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Catalogue of a Barmaid: You're not the only one

11th December 2012

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TNS has recently reported on the anonymous blog founded by a female Cambridge University graduate, which details her experiences - including 'sexual harassment, misogynistic behaviour and just plain rudeness from customers on almost every shift.’

Catalogue of a Barmaid, which was started in September 2012, tells of a number of incidents faced by the anonymous bar worker and her co-workers in their time working as barmaids in an unnamed Central London venue.

Just some of the incidents described include being spanked, discussion between customers of the bar staff performing oral sex on them and one man’s objection to the drinks prices being accompanied by the comment "I should be getting a shag too for that price."

It makes for pretty shocking reading and highlights the extent to which misogyny is ingrained in certain facets of our society. However I could relate to almost every word she said.

In my two and half years at university I have spent time working in promotions for student events. I was offered my first job after my time as Social Secretary for my halls committee. The company had been good to be in my time in that role and I had a number of friends who worked for them. I’d heard negative things about promo work and how it was only "fit girls who the bosses wanted to shag" who got employed by them, so I felt pretty pleased to have been offered the job due to my previous hard work rather than my aesthetics. 

Rather naively, and despite having a friend who secured her job after offering ‘these’ and referring to her breasts in face of the question "what can you bring to the role?", I believed this would be the way things would remain. Unfortunately things changed almost immediately. Unlike the author of Catalogue of a Barmaid however, my issues didn’t remain with the customers - the sexism, misogyny and downright rudeness she faced was displayed by my employers more often than by the customers.

When being handed my uniform I was informed I’d been given a small to "show off those bad boys", a rather childish reference to my breasts, but one that didn’t really bother me at the time. I was new to the role, grateful for the opportunity and afraid to speak up. I also thought this was a one off and dismissed it as part of the ‘banter’ that comes with work in such an area.

I was soon to learn incidents like this were common. Working in a managerial position I was one of four managers; I was also the only female. This regularly lead to a number of jokes and derogatory comments about kitchens and sandwiches, all of which I could deal with. I do after all attend a male dominated university and have come to accept these jokes are usually made by the pathetic, the insecure and the downright uneducated.

These comments however were regularly taken further by two of the managers who seemed to think that discussing an imaginary sexual encounter between myself and the two of them as if it were a real possibility was perfectly acceptable. In addition to this they also thought my position as a manager made me ‘one of the lads’ and I was often privy to discussions about the various sex acts they’d like to perform on other members of staff. I was also forced to endure hiring days for new staff where numerous references to particular parts of my body were made along with the suggestion that I was willing to sleep with new male staff. Any objections to this were met with the standard ‘banter’ defence and my male counterparts seemed unaware of how their behaviour in interviews simply perpetuated the dynamic that, as a female member of the team, I was there mainly to be mocked and treated as nothing more than a sex object.

Like the author of the anonymous blog I too faced sexism from customers that was not reprimanded by my bosses or by the bouncers who are there to protect both staff and customers when they feel threatened or uncomfortable. One night whilst working on queue management I dropped my pen on the floor and as I went to retrieve it, one customer in the queue loudly announced in no uncertain terms what he would like to do to my quote ‘tidy backside’ with a certain part of his anatomy. The drunken punters I was surrounded by found it hilarious but I was mortified. In response to my horrified face one of the bouncers told me to ‘cheer up.’ I immediately told him that he shouldn’t have allowed the comment to be made and made it clear that I was disgusted that the customer had been allowed in. The bouncer’s response was based on two things: one, the customer was paying both our wages so I should let it go, and secondly that as a woman I should be complimented by such a comment.

Now I’m no old romantic, I’m well aware that the compliment is a dying art form but surely the modern man’s vocabulary extends beyond ‘I’d like to put my A in your B?" Further to this the bouncer’s response raised a point that is made on Catalogue of a Barmaid: money seems to equal power. Apparently feminism never happened and women are just as much a commodity as they were before the women’s property act of 1872; because the person behind the disgusting comments was a paying customer, I was to accept his comments and carry on about my work as if nothing had happened.

After 11 months of putting up with these incidents I was offered a job at a new venue, with a new team. The novelty of the sexual harassment and having to go into work armed with witty retorts to the misogynistic banter I faced was getting old very fast and I chose to leave. Thankfully my time at the new venue has been much more pleasant. My bosses are now slightly older and far more sensible and also appear to have evolved past the stage of the Neanderthal man. Yet the venue I previously worked for have recently taken on a large number of new staff and it comes as no surprise to me that many of them are pretty young females who I can only hope remain naïve to the fact they’ve probably been employed so their bosses can hit on them.

Clearly my experiences and those detailed on Catalogue of a Barmaid are far more widespread than society cares to recognise and they highlight just how far misogyny is still ingrained in the male psyche even in 2012. I can only hope that the author of Catalogues employers cotton on to who she is and move to address her experiences before she is forced to quit and lose her man source of income. I was lucky enough to be offered another job with better money - not all of us are so fortunate.

Read about Catalogue of a Barmaid here.

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