The Waitress Tales: sexual harassment


Written By Carley Bonk, Editor-Elect

Sitting in silence at my desk in The Globe office two weeks ago, I read an article in The New York Times that moved me to tears.

I was waiting to copy edit our last layout for the evening, well after most of our staff had already left. Instead of doing the pile of homework I had stacking up, I decided to peruse “The Tipping Equation,” by Catrin Einhorn and Rachel Abrams instead.

The eye-catching splash page adorning this multimedia layout immediately pulled me in. Reading, hearing and watching women share countless stories of sexual harassment in restaurants kept me engaged to the very end.

This article is the most connected I’ve felt to a story in a long time.

As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for years, I can attest to the fact that sexual harassment is often part of the average work day.

In the wake of the international movement to expose sexual harassment, it is long overdue that we turn our scrutiny to an industry that seemingly normalizes, even encourages sexual harassment from customers, management and coworkers.

The “sex sells food” mentality just isn’t right. It heaps on an extra burden for many workers with too much weight already upon their shoulders.

I don’t think I even realized the amount of sexual harassment I’ve personally dealt with in this type of work environment until I read this. I can’t tell you how many times working in a bar has made me feel uncomfortable, ashamed, frustrated, wishing I could afford to work somewhere that didn’t use the way I looked to sell their product.

The employment of this complete multi-media technique of storytelling packs a bigger punch.

The writers address that precarious boundary waitresses live with regarding their work – dressing themselves up for tips, but not too much to attract unwanted attention or advances from customers.

This is a line I’ve been balancing for years, a realization that saddens me. In this twisted society, women can’t dress themselves up without considering the consequences that may involve. Their bodies aren’t solely their own, but society’s to judge how they feel appropriate. They cast their votes with a percentage of their check.

It’s disgusting that we live in a society where millions of women have to worry about not being able to pay their bills, pay for their education or feed their babies if they speak up for themselves. I’m tired of the way servers are treated.

So many women in this industry realize it at some point – their income relies on the public’s “generosity.” Oftentimes customers can take their “tipping power” to a shameful level, where they make women feel trapped by their harassment just because they need the money to pay their bills or feed their children.

I was filled with gratitude to see The Times tackle sexual harassment in an industry that employs nearly three million people. The field is often filled with young people trying to work their way through getting an education, sacrificing social lives and schoolwork to do so; or single mothers who have to work nights and weekends to bring home the best tips to their children.

Please read this article and remember these brave women’s voices when you go out to eat. Treat the wait-staff like people, not like dolls you own. A server has the responsibility to give you nice, prompt service – not to fulfill your sexual fantasies.