This one’s an easy post, and it’s quite common, but not like you think. See, sexual harassment by co-workers is one thing, but what if it’s from the customers?
Lots of waitresses flirt their way through tips, and put up with more than they should to get what they can, but I’m not a waitress. I work in a retail store. A large retail store than spends more money on their lawyers every year than I will make in a lifetime. And I am harassed almost daily by customers.
Yesterday I had an incident where a creepy old man put his arm around me and gave me one of those side hugs. I scooted my way into the cartpusher who was standing next to me. I don’t know this old man. I don’t want to know this old man. If I say, “Don’t touch me,” I can only imagine how that would go over, so I have to save it for when it’s really necessary.
What? You thought an old man hugging me was really necessary? It depends. That’s almost considered normal where I work, which is so so sad. I know of one girl in particular who is harassed by one customer that comes in there. Whenever he comes around, her supervisor tells her to run hide/take a break until he leaves. That’s ridiculous. NO workplace should have a policy that stupid. But mine does.
But aside from that, I was surrounded by other customers and co-workers. Yes, I probably should have told him not to touch me. I was more in shock than anything else. Hopefully I’ll be more prepared next time. I mean, don’t get me wrong. If I had been someplace other than work, I would have hit him, yelled at him, and who knows what else. (I’ve been in that position before, and yes, I defended myself quite well without hesitation) But at work? My options are far more limited. But they shouldn’t be.
I asked a big guy I work with as he walked by if the customers ever touch him. Why yes, feminists, they do. Although he did admit it’s not near as much as “we girls up front” have to put up with. I asked other men there. They’ve all had their fair share, some more than any woman I know that works there. One guy had a female customer reach out and grab a handful of buttcheek. She then told him she wanted to take him home with her. He told her he didn’t appreciate what she did and no, he would not go home with her. And unfortunately, that was the end of it.
So here’s the gist. If a person touches you in an unwanted way or says something you don’t appreciate on the street, you are not looked down upon for physically defending yourself or speaking harshly to them. Just imagine if you reacted that way to a customer. This shouldn’t be a problem. Anyone should be allowed to react the exact same way at work as they would in public.
But here’s the other thing. Let’s say I go public with this. Let’s say this guy harasses me to the point I’m one of the ones that has to hide too, and I call news stations. I lose my job. But see, I’m not a millionaire actress who can afford to retire and never work again or sell a book on the whole event just because I’m famous. I’m nobody. I’m the lowest of the low. If I go public and get fired and sue the company and this and that, no one will hire me afterwards. Nobody. Let’s say I win the lottery and sue the company or something. All they have to do is sue me, get all my money, and then I’m still broke and jobless.
And this, folks, is why harassment at work still exists, and always will exist, until the employer allows us to fight back. And this, is why no one talks about what happens.