I work as a Server at a fairly conservative, very successful restaurant chain in my very conservative, not as successful small town. For the most part, I really enjoy my job. The customers are friendly and excessively southern; my coworkers are generally cordial and well-meaning. The atmosphere is helpful and family-oriented with an ambience created by 50s “Tack and Feed!” signs and mason jars. It’s a great place to work… until you take your dirty dishes to the dish room.
As I rolled silverware one evening, I was approached by one of the dishwashers (the human kind, not the Maytag variety). He expressed to me that the dishwashers ran the restaurant and that we servers were only useful as something for them, the “real” workers, to look at. I laughed it off, understanding that he was mostly kidding and deserved grace, until later when that same man knelt next to me as I looked for a missing part, a pivotal piece of the all-important juice machine I was tasked with cleaning before I could leave. I explained to him my cause, thinking maybe I could enlist his help, and bent to continue my search. He responded immediately saying, “I didn’t know you was gonna do that, girl. You just bent over right in front of me. It was nice, I liked it”. I sprung to my feet, shocked and mortified. He rose to meet me and my eyes locked on his as I screamed “NO! It is NOT ok to speak to me that way! Do you understand me? Who told you that treating a person like that is alright? Because they lied!” By this point the entire cast of confused and embarrassed servers had stopped to investigate the madness, among them a male manager who stood unmoved and unfeeling. No one said a word as my offender sputtered out some nonsensical excuses, “Girl, girl, it won’t like that” and “what you talking about?”, the usual nothingness. I responded calmly “You will not speak to me like that again and (gesturing to floor) thank you for helping”. Resume business as usual.
I finished my work, fuming and near tears, feeling the weight of every woman who had ever been treated this way. He had literally stopped me from doing my job in order to comment on my body, not metaphorically or proverbially, literally. Not only that, he had informed me earlier that my only real purpose was providing something for he and his fellow dishwashers to look at. But here’s the kicker: I am competent. I am a person. I have an incredible memory and love for language. My mind is both musical and mechanical. I am smart and occasionally funny. I am capable and self-sufficient. I am fearfully and wonderfully made… and you decided to see my butt?! My itty-bitty, less-than-impressive butt?! I weigh 90lbs for goodness sake! When the Lord created me His brushstrokes painted in wit and intelligence and compassion… but when He finished His first statement wasn’t “Damn! That girl’s gonna have a butt worthy of commenting on while on the floor of a chain restaurant looking for a piece of a juice machine”.
I have never felt such objectification and I never want anyone else to feel it again. But if you have felt it, I invite you to comment and share your story. That’s the only reason I wrote this blog piece… I needed to share my story, to know that other people can identify. So please, join in.