Saturday, March 1, 2008

Feminism is Funny

In my previous life, back in Minnesota when I was a server, I experienced some very sexist behavior while I was at work.

Often, this came from the customers. Because I only bound and lowered my voice half the time I often encountered patronization, physical intimidation, and sex-specific sarcasm when i was presenting as female. At times, jokes and comments from my co-workers bordered on sexism as well but because we were all underpaid and exhausted I never cared too much. Days before my final shift at work, however, I heard of a sexist statement that my manager had made. Now, the owner of the restaurant comes in often but the manager is really the main dude at this place. So when i heard through a female and a male co-worker about a sexist joke the manager had made I was very angry. If I hadn't been leaving soon I probably wouldn't have reported the joke to my owner, but the thought that no one could hurt me because I was already gone gave me the guts to report the joke.

Now, here's the joke: "I might as well throw all these applications away, they're all from women. I'm not going to hire any more women, they're too flighty."

So...the joke is not really scandalous. It's not huge. But it is hurtful. It's hurtful to say it to a male employee in jest, and then to think it's so funny that you repeat it to a female employee. It's hurtful to repeat stereotypes that your employees struggle against everyday. It's hurtful to think that because you're a gay man you can get away with misogyny because you too experience oppression.

When I told the owner he became very angry when he thought the comment was serious even though I specified that the comment was in jest. Once the owner found out through our manager that the comment was a joke, he lost his concern. It was a joke, lighten up. Don't burn your bra.

I seriously believe the only reason they took me seriously is because I was a vocal lesbian female employee (in their eyes) and they didn't want me spreading this news. The reason i want to post about this (almost three months after the incident) is because of the way it was handled and the level of fear I felt while I was trying to get an improvement of behavior out of my manager. My manager apologized that "I took the comment that way" and he said "I love women!" Which, as my female co-worker and I said to each other "what the hell does that mean? That doesn't mean anything." What's more, I took a sexist comment as being sexist? Of course I did, it was sexist - there was no other way to take the comment.

The reason i felt so afraid is because the idea of feminists having no sense of humor is a stereotype we fight against everyday. Now, if the joke had been funny I might have said nothing. But it wasn't clever, the reason he attacked women was to say something "shocking" but repeating myths about women isn't shocking, we hear shit like this all the time. Moreover, at a small place like that people who got on the wrong side of management often found their schedules being changed so that they received poor shift assignments, so that they worked all weekend or only evenings. People had hours cut from their paycheck all the time because management hoped that no one would notice. When female supervisors said we would bring in the outside tables early for closing because we didn't want to be outside alone late at night the management told us our fears were unfounded. When female supervisors complained that we always worked the low-tip evenings while the men worked the high-tip weekends and mornings, we were told it was a compliment to our work ethic. So there was years of sexism (as well as classism and racism) present at this restaurant. Encountering it is terrifying. As a supervisor I knew it was my job to report the sexist remarks, but I still wish someone else had done so.

From then on whenever I, or any other co-worker messed up at work, out of the range of our manager or owner, someone would say "it's because you're so flighty" or "at least you're not a flighty female". Those jokes were funny because it was the underpaid workers of the restaurant using harassment to create a better environment.

The most fucked up part is that everyone apologized to me. Not to my female co-worker or even my male co-worker who had the comments made directly to them. But to me, the supervisor who received the complaint. Clearly my male co-worker didn't feel the hurt of the remark as much as my female co-worker did, but sexism does hurt everyone. He should have received an apology as well, but I bet he and she are still waiting because I know that my former manager still doesn't get why that joke was inappropriate.

1 comment:

Mik Danger said...

My friend David posted this to me elsewhere and I thought I would leave it here as...well...I like praise!

"I really enjoy your blog.

I keep going back to this sentence: 'It's hurtful to think that because you're a gay man you can get away with misogyny because you too experience oppression.'

I hope you're well!"

Thank you, David! This is a topic that is much on my mind and I should probably address directly eventually...