Getting Hit On At Work

I know this happens to others, I hear complaints that it happens to waitresses. It happens to me too, and I work in a movie theater, wearing a not-very-sexy uniform (although it is red and shows off how small my waist is). I don’t even wear makeup most of the time. Yet I’ve been hit on six different times. Half of those were by the same guy who won’t leave me alone.

I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t even think I’m allowed to deal with it. I’m pretty sure I can’t bring it up with the management without getting in trouble (I think complaining about the guests is a big no-no), and what would they do? Nothing.

I hate getting hit on at work more than any other circumstance. In a normal setting I can say whatever I feel is necessary, and I can get away. At work I HAVE to be nice and polite and I can’t get away. I tried abandoning the concession stand under the guise of needing to get something in back because one sketchy guy was asking the ticket taker for a pen (never a good sign), and I got in trouble for leaving the stand unattended.I did manage to hide in a closet once, and I could hear the guy pace back and forth outside in the hallway yelling "THAT BITCH!" because I wouldn’t give him my number.

Naturally, there’s the usual blaming (like this article), and my co-workers saying "it’s a compliment" or "aw that’s sweet" or "at least you still got it" (honey I’m 20 years old, of course I do). I’m sorry but "day’um you get better and better every time I see you" (while looking me over and then talking to my ass) is so drenched in slime it’s not going to boost my confidence.

What I also hate is that guys usually tend to take smiling and making eye contact as flirting. When I’m working, I’m not flirting at anyone, I’m just doing my job, we have to show "eyes and smiles" and perform friendly service. I’m sick of guys making comments about my smile. Even strippers are nice to the customers as a job requirement. I’m rarely attracted to the guys who come in, and the few who do are smart enough to know that me smiling isn’t meant to invite anyone to do anything other than order popcorn or report a concern.

All in all, I’m sick of it. Really frickin sick of being hit on at work. It’s one of the more disgusting parts of my job (and I take trash down to the compactor, sweep bathrooms, clean up vomit, and pick up garbage left behind by lazy theater-goers) and I wish there was something I was allowed to do about it. After all, sexual harassment isn’t any better when it’s perpetrated by customers rather than co-workers.

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31 Comments

  1. SamLL
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Sounds very much like a ‘hostile work environment’ to me and falling squarely under sexual harassment.
    If you were to mention this to your direct supervisor, being sure to use the exact phrases ‘hostile work environment’ and ‘feels like sexual harassment’, any sane and well-trained manager would jump three feet in the air and do their damnedest to straighten out the problem. (They’re responsible for providing you with a safe work environment.)
    Of course, there are a dearth of sane and well-trained managers in the world :/
    If you were to actually go have this conversation and they totally blew you off (or came up with some kind of retribution!), I think you would have grounds for having a free chat with a lawyer who knows more about these things, although I have to imagine that path would be full of its own headaches.
    Best wishes to you.

  2. kandela
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    From the link: “2 Consider the possibility that you may be inviting such attention. What makes you different from other people to whom no one pays attention? Could you be dressing too provocatively? Perhaps you are not dressing provocatively enough.
    WTH!? You could be inviting attention by “not dressing provocatively enough.” That’s a new one to me. That article is rediculous in so many ways.

  3. kandela
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    When you have this chat with your supervisor, in particular you might want to ask what action they feel is appropriate for dealing with the repeat offenders.

  4. Wren
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    My goodness. My heart goes out to you. Nobody deserves to feel that way, especially not at work. The worst part is there probably is no satisfying solution. Definitely talk to a manager (or even higher up if your place is a chain and the manager is not sympathetic), especially about the repeat offenders. Seriously? Yelling “bitch” in the hallway? That definitely qualifies as harassment and an unsafe work environment and your manager is required by law to do something about it.
    And it goes without saying we’re always here for you to vent to. Hugs! Hope things get better for you.

  5. TiernaFeminista
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    This IS sexual harassment. Harassment can be perpetrated by customers, co-workers, or ANYONE that you come into contact with in your workplace that makes you feel uncomfortable and/or creates a hostile work environment. Usually, one time incidents are not considered harassment, but it looks like this is repeated behavior that needs to be addressed for your well-being in your work place. Too often women deal with this and have to end up quitting their jobs because of behavior like this, but it is the responsibility of your employer to deal with this situation.
    That being said, you have every right to complain, and your supervisor has a legal liability to do something about it. If your supervisor doesn’t do anything about it, or if you get in trouble for reporting it, both of those actions can be considered retaliation. You can file discrimination complaints about both Sexual Harassment and Retaliation with local or federal agencies if nothing is taken care of by your employer.
    If you want to let me know your state, I could give you the phone number to a local agency that could ultimately take a complaint, or talk to you about what is going on and perhaps direct you to free legal advice.
    If you wish to email me, my email is tiernafeminista[at]gmail[dot]com.

  6. TD
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t even think I’m allowed to deal with it. I’m pretty sure I can’t bring it up with the management without getting in trouble (I think complaining about the guests is a big no-no), and what would they do? Nothing.
    Actually your manager is obligated to handle the situation. If you are worried about your employment, contact your state and/or local branch of the federal department of labor for advice. They should likely be your first stop, in addition there are labor law websites which can give you detailed information about state and federal laws.

  7. Athenia
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Honestly, in places like movie theaters, they normally dislike customers who are unruly and cause problems.
    I would definitely notify your supervisor about that particular patron. Once they see that you’ve notified your manager, they’ll see that they can’t get away with harrassing you cuz you’re “just” a ticket girl.

  8. Athenia
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    One more thing, when you talk to your supervisor, I wouldn’t say, “I hate it when people hit on me” I would “Certain patrons make me feel unsafe.”
    The last thing the theater wants is some crazy patron attacking you in the parking lot or something.

  9. Brianna G
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Definitely talk to your manager, especially as regards repeat offenders. The truth is, there’s little they will be able to do about the occasional harasser, unless there is a position you can do that doesn’t involve direct customer interaction– a young woman in a service job with direct customer interaction is bound to have some problems. However, if someone is repeatedly harassing you, you should talk to the manager, point out that the individual makes you very uncomfortable, and you feel it is borderline stalking and very aggressive. The theater won’t loose much money by telling off and kicking out a single guy for harassing their staff, at least compared to the result of a possible lawsuit from you.
    As for the rest of them– if there’s no pattern, it’s harder. If your manager seems receptive to helping you with the really bad guy, ask them what you can say that will make it clear to the customer you aren’t interested without getting you in trouble. They may be able to help you.
    If the manager is not receptive, honestly? It sounds horrible and sexist, but if you really need this job and can’t get another, buy a ring and wear it like a wedding ring at work. While working in service jobs, I found being engaged was a good way to shut down the majority of flirters without hurting their feelings and thus risking a complaint. Note– this would NOT work on the major harasser, if they are really intent on harassing you they won’t be deterred by something little like that. You do need to have your manager handle that situation by speaking to the individual or removing him from the premises.
    Do not be afraid to talk to the manager. Make it clear that you only have a problem with a couple customers and that you feel threatened by very specific actions. Mention in particular the closet situation. Also make it clear that you are interested in staying at your current position and are not looking to immediately kick out every man who flirts with you, just the ones who are repeatedly harassing you or making you feel unsafe. Remember, you aren’t complaining about the guests hitting on you, you are reporting threatening behavior from specific guests.

  10. Comrade Kevin
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that when I was a teenager and beginning to learn all the unwritten rules of properly expressing my feelings of attraction, I made lots of mistakes. But unlike some men, I made a huge effort to learn from them.
    I’ve never really understood why men will continue to use the same tired lines or tactics, when being respectful and understanding would be much more successful strategies.
    But what I will say is that occasionally I’ll confuse friendliness for flirtation, which inevitably puts me in really awkward positions. Fortunately I know enough now to pick up on subtleties and dropped hints to know when I’m barking up the wrong tree. But again, there are just some guys who either don’t get it or don’t want to get it.

  11. Brianna G
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Also, I edited that article for reality.

  12. nattles_thing
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    That link is horrible.
    Under “warnings”: “Avoid hurting someone’s feelings at all costs. The way to turn someone down is not to hurt them.”
    Rejection hurts. There’s almost no way to turn someone down without hurting their feelings, and so this article is basically telling you that you can never turn anyone down, because it might make them sad, and that’s your fault because you don’t want to have sex with them. (And of course, the dude who is chasing you around your place of work calling you a bitch for not giving him your number should never, ever, ever have his feelings hurt. At all costs.)
    If someone is hitting on you in an inappropriate way, their feelings are the least of your concerns. If it’s a customer then you’re in a difficult place and you have to be far more polite than the fuckers deserve, but you should still be able to say no without getting in trouble. If you’re polite and professional and you still get in trouble for turning someone down, you probably have grounds for a lawsuit.

  13. daveNYC
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Report stalker guy to the manager, and watch out, he might eventually move to step two of the stalkers guide to meeting people, which is waiting for you after work. I’d suggest a premptive call to the local police to find out what you shouild do if that happens.
    I’ve no suggestions on what to do with the people who are making eye contact with your ass.

  14. diana84
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    If you can’t go to your manager for help, then you might want to tell the HR person about this.

  15. Maeve
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had experience in the past getting harassed at work as well. The worst time was just a singular encounter, but it was still pretty bad. I was working for a Dollar Store at the time (I won’t name which one), and it was around Halloween, so we were all wearing the costumes to sort of advertise for them. I had picked out the bunny costume, which consisted of a head band with rabbit ears, and a cotton tail to safety pin to my pants.
    One particular customer went through my register, then claimed that he forgot something and asked to keep his bags by my register while he went to go get the other item. I told him that was fine. On his way back through, he went through someone else’s line, and as he leaned over to pick up his bags, he reached up and squeezed the cotton tail and booked it out the door. While technically, he didn’t touch me, it was still pretty shocking and upsetting. I had a female customer in my line when he did that, and she saw the shocked expression on my face and asked if I was okay, of course I said I was fine. I talked to my manager about it later, and she actually laughed. She thought it was funny, which was really frustrating. Thankfully she wasn’t the store manager. I talked to him later and he apologized for her reaction and told me that if something like that happened again to let him know and he’d do what he could.
    Definitely talk to your manager(s) about the repeat guy. Everyone else has given you really good advice and I can’t really add anything to it. I just thought it might help to know you aren’t alone. :-)

  16. looktouch.wordpress.com
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    All customer service jobs are like this.
    It’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor about it and possibly file a complaint with some sort of higher authority (like the police) regarding the one stalker guy.
    Otherwise, it’s simply that *all customer service jobs are like this.* I’m sorry you have to experience it, and I’m sorry any of us have to experience it, and I’m sorry that lots of men (and women) don’t seem to understand the basic point: “At work I HAVE to be nice and polite and I can’t get away.” We should pool our resources and make a public service announcement during the Superbowl.

  17. looktouch.wordpress.com
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Definitely explain the situation to the manager (it’s in his best interest to protect you from creeps like that) and the police (stalkers “move to step two of the stalkers guide to meeting people” and follow you to your car). Be clear with the guy, but don’t talk to him too much and don’t hide from him (you’ll lose your job that way).
    All customer service jobs are like this, and it really doesn’t matter how old you are, what you look like, or what you wear. Men who work customer service jobs get it too, although I think they think about it and deal with it differently and experience it differently. People don’t seem to understand that customer service reps are stuck being nice to you because (as you point out) you’re *at work* and you *have* to be nice. I think women in food service get it the worst, but I’ve never been a barista, bartender or waitress so I can’t say.
    Pretty much no matter what job you choose there’s going to be an element of sexual harassment, but customer service is a wretched place to be because you’re exposed to it all the time and can’t escape to your office or cubicle. The best ways I’ve found to deal with it are to find a good manager and good coworkers because the clientele are always going to be like that. Or option 2, look for a different kind of job.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    I think the article was edited – I didn’t see the worst of it (like “not dressing provocatively” – wtf???)
    It’s very important for ALL workplaces to realize that “customer service” requirements often put women at risk. Smiling, eye contact, even in some cases uniforms, can encourage assholes to stalk service workers. The inability to retort, and the obligation to respond to even rude customers by “being polite”, prevents women from transmitting their lack of consent. If this is a job requirement, then the job itself is putting the worker at risk of sexual harassment.
    This must be thoroughly documented, then presented to a lawyer. You may qualify for legal aid. Document all conversations with administrators, preferably through email follow-up detailing the main points of your complaint and your conversation, to confirm what was said.
    Should you lose your job, you will have a solid case.
    All the best.

  19. MaggieF
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    The worst thing about wikis is also the best. That awful #2 is now very different. For the time being.
    I get hit on at work (discount clothing store) occasionally. Never anything serious, thank goodness. I thank people for compliments and express my disinterest, if I have to, and if they keep going I just focus on being polite but walled-off while I ring them up and get them out of my face.
    It’s important to remember that most of the time they’re harmless. They genuinely think you’re attractive, or they’re trying to impress you by sounding manly and virile (becaue apparently there’s a universe where that’s impressive?), but they’re not a threat. SOME OF THEM CAN BE, so please don’t take this to be glossing over the problem, and if you have repeat offenders you should definitely report them to management.
    But most of these guys don’t read feminist blogs. They don’t ask their sisters or friends how that kind of attention feels. It doesn’t occur to them that you might feel uncomfortable or threatened. It doesn’t excuse their behavior or their inability to think about it for half a second, but it does mean that they’ll generally take no for an answer, and even though they’re super annoying, you don’t need to be afraid of them.
    Again, I’m NOT talking about the guys who keep coming back, or who march around outside screaming at you because you won’t give them your number, or who wait for you after work. Those guys are scary. But your average clueless ass who just thinks he’s entitled to your adoration because he *gasp* paid attention to you deserves as much energy as it takes to roll your eyes and say “Have a great day, sir!”

  20. instrumentjamlord
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    What the others said. You can and should report this. There are laws on the books that ensure a) you don’t have to continue to endure this, b)your boss is required to fix the situation once it’s reported, and c) your boss can’t retaliate. But they are all put in motion by a report.

  21. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I have a suggestion that I suspect is a stupid suggestion, but I just didn’t see it mentioned. What about “That’s very flattering, but no, and never.” Then change the conversation back to popcorn. Can you be nice, yet clear? Since when do guys catch on to subtleties? If you changed the subject you didn’t say no. Some motivated thinking can interpret that as a reason to persist. Guys do get rewarded for persistence sometimes. Sometimes they do get numbers from customer service people. You would be doing them a favor to spell out that this is not going to be one of those times.
    You’d be right to be concerned and share your concern over anyone who does take it badly or persists.

  22. LurkinMerkin
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    James, you shouldn’t call your idea “stupid”, but in my experience, saying “I’m not interested” and then trying to change the subject with that kind of person rarely works. The idea that guys don’t catch on to subtleties is often used to explain why trying to be nice doesn’t work, but straight out saying “I’m not interested” can get you yelled at and called a bitch. Furthermore, I’ve bluntly but politely said “no” to customers hitting on me, only to have them harass me further by following me around asking me to give all my reasons for not being interested in them, and then becoming angry because I’m supposed to take their hounding as a compliment.

  23. Floyd_Fino
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Everytime i hear a woman brag about how much she gets hit on, it just sounds the same as a guy who brags about how many women he’s slept with.

  24. kandela
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    That certainly seems reasonable, but there must be a middle ground. In some cases I know of “maybe later” or similar was meant as no. It can be easy to confuse “maybe later” to mean ‘keep trying’.

  25. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I called it stupid because I suspected that it works great in theory, but that it’s more complicated in real life. Then you went on to prove that. Thanks.
    I totally didn’t take into account the whole concept of “People might get angry when you don’t decide to give them your number based on your friendly customer service relationship.” I’d assume that you’d know you were taking a chance, and accept rejection graciously if you were asking out customer service style people. I would have thought that getting angry was a rare exception.
    I never thought of being hit on as a situation that has the potential to turn scary. I’m going to have to mull over that concept. Thanks for the insight.

  26. Lily A
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Please be nice.
    Yeah, some women do brag about how much they get hit on, and it can be frustrating to hear for any number of reasons.
    But this young woman is obviously distressed and feels unsafe and uncomfortable in her job. She came here looking for advice and guidance, not for someone to tell her she’s being a jerk by “bragging” about her problems. Why insult her and accuse her indirectly of “bragging” when she’s obviously having a hard time? It’s hardly her fault that these men are making her feel uncomfortable, and you’re just adding to the problem.

  27. Lily A
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    “I never thought of being hit on as a situation that has the potential to turn scary.”
    Welcome to a woman’s world.
    I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I really do mean welcome. Almost all women over the age of 12 (and some even younger) have dealt with this type of situation before, and many of us have been through it more times than we can count. Feeling like we’re unsafe in our jobs and in public places is a big barrier to women’s equality, so it’s great to see men starting to understand what it’s like and what the implications are for our lives.

  28. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    James,
    I suspect that a significant subset of men who hit on women service workers are men with limited social skills.
    For these guys, it’s really hard to strike up a conversation with women under ordinary circumstances, which makes the whole regular meeting women and dating thing very hard.
    So, they focus on women who have to talk to them and be nice to them as a condition of employment – that is, service workers.
    For these guys, there is no “accept[ing] rejection graciously” – any rejection gets taken very personally and they get very angry.
    And yes, some of these guys can end up getting really inappropriate and scary
    This is a fact that, as Lilly A pointed out in her reply to you, every woman over middle school age knows very well.
    This ugly social reality is precisely why all employers of service workers need to be proactive and aggressive about protecting their women workers from harassment by male patrons.

  29. jmcopeland
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    4. Keep good hygiene. The worst thing you could do is to stop showering. This will keep people away but may also lead to the loss of your job.
    Is this serious? Who would think to stop showering

  30. MM
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Was this intended to be in response to the OP? Or just intended to be a random observation of your pet-peeves? This post was absolutely not bragging about being hit on, and your interpreting it that way demonstrates a stark inability to listen to other people’s experiences as their own instead of projecting your own insecurities onto them.
    For a lot of women who get hit on all the time, the constant and dehumanizing attention is a major, if not the primary, source of degredation, humiliation, and yes, fear, in their lives. The fact that other people might think it would be awesome to get hit on all the time does not mitigate their experience of this, it only undermines their ability to talk freely about the problems associated this huge source of stress in their lives. Even if you can’t relate to it, being any sort of a reasonable allie requires at least trying to understand someone else’s perspective.
    I recognize that to some people the idea of getting hit on a lot sounds flattering and fun, and I do not berate them for feeling this way as our culture obviously places a lot of value on attractiveness to the opposite sex. I recognize that there are downsides to not receiving attention from members of the opposite sex. But there are also downsides to feeling like you are in a spotlight any time you dare to take your conventionally attractive figure into a public space occupied by men, and expressing that isn’t bragging, its looking for feminist help in a forum designed to provide it.

  31. allegra
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I used to get hit on when I was drenched in French-fry grease, running the drive-thru at a Hardee’s burger joint. I totally agree with you that the workplace is a captive environment (and I’m pretty sure men know this) where you can’t tell somebody who hits on you to fuck off like you normally would; that would be scaring off business. It’s just another way employers expect you to surrender half of your normal rights just for the “right” to a shitty minimum-wage paycheck. And, as we all know, the shittier the pay, the shittier you get treated. And of COURSE men take your smiling as an opportunity to hit on you – because women in public, even when they’re doing their jobs, still only exist for men’s personal enjoyment and public consumption!
    But I would maybe explain some of this to your boss, anyway. I had someone once who wouldn’t leave the drive-thru, he was so intent on getting my phone number, and one of my lady bosses finally chased him away. My bosses were both women and they didn’t want me being hit on, either, because, in the end, it’s just a major distraction and time-waster.
    I currently work at a $10-an-hour temp job (I’m all-but-thesis on my master’s degree in English) where one of our few “benefits” is flexibility for the mothers who work there, the ability to take time off for their kids. Recently our boss flipped out over phone use (the women often pick up the phone during the workday because their kids call, etc.) and told us to either not bring our phones into work or to route our calls through the temp agency (which is obviously stupid and inefficient). The first day after his bitch-fest, a woman sat and watched her phone buzz about six times in an hour, then found out that her son had been wandering around the school for an hour because his after-school activity had been cancelled. :/
    Anyway, like I said, it’s all the bullshit you have to put up with in low-wage jobs.

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