“I’m not saying that…” and “No offense, but…”

14 07 2009

If you have to follow up or preface a statement with either of these statements, you are probably saying something stupid.

The other day, the head chef at the restaurant I work at delivered a lecture to the staff about women’s clothing.  He said something to this effect.

I want you all to come in here fully in uniform…

Well, that makes sense!  It certainly looks unprofessional for servers to come into work half in uniform, shirt un-tucked, and with their hair messy.  But instead of focusing on the obvious, he went on to single out the female waitstaff as the problem, following up his comment with this:

If you girls come in here in tank tops and shorts and one of my cooks makes some sort of comment, then I have to fire one of my guys.  You can avoid the whole thing by just wearing your uniform.  …I’m not saying that you deserve those comments because of what you were wearing, but you can just avoid the whole problem in the first place.

Having not lived one day as a female waitress (and given the offensive, sexist comments that he spews constantly), I was not the least bit surprised by his mentality.  This particular chef feels completely comfortable arriving at and leaving work in his street clothes with no fear of harassment or insulting comments.  It is troubling that he sees it as an inconvenience that he has to fire one of his staff for sexual harassment, when in fact the ones who should feel inconvenienced are the people on the staff who endure such remarks.  Also, I have heard plenty of offensive comments, threats, and inappropriate and unwanted grabbing by employees and even managers, but never in my year of employment at this restaurant have I seen anyone fired for sexual harassment.

Of course, clothing has nothing to do with the problem of harassment at the restaurant.  My uniform consists of a hideous combination of a man’s dress shirt, tie, dress pants, and a long black apron.  However, women on the staff are sexually harassed and treated inappropriately not only by some male staff, but by some managers and chefs as well.

It’s also sad that among the people in the room (probably about twenty), nobody (including myself) challenged him.  Heaped on top of his hetero male privilege, this chef is my boss, and thus I am caught in a tedious position.  Do I confront stupidity when I hear it, even at the risk of my job?  Or do I let the moment pass, and thus let this person maintain their power at the expense of my beliefs?  Strange that he would champion uniforms as our defense against sexual harassment.  I left the situation feeling even more powerless.

This is a subject that feminist2 and I have been discussing a lot lately.  When is the argument simply “not worth it?”  Is it always worth it?   How do we function when we must confront people in power?  Is there a way to work in a feminist way from within the power hierarchy, or must we live with the risks of upsetting the structure, even in our daily lives?  For more on a similar subject, refer back to feminist2’s post on how to have constructive feminist discussions with friends and family.



One response

14 07 2009

Adding on to feminist1’s opening sentence, if you have to preface your sentence with statements like “I’m not racist, but”, “I’m not sexist, but” or “I’m not against gay people or anything, but”, etc., chances are you are probably going to say something stupid as well. People seem to have no problem saying racist, sexist, homophobic comments as long as they aren’t called racist, sexist or homophobic.

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