaction to the whole thing that’s the important part. It shows what employers can and should do when their employees report experiencing sexual harassment at work — and it shows what we can all do every day to put a stop not only to rape culture, but also to the culture of silence that too frequently allows it to flourish.
According to u/alymday, the incident occurred on Nov. 1 — the day after Halloween. One of the diner’s regular customers came in... but he wasn’t the kind of regular you look forward to when you work in a restaurant: u/alymday said he was “always kind of rude and creepy in the way that he’d stare at you and look you up and down all while you’re preparing his food.” (I don’t know about you, but for me, that goes beyond “kind of rude and creepy” and lands squarely in “WTF is wrong with you?!”territory.) When u/alymday was taking this guy’s order, he asked her if she had dressed up for Halloween. She answered no — only to have him reply, “Good, you shouldn’t. It should be called slut-o-ween. I saw girls last night that looked like they needed to be sexually assaulted, they’re literally asking for it when they dress like that.”
Yeah. That. Cue the jaw-drop, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who had that reaction to someone actually saying that out loud to someone, and thinking it’s totally OK to do so.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! And it gets even worse. According to u/alymday, the man continued, “I mean, it’s good that you don’t dress like that because you seem nice, but I’m sure your boyfriend wouldn’t mind it, I know I wouldn’t if I were him. I wouldn’t want my step-daughter to dress like that, though.”
U/alymday wrote that she was “truly shocked” by this whole nightmare of a comment — and it’s no wonder. If a “How To Create Your Very Own Rape Culture” handbook existed, what this “regular” said would tick off every box on the list:
- Slut-shaming (“slut-o-ween,” “I wouldn’t want my step-daughter to dress like that”);
- Using someone’s wardrobe as an excuse for sexual assault (“looked like they needed to be sexually assaulted”);
- Victim-blaming (“asking for it when they dress like that”);
- Sexual harassment (“your boyfriend wouldn’t mind it,” “I know I wouldn’t [mind it] if I were him”);
- Parenting tropes that reinforce rape culture (the step-daughter comment again);
- And one of the worst incarnations of the phrase, “As a father of daughters” (again, the step-daughter thing).
Horrified and grossed out (and, I mean, SAME), u/alymday wrote that she stayed out of sight in the back of the diner and until the customer left. She made one of her male coworkers bring the guy his order when it was up, and she didn’t let any of the other women she was working with — who were only 16 — near him.
However, this is one of those (depressingly) rare occasions where there’s a happy ending to the story: Two days later, wrote u/alymday, someone had told the owner of the diner what had happened — and she wasn’t just going to let it go. As it turned out, the owner knew that the “regular” owned a business located just a few blocks away from the diner — so she “immediately walked over there, walked straight into his store, and chewed him out, in front of his customers and all,” according to u/alymday. The owner told him he was no longer welcome at the diner, and that he was “disgusting” for talking to women the way that he did.
It’s the final paragraph of the Reddit post, though, that really underlines the issue here. Wrote u/alymday:
As u/alymday noted, this wasn’t just an isolated incident; she’d experienced it time and time again, and virtually none of her managers (or anyone else) had ever done anything to put a stop to it. It was just considered the norm — to everyone: To the employees who experienced it; to the people who worked with and managed them; to the people witnessing the behavior; and, of course, to the people perpetrating the harassment.
That’s the big picture, too: It’s never just an isolated incident. It happens all the time.
If #MeToo demonstrates nothing else — and, flawed as it is, the movement has demonstrated plenty — it’s that women experience harassment at work disproportionately, and in every industry imaginable. The restaurant industry is particularly bad, too; as the 2014 report The Glass Floor: Sexual Harassment in the Restaurant Industry found, a whopping 80 percent of women working in restaurants reported experiencing sexual harassment from customers on the job. (55 percent of men reported experiencing it from customers, as well, which is also not a great figure; again, though, what the report shows is that women experience it disproportionately. There aren't stats for nonbinary people, but there should be — hopefully future editions of this report will be more inclusive.)
What’s more, u/alymday’s boss’ reaction to her employee being harassed shouldn’t be the exception — it should be the rule. This is what #MeToo is working towards: A world where, when harassment happens, it’s taken seriously, investigated when necessary, and appropriate actions taken to ensure that it never happens again.A world where this reaction isn’t rare. A world where those who harass others experience consequences for their actions.
Of course, those goals aren’t the end game; they’re working towards something, too. They’re working towards a world where sexual harassment is so rare that it is considered the exception instead of the rule — and, hopefully, where it eventually simply doesn’t happen at all.