I’ve just finished my final shift at my first paid job, working part time reducing out of date food for a supermarket. My general experience was faultless– I just want to establish that before I begin (so that this doesn’t affect me reapplying in the future) (and also so that, if you do know who I worked for, you don’t judge them). Blady loved my job. I quit because I had to study, not because of what I’m about to discuss.
Because I was both the youngest and fresh out the employment oven I suddenly became exposed to this world of sexual harassment. I was already familiar with catcalling (often when I was in my school uniform- not weird at all), everyday sexism and the occasional I’m-just-going-to-fall-asleep-in-your-lap-don’t-mind-me on the subway, but I had no idea what kind of timber ft Pitbull was going down in the workplace.
The company I worked for treated men and women almost perfectly equally- the ratio of female:male managers was pretty even and their wages were the same. The only difference was that the women’s shirts had waaay less buttons which left our necks more exposed and exemplified the huge colour difference between my orange foundation and chalk white neck. Oh and we didn’t get ties. As someone who blady loves a tie, this sucked. But, as much as I don’t want to justify their tailoring, these differences are so engrained in society that the company probably doesn’t even realise there’s anything wrong with them. So I’ll let that one lie. What surprised me most was the abundance of harassment from customers, external/temporary staff that were called in for maintenance or security and even the behaviour of a colleague. I’d assumed that because the workplace was full of professionals that it would also be free from sexism: sadly this wasn’t the case. I thought I’d share my experiences not because I want to scare you from working in retail but because it’s important to shed some light on the reality of being a woman at work.
Customers: Anyone who works in retail will hate customers (especially at Christmas, Easter, Halloween, picnic season, jubilees and pretty much every day between the 6-7pm rush hour), but nothing made me more hateful than the comments I’d get from male shoppers. I was told ‘you look good on your knees’ on a weekly basis, when date checking products on the lower shelves.
When working on the till where you carry shopping to cars, I was told ‘aren’t there any men around? You won’t be able to carry it’- just in case you’re curious, it was a two pack of orange juice. ORANGE JUICE. Carrying it isn’t going to kill me.
If I was seen on the shop floor after 9pm, I was told ‘you’re working until 10? You? They shouldn’t be working you this hard‘ as if I having a vagina means I’m under some kind of Special Snowflake Sleeping Beauty Spell which means I have to be in bed by 21:01. Which I am, but only on my terms.
And the worst part it is that, as a representative of a company, you can’t turn around and be like ‘fuck off back to your secret Meninist Twitter account you misogynist pig’ because that’s ‘Bad Customer Service’. Eye roll. So as much as I hate having to call security because there’s a man at my till who’s grabbed my hand and is refusing to leave until I accept one of his tangerines as a token of his love (that is neither a euphemism nor work of fiction. It was a weird day.) I knew, as these people are never called out, it would keep occurring.
Security: The only member of staff who’s literally paid to protect you from harm, you’d think he’d be the person to go to when sexism was going down on the shop floor, right? Wrong. More often than not, security staff were worse than the customers. Most of them were on temporary contracts so they didn’t feel the need to make the effort to, well, not be sexist.
One guard took the ‘rate our service’ cards from the front desk, filled them in as ‘excellent’ and then proceeded to give them to all the female staff. He then asked my friend for her number.
Another guard loitered around me while I reduced bread (which, to clarify, is 10 aisles away from both the entrance and the alcohol aka the only thing worth stealing). At first I thought he was paranoid that someone was going to take a 90p pack of croissants, but then he started asking me questions about how old I was and where I lived. He then asked me to take him to the toilet. I was working an evening shift so I knew he must’ve had to use the loo already (even a super bladder can’t hold it from 7am til 8pm) and even if he hadn’t, he would’ve had a briefing about the facilities when he arrived. Or if not, why didn’t he ask a man? Probably because he didn’t want to check out a man’s arse all the way up the two flights of stairs. NEVER AGAIN.
Colleagues: On the whole, the people you work with are great. They might have annoying af habits like eating with their mouth open in the staffroom so you can see the strands of hoisin duck washing-machining between their lips, or turning their phone on silent so that all the shop’s calls get forwarded to me, but overall they’re lovely. Except from one.
One of the guys I worked with was just too much. He was always hugging me without my consent and I became too uncomfortable to tell him not to after the time when I pushed him away and he merely said ‘it’s not sexual harassment if I’m only trying to make you jump’.
Our age gap was pretty notable yet he made inappropriate comments about my personal life like ‘I bet you’re really dirty on a night out, I bet you flirt with all the boys- I bet you’re not as innocent as you look’ (which is just hilarious because I literally only ever go out in a group of girls and spend the whole time dancing to Sia and feeling myself too much to notice boys). It wasn’t abnormal for him to have opinions on the girl’s sex lives. He told one of my friends ‘I thought you were a virgin’- but why was he thinking of that in the first place?
He also enjoyed undermining me as a professional. I was in the office once with a few other managers and night staff and he started a conversation about how I looked good enough to eat but I was too skinny to fill him up. Everyone started laughing at me being ‘meat-like’ meanwhile I was there like why are you think about eating me? That’s so weird. Why is work so weirdly, grossly sexist?
Obviously, I hope no one relates to experiences like these, but if you do then it would be great to hear from you. Comment below and we can vent together xo