I’m a cashier. There are a thousand things that I could complain about. The customers with no manners who demand instead of ask that I give them lottery tickets or ignore me to talk incessantly on their cell phone about things that could very obviously wait two minutes. The customers who take their frustrations out on me even though I have nothing to do with the pricing of items or the quality of the produce or the fact that we don’t have a public restroom. The incompetent customers who look right at me standing at a register with no coworkers around and then proceed to go to the other register anyway… and then get mad at me for not helping them despite the line of competent people waiting where I AM standing. It takes a lot to keep smiling and to tell them to have a nice day even though I secretly hope their favorite show gets canceled and they hit every red light on the way home.
But the thing that made writing this post a necessity is the way that female workers get harassed. In the past almost-three years that I’ve had this job I have been told I look anything from gorgeous to sexy. I have been asked why I am so dressed up. I have been whistled at because of the red lipstick that is pretty much a normal part of my makeup routine. I have been leered at, winked at, eyed up, asked to dance, asked on dates, asked on exotic trips, and proposed to. I have been warned that a customer is a “bad, bad man” and “I should be careful” as said customer repeatedly pulls his ten dollar bill out of my reach again and again instead of just paying me for his groceries. My favorite instance involved a man making direct eye contact with me as he made his way across the store and set his steak on my counter, and then telling me when I went to put the steak in a bag that he “could tell that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his meat.” And that’s just my own experiences. I’m not even going to go into the times my coworkers have gotten called “as beautiful as a Mediterranean rainbow” or told that if there were no people left on the earth and it needed to be repopulated he would hope that it was my coworker he got to do it with. Or the time that a customer left the store and then called back to give a girl his phone number.
All while I am trapped behind a counter at a job that requires me to be polite to you, because “the customer is always right.” Maybe so, but when it comes to harassment that is simply not the case. When I first started working and I was faced with compliments like this one, my default response was to blush heavily and be embarrassed, and to thank the person. Thank them for their unwelcome advances. Because that’s what we’re all taught by society. Someone gives you a compliment? You thank that person for being kind enough to tell you that you how “gorgeous” you look. Does it make you uncomfortable? Doesn’t matter, they were nice enough to let you know that that lipstick really makes your lips look luscious, even though you have never seen or spoken to them before in your life. And if you don’t thank them, then you’re an ungrateful bitch and suddenly they’re the ones who are all offended as they storm out in a huff.
If you really feel the need to compliment on my appearance, a simple “you look nice today” would suffice. But remarks like that are not required, and I don’t get all dressed up for you. In fact, I don’t get “dressed up” for anyone but myself. I take pride in my appearance and looking nice because it makes me feel good. I don’t put a dress on in the mornings and think “wow, I sure hope all of the old men who come in to buy lottery tickets are impressed.”
“But Sara,” you say, “maybe if you didn’t look so nice all the time this wouldn’t happen to you. Maybe if you didn’t wear the red lipstick or the dresses people wouldn’t say things like that to you.”
I’m going to stop you right there.
First of all, I shouldn’t have to change the way I dress to avoid being harassed. How about I continue on with my day making the choice to wear whatever I want to wear provided it’s tasteful, and you tell the people making the inappropriate comments to knock that off instead. How am I the one in the wrong here, for simply looking nice? Does my outfit give a creep the green light to make a comment on it? No.
Secondly, I can tell you from experience that it does not matter what I wear. In the summer I work work outside in a grill. I wear gym shorts, old sneakers, a t shirt that more often than not has holes in it, and a baseball cap. I usually wake up half an hour before I’m supposed to be there and don’t even bother showering because I’m just going to get gross again anyways. The summer heat combined with a grill, a griddle, and a deep fryer in a small space pretty much guarantees that I’m going to be sweating out of every pore in my body. I rarely wear more makeup than a touch of mascara. And this still happens.
“I didn’t know you had to be a model to work here,” says a man who has to be at least fifty years old and has come to eat lunch with his wife. Sir, it’s 91 degrees outside and my shirt is literally soaked with sweat. My hair hasn’t been washed in at least 24 hours. I smell like burgers and grease. You very obviously do not have to be a model to work here or I would not have this job.
“I like this.” says another man, older than the first, as he tugs on the braid that I hastily and messily put into my hair that morning. Reached through the window, put his hands on my hair, and tugged. I didn’t wear braids the rest of the year.
“We’re giving you a nice tip, and not just for the food,” says a guy my own age as he winks and stuffs a five dollar bill into our tip jar.
Of course I’ve told those higher up than me about this. If someone comes in that I’m uncomfortable with and we know about it in advance, a male employee will gladly stand nearby and assure that these comments don’t happen. Obviously we take every effort to discourage this and to tell customers not to return if it gets too bad. It’s not like no one is concerned for our safety, because that’s not the case at all. But more often than not we have no warning, and most times they’re gone before anything can be done about it. And we shouldn’t need a male employee as a bodyguard. I hate the fact that a female worker is seen as fair game for a customer to say whatever they want to, but the minute a guy steps in suddenly they keep their mouths shut. As much as I appreciate it, I shouldn’t need a man to look out for my well being.
One thing’s for sure, this girl is done putting up with it. I don’t care if you’re 50 or 15, you can bet that the next time you make an inappropriate comment I will tell you just how inappropriate it is. So let’s save me the time and frustration and you the embarrassment and just knock it off, shall we?
I’m not your sweetheart, I’m your cashier. I am there to assist you in paying for your groceries and nothing more.