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Tag Archives: sexism

Waitress_taking_an_order

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

by Patti Giuffre

The customer is always right. I found out about this idea soon after I started working as a hostess, and then moved up to be a cocktail waitress, bartender, and food server. I did this work because the managers offered me the job on the spot, and, I took home quite a bit of tip money as a teenager and during my twenties. During most of the shifts that I worked, men customers engaged in sexist or sexual comments or innuendos. Not once in over 8 years in three different restaurants and bars did I say, “You’re making me uncomfortable.” I wanted a big tip! I also didn’t know what to say, and I certainly didn’t want to tell my managers because I thought it would make them uncomfortable and make me (the employee) look bad. I once mentioned a customer who was touching me too much and my manager said, while rolling his eyes, “What do you want me to do about it?” We received the message that the customer is always right in many ways when management sided with customers, no matter how obnoxious their behaviors.

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While the first flight attendants were male and many early airlines had a ban on hiring women, flight attending would eventually become a quintessentially female occupation.  Airline marketers exploited the presence of these female flight attendants.  Based on my reading — especially Phil Tiemeyer‘s Plane Queer and Kathleen Barry’s history of flight attendants’ labor activism — there seem to have been three stages.

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Even after years of studying gender as a sociologist, I was not prepared to see a man in the infant room on my daughters’ first day at a new child care center in August 2011.  I assumed the man was a dad.  When my three year old happily introduced me to “Teacher Adam” the next day, I realized that he was the first male child-care worker I had ever met (thus, my Biblically-based pseudonym for him– “Adam”).  I left the center very pleased that my family had chosen a seemingly progressive child-care facility in the small California city to which we had just moved.

I soon found out that not all of the parents or female staff were so pleased.  These staff and parents believe that men should not care for small children, especially infants, in a child-care facility, and that any man who wants to do so is a pedophile.  Thanks to their beliefs, Adam, the only man ever to be hired in the 25 year history of my daughters’ child-care center, no longer works there.  In fact, he will no longer be able to work with children ever again.

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Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam.  Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her.  When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women.  And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.

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With the new TV show, Pan Am, having been picked up by ABC and BBC2, a recent Guardian article reports on the sexism that continues to face female flight attendants — something that has persisted and been encouraged by airline management, from the 1960s through to today.

The article extensively quotes sociologist Bev Skegg of Goldsmiths university and author of the book Formations of Class and Gender. The article also discusses the sociological concept of aesthetic labor, which it usefully defines as “when employees’ feelings and appearance are turned into commodities.”

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