‘I’m not your eye candy’: Sexual harassment in the work place plagues college women

By Tessa Brubaker

I feel my cheeks flushing and my heart racing. I tell him to f–k off, but he thinks I’m joking. I feel violated and ashamed, but I brush it off, pretend it didn’t happen and keep cleaning tables. 

I was flirting with him, so it’s probably my fault. So why do I want to puke? I didn’t give him permission to grab my ass like that as I bent over the booth to fill the napkins. 

He grabbed me … underneath. I felt his hand in a place I should never feel unless I’ve consented, especially not in public, at my job, where I am supposed to be safe. A rush of voices in my head drown out my throbbing heartbeat, saying that, as a woman, my actions have consequences; it’s inevitable that men will treat me this way and there is nothing I can do about it.My parents, teachers and coworkers always say “boys will be boys.” I don’t want to cause any problems, so I finish the shift and clock out.

I was working at a diner in my hometown, a classic place where nothing ever changes. It’s stuck in a time warp in which men and boys are never held accountable for their lewd comments, the anxiety they create and the vulnerability they instill. Coworkers and customers sexualized me before I even understood what they were doing or knew how to respond.

Workplace sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual advances, requesting sexual favors or any verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature toward an applicant or employee. It can include anything from inappropriate jokes to unwanted touches. Knowing the definition of sexual harassment is important in order to recognize when it happens.

It’s not just the coworker that grabbed my ass—it’s the customers who make me feel like I can’t turn my back to them without hearing whispers about my body, the older men making comments like, “I’m sure you’re having fun with boys this weekend,” and the manager who laughs when I report the problem. Young women face inappropriate and dangerous behavior while working part-time jobs they need in order to afford expenses like rent and tuition.

Based on data reported by BuzzFeed News, people who work in restaurants experience a higher rate of sexual harassment than any other industry. More than 170,000 sexual assault claims were filed to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1995 and 2016. Out of the claims filed, 83 percent were by women. This doesn’t account for the many cases that went unreported. 

Restaurant employees often rely on tips to earn money, so if a paying customer sexually harasses a worker, the employees and managers may be less inclined to speak out against it.

Women in the service industry are required to be pleasant and personable, which men often interpret as flirting. Waitresses are often scared of losing tip money, so not only are they experiencing sexual harassment from coworkers, but also from customers. 

When women report harassment to management, most of the time, nothing is done to put a stop to it. Anytime I would confront a man about his behavior, I went from being the sweet, young girl to the “moody bitch.” I could never please everyone. 

I’m not your eye candy or a coworker who wants to listen to your sexual frustrations. It is infinitely more discouraging to realize this isn’t just happening in crappy, part-time jobs. Sexual harassment is everywhere. Women need to be able to speak out against sexual harassment without fear of losing tip money or losing their job. 

It is important that women continue to demand to be treated the way we deserve. If someone in your workplace refers to you sexually or makes a joke you don’t appreciate, respond with, “I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way.” If you witness sexual harassment, speak up.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment, it’s not your fault. It’s the product of our toxic and misogynistic culture that needs to change. But until that happens, remember no job is worth the harassment—there’s always another where you can feel respected and safe. Let’s be an advocate for ourselves and other women.