For many of us, prior to the #metoo movement, speaking out about our own personal encounters with sexism and abuse across many sectors felt taboo. It was often frowned upon to speak up and outwards against this kind of behaviour that has been accepted for decades. Women are often shunned into silence, and made to feel worth less than how much they are actually worth. This is not a piece to man shame or blame anyone for anything, other than to highlight the kind of behaviour some women face in the hospitality industry.
From the age of 15, I have always been the people pleaser but I have been bullied since I was young and defenceless for bizarre details such as my hairstyles, not having the latest backpack or because I had braces. Those things stick with you, and even now at the age of 25 when someone comments on my appearance I shrivel back into my shell of feeling powerless and unprotected. As I moved up throughout my professional career, I always sought out a working environment in which I felt safe and looked after. I’ve matured into a much more confident and social type of woman, bubbly with conversation, speaking to strangers and building friendships always came as a second nature.
When I entered the world of hospitality nearly 3 years ago, the buzzing nightlife and fast paced environment was next to none, the freeing feeling of listening to fascinating stories from different people from various walks of life, felt inspired. I often worked long hours, and even longer shifts but with a twinkle in my eye and pep in my step because this type of work never got boring for me. Someone new every day to speak to and swap stories, which was very much appreciated, I had a smile on my face for the world to see. Like most women before me, the odd comment from drunken men isn’t enough to make us feel unnerved, I shrugged off the lingering feeling that filled my entire being and replied simply with a weakened smile “thank you”.
This has become a repeated pattern, what began as flattery has turned sour, at lightning speed. Standing behind a bar, serving drinks at a click of fingers, I began to slowly but surely withdraw back into my shell, my safe haven. I regressed and became the tight lipped girl I once was throughout my teenage years. When I first began working in the hospitality sector I showed up for work neatly presented in a clean cut uniform, fresh hair and a light touch of make up to cover some dark circles and a soft touch of highlight to brighten my complexion. As the feminist in me would say, regardless of dress code, make up or hairstyle, I was not “asking for it”. I did not ask for the glances, the winks, the disgusting comments on my shape or size.
A survey in February 2018 found that almost 81% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. The survey, created by the non profit group ‘Stop Street Harassment’, also found out the locations of such harassment. Not surprisingly 35% of these experiences happened within the work place. These figures suggest that workplaces are not safe spaces for women, and not only for bar staff like myself, it is a global pandemic.
My eyes have been opened to the kind of abuse women receive while in the work place, as well as the problem of sexism. The comments grew more frequent and during one incident a member of the public placed their hands on me in a upsetting fashion – I knew it was time to find my voice. The voice I have had in my soul all my life ignited throughout my being and I emerged from my shell, with my head held high and ready to make a change within my work environment. In the past, I would have let an incident like this slide, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had enough of the staring, snide remarks and this was a step too far. I thought I would be met with scoffs and anger but the response I got when I spoke out against this behaviour was a warm, welcoming one. The perpetrator was put in their place and removed from the premises and since then they have stayed well clear from me as requested.
I felt like myself again, the confident woman I always have been, on the journey to rebuke these actions from certain individuals, to stand proudly as a strong woman who sets boundaries and will not take any ill action. While this experience wasn’t the most pleasant, it was an eye opening part of my career in hospitality that I have learned from. This has instilled in me my own core values that I must practice each day and remind myself to stand up and more importantly speak out against such behaviour. The compliments, and the pet names and staring, may seem harmless and “just giving you a compliment” but it is also vital to remember it is not necessary. The impact this can have on a person’s mental health and well being while at work is often detrimental. I often felt like a spectacle for the male gaze, I changed my appearance and often came to work without any make up or fresh hair because I was afraid of being preyed upon by the next male that entered the bar. The fear was what made me not want to come to work, often hiding out the back and being short with new comers to avoid any sort of unwanted attention. Flash-forward months later and the fear and dread of such behaviour has disappeared. I have come back stronger to my work place with my shoulders back and voice confident. I am able to handle any situation, I continue on, more powerful than ever.
This piece is by Caitlain Rafferety. Follow her on Twitter @Crafferty11
Once upon a time there was a girl called Claire.
Claire had not yet had children. Claire harboured dreams of being a rich and successful Solicitor. Claire and her future husband figured that Claire would be the main breadwinner. They figured they’d have children but never thought much more about it than that. Everyone knows childcare is super expensive, but sure you just get on with it, right?
I can remember after I had my eldest son in 2011, we decided to put him into daycare as it wouldn’t be fair to ask the grandparents to look after him. We had heard this wonderful information that if you earn under £40k you got 70% of your childcare covered by the mysterious entity that is Tax Credits. Of course, you can’t actually find out what you get until you embark on a course of action and submit your application.
Imagine our horror when we got our letter informing us we were getting the grand total of basically nada.
Cue some very frantic conversations with grandparents- ‘eh, remember that kind offer to help look after our cherubic offspring? That still open? For tomorrow…?’
The Claire who had sort of planned on children was now a full on Mother. I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work, and I hated the thought of being away from him for five days- his grandparents would see him more than me, his mother. So I returned part time, 3 days a week.
I was working as a Solicitor at this stage but it was not quite the fabulously remunerated career of my dreams. I qualified into the recession and my employer took full advantage.
Baby no2 arrived in September 2013. Again, we thought ‘we can’t land TWO children on grandparents!’ and so we thought we’d try to put them in to the daycare attached to the eldest’s playgroup a couple of days a week.
‘Eh, grandparents? Any plans tomorrow?’
At this stage I changed jobs, returning to work in pharmacy- the same money as I was getting as a Solicitor! But less pressure (plus I knew my future lay in a different career, Midwifery).
We have since had baby no3 (and our last). Now I work alternative Sundays. Weekdays are just not feasible as, aside from Childcare, school runs are my nemesis.
We live in a rural area. My two eldest are now in P3 and Nursery School, in two separate rural schools with different finishing times. There is not a school bus that serves where we live either.
Before baby no3 arrived, work was great at allowing me to start later to allow me to get eldest to school and mid
dle child to granny. I saved my breaks to collect eldest and get him deposited with granny & granda (who also look after other grandchildren) & back into work. I scoffed a sandwich as I drove. It was exhausting, particularly when pregnant. However, to now get two school drop offs, a baby dropped off with the grandparents, into work and then two separate school collections? I’d be out more than in!
Yes, I could work weekends but, for me (and I accept this is entirely my own choice) it is important to have some time as a family. The children are only young for a short time, I don’t want all our time together to be in the car and the crazy evening session of homework- dinner- argue over iPads- bed.
Me basically not working is really tough financially. We have gone from getting married and supporting two of us on two full time incomes to now having five of us to support on one income.
It is also tough on me personally- I have worked since I was 16, I enjoy working, so it is strange to be at home. I miss using my brain, having adult conversation and a pee alone. We keep saying I need to work more but then it just boils down to those school runs! Is it fair to ask our parents who are in their 60s & 70s to help?
I am not the only mum in this situation. I know a lot of women who are either in my boat of taking a temporary step back from work, or those who return to work for pretty much no pay once they pay the childcare, just so they don’t slide back down the employment ladder.
I honestly don’t know what the solution is. Yes, it is my choice to have children and no, I do not expect ‘free money’ for being at home with them. There are schemes such as childcare vouchers and tax credits, but the lack of information available to help us make a fully informed decision is really frustrating.
I do think we have work to do to address the value that society attaches- or really, doesn’t attach- to mothers. At the end of the day, we have the wombs, Birth canals, vaginas and breasts- if the human race is to not die off, women are going to continue to be the ones having the babies.
The relationship and attachment between mothers and babies is crucial to the baby’s development. It affects how a baby’s brain is wired. We have seen studies on the effects of neglect on the brain and behaviour. True, it’s not as bad here as America, for example, where mums are back to work at 6 weeks, and no statutory maternity pay! Of course, I am not saying all mums should be staying at home- but it’s not a great situation where we are choosing between staying home, struggling to make ends meet and, at best stalling but possibly setting back, our careers or returning to work for basically no money once we pay childcare but then still being away from our children at an important stage in their lives.
Really, I think traditional notions need challenged- such as a more flexible approach to working hours and conditions. Perhaps taking children to work (where appropriate) and not tying work to standard office hours. Mairi Black, the wonderful Scottish politician (could we trade a few of ours for her?!) recently gave a speech where she outlined the structural problems in our society which explains it well- our economy, our employment, everything was established during a time when men were the only ones working, etc. Now we try to slot women in to these structures and it just doesn’t work.
This post was written by Claire Hackett who blogs as Mummy McMumface over on www.facebook.com/mummymcmumface