By Jenna Hemsworth
Being female doesn’t define who I am or what I do.
In the bartending community, I’ve noticed massive leaps and bounds in the last five years or so toward vocalisation of gender equality. And, surprisingly, the men are taking the lead on this one. From simple acts such as calling out inappropriate behaviour in a bar when they see it, to penning articles on the importance of feminism in our industry, our male peers are making a concerted effort to make sure women are represented fairly and equally. By all means, I’m not saying that we need men to fight our battles here – I’m just saying that as a unified whole, the message is infinitely stronger than if we were to speak alone.
We’ve all come across those who still insist on acting inappropriately, whose bigoted belief systems will seem impossible to challenge, but speaking up and speaking out is the first step in the re-education and rehabilitation of these toxic and out-dated attitudes. Ask any of your female peers; I am positive they will have a litany of horror stories regarding sexism in the workplace.
The fact is, we work with alcohol, we serve alcohol, and we deal with drunk people on a constant basis; and in an environment where inhibitions are lowered, a lot more problems are likely to surface. A problem such as consent is something we see a lot working behind bars. Keeping our guests safe and providing an environment in which they can enjoy themselves is our priority, so speaking up when we see something that’s not quite right is essential.
In my career, I’ve been highlighted as a ‘female bartender’ more often than I can count. I’ve been outspoken against gender equality in the workplace and more than vocal with my experiences with sexism and discrimination in the workplace and online. I hope that we’re at a point now where my female peers and I don’t need to be referred to as ‘female’ anything, and we don’t have to keep hearing stories of bullying and intimidation, of being relegated to floor staff while the guys ‘man the bar’, or being groped or hit on seen as ‘part of our job’; our position merely nothing more than ‘eye candy’ for our male customers.
The simple act of turning down a man’s advances can escalate to being verbally abused and belittled, as has happened to me on multiple occasions behind the bar. My job is to be friendly, conversational and an entertaining host to my guests. This does not automatically grant consent to be hit on or harassed in any situation. Somehow, when the girl behind the bar is giving you attention and making your drinks, it is seen as an invitation to make unwanted advances.
Rape culture in the bartending community is also something we need to address. Who hasn’t heard of a peer complaining of how they were ‘raped last night’, when they mean they had an incredibly busy service? Rape implies a lack of consent. Doing your job and getting paid for it does not.
I don’t like being referred to as a female bartender. It implies I’m doing a great job in my field despite my gender. My gender doesn’t affect my profession, how I serve people or how I make drinks. So by highlighting my gender in regards to my achievements, you’re insinuating that somehow makes me more or less worthy of praise for excelling in my field. I sometimes wonder if I would be as successful as I am if I were a male, or more so? Am I singled out because I am one of the minority females? Or am I being held back because of my gender?
Honestly, I think it’s time we move on from focussing on this issue altogether and work towards a little bit more respect for everyone across the board.