“Accidental” Sexism in the Service Industry
As a young girl in the service industry, unfortunately, experiencing sexism is basically a part of my job description. I work in a movie theatre as a part of an all-white, all-male (except for me, obviously) management team, and the customers never let me forget it. Every time someone asks me “Can I speak to your boss, please?” or “Are you the manager?” — even when I’m standing behind customer service in a suit jacket — I die a little bit inside. They always give my coworkers more respect, stand up straighter when they introduce themselves, or listen to them when they repeat the exact thing that I just told them. For the most part, I don’t think it’s on purpose. Of course, there have been a handful of unpleasant guests that have made their prejudice against women evident, but most of the time, I think it’s purely accidental.
“Oh, I thought he was the manager.”
My favorite story to tell people is about a time when one of my newest employees got mistaken for my boss. He just came in to see a movie that day, so he was wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie. Nothing too special. He was sitting cross-legged on a bench outside of the men’s room and I was talking to him about his day, asking him how he was adjusting to the new job. Meanwhile, I am in my full uniform — gold name tag, suit jacket, and my hair up in a high bun. A gentleman approached us, and simply asked if it was possible to refund his movie ticket, as he wasn’t going to be able to make his showtime. I looked over at him, smile on my face, and said “Of course! I’ll walk you over to our guest service desk.” And then, he looked at me dead in the face, and said, “Oh, I thought he was the manager,” and gestured to the 18 year old boy in sweatpants, sitting on the bench in front of me. I was absolutely floored.
“I’m not going to sit here and listen to a little girl standing behind a desk.”
And, there are other times when customers attempt to patronize me, demean me, or act like they’re tougher than me. One time, a family of five was sent up to me at customer service after trying to take a four year old into a Rated R horror movie. If you know anything about the MPAA regulations, you know that any child, ages six and under, are not allowed into a Rated R film. So, the family comes up to me — furious — stating that they go see Rated R movies all the time, and that they need to be let into the movie. Of course, I apologize and say that they cannot go in, tell them I can give them a refund or tickets into a different movie. The father starts screaming, calling me names, and at the end of his tirade, he yells “This is ridiculous, I’m not going to sit here and listen to a little girl standing behind a desk.” I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t mean to say that out loud, but was definitely too proud to apologize.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. He’s actually a really nice guy!”
And, quite possibly the worst story I have to date — the first time I met my brand new District Manager. I’ve been a manager at this movie theatre since I was a senior in high school, and my location had cycled through about 3 different district managers up until this point. The other ones were very professional, and said hello to me every time I saw them. It was never really much more than that, but I didn’t expect it to be. Last year, it was announced that we were getting a new DM, and that he would be touring all of his new theatres within the week. So, when we were up for the visit, I was the customer service manager for the day. He walked in the front doors, and I recognized him instantly. I smiled, introduced myself, and held out my hand for a handshake. With a straight face, he looks at me and says “Is your general manager here?”, to which I replied “Yes! I’ll go get him for you”. Plainly, he looked at me and said “I’ll find him myself.” I tried to shake it off, but had a really gross feeling lingering after our conversation ended. He was my boss’s boss. He was supposed to be professional. I chalked it up to him just being a little curt, and assumed he treated everyone that way. Boy, was I wrong. I watched him shake hands with the other members of the management team, smile, laugh and have a great time. It made me feel discouraged, and like I wasn’t good enough to be part of the boys club. He asked me questions about the theatre industry, and felt the need to explain to me why I was wrong. He asked my coworker the same question, got the same answer, and responded with a smile and nod. He clearly had no interest in what I had to say. When he left, I told my coworkers about my grievances with him. They responded with a consecutive “I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. He’s actually a really nice guy!”.
After I clocked out that day, I was upset — but not at the blatant sexism from my superior. It was more so the fact that my coworkers didn’t see anything wrong in how he acted towards me. It’s hard feeling patronized by someone in a position much higher than you, but it’s even worse when it comes from the people on the same level as me.
Whether prejudice is on purpose or “accidental”, it still cuts just as deep. Why is it such a wild idea that I, a twenty-something year old woman, can be a supervisor? Or enforce policy just the same as my male counterparts? Or shake the hand of my district manager? Sexism in the service industry will not stop thriving until we take the time to break it with our bare hands. It may take awhile to break into the boys club, but it will happen. We will get there.