By Olivia Stringer
I thoroughly enjoy bartending. I enjoy making cocktails, staying for drinks after work, chatting to slightly bevved customers. What I do not love is the inherent sexism which seems to exist in every single alcohol serving establishment in the United Kingdom.
It appears that men (usually middle aged and whom almost always frequent the pub alone) feel that as soon as you place a bar between them and a female member of staff they have the right to treat said female member of staff in any way they see fit – as if being both a bartender and a woman means that you owe these men some sort of extra service.
My first experiences
The first time I experienced this sexism was during the summer I worked in a small pub in the village where I grew up. This pub was the sort of dingy establishment where 99% of the customers were ‘regulars’. These were always lonely old men who, no matter what time I started my shifts (be it 9pm on a Saturday or 1pm on a Monday), could always be found cradling a Guinness in the corner.
One of these men (let us call him ‘Chapsie’) developed a rather disturbing obsession with me. Every day I worked at the pub I was subjected to him asking me to elope with him and to him describing to me, in great detail, how he wanted to bend me over the bar and do obscene things to me. Chapsie was 60 years old and had a wife and kids. When he was not telling me he wanted to f*ck me, he was detailing to me his archaic viewpoints (for example, his belief that a wife should have her husband’s dinner ready for him when he returns from the pub…charming).
Although Chapsie was my most frequent harasser, he was by no means my only one. Men with daughters older than me would become aggressive when I refused to go on dates with them. For some reason my presence behind the bar meant that, in their eyes, I was fair game. One man consistently told me that I would look better without a top on in front of his own wife.
I was twenty-years-old at the time but I have always looked young for my age and many of the men who harassed me found it hard to believe that I was over eighteen years old. I think they liked that.
I distinctly remember one incidence where a man, at least twenty years my senior, told me that I did not look old enough to work behind a bar and then less than five minutes later asked for my number.
The pub landlord was aware of every single disgusting thing that these men said to me but refused to do anything about it. What harm are a few words directed at a temporary member of staff if it means getting to keep valued, paying customers.
Not just the customers
However, it is not only customers who are responsible for the intrinsic sexism found in bar culture. In the last bar that I worked (quite a fancy bar in the centre of Manchester) we were given a list of bar ‘codes’ to learn. I had never heard of these codes before but apparently, they are used quite frequently in the hospitality industry. For example, the code ‘86’ means ‘we have run out of something’, so if I were to say ’86 vodka’ it would mean that we had run out of vodka. ‘50’ means ‘catch this’, ‘200’ means ‘there’s a customer that needs serving’ and so on. One of these codes ‘700’ means that a ‘hot girl’ has just walked into the bar. The other bartenders would shout it often, within ear shot of the women whom they were referring to, sniggering at the cleverness of them being able to objectify these women without them being aware of it. As the only female bartender I found this practice incredibly uncomfortable and unsettling.
Unsurprisingly, I was not the only female member of staff that was unhappy with this ritual. One of my colleagues, a server who I shall refer to as ‘Jess’, complained to the manager after one of the bartenders shouted ‘700’ through her radio whilst she was serving the customer that he was referring to. The manager laughed off this complaint, explaining that the code is just part of ‘traditional bar culture’ and tried to justify its use by claiming that ‘girls say it too’. Never in a million years could I imagine a woman acting in the perverted way that the male members of staff in this bar did. The manager’s response infuriated me.
After Jess’ complaint, every time a male member of staff used the ‘700’ code, they would turn to one of the female members of staff and state “oops we’re not allowed to say that are we, it’s derogatory towards women”. Their words were always dripping with sarcasm.
I am not alone
My experiences are not isolated. In fact, according to a report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, 80% of women working in the hospitality industry have experienced sexual harassment, whilst 37% of all sexual harassment charges filed by women come from the hospitality industry. This is an epidemic and should be treated as so.
The way we are educated on harassment, what is appropriate and how to be respectful must change. This behaviour is gross and damaging, feeding upon archaic toxic masculinity as hints of female subordination remain.
The hospitality industry should be a place where all customers and members of staff feel comfortable, regardless of their race, class or gender and we must ensure that this becomes a reality.