T’was an average Tuesday evening at my sprawling cherry wood bar, craft brew and hot wings permeating the air like a Glade plug-in, when a gentleman bearing an uncanny resemblance to the stalker from the movie The Bodyguard bellied up to my bar. I politely and promptly greeted him and served him a pint. Several minutes later, after tending to my other guests and service well tickets, I saw that his brew was diminishing and asked if he’d like another. He leaned forward towards my chest, smacked his lips in a sucking-like motion, and exclaimed, “Mama, feed me!” in a horrifying baby voice. Astonished and filled with rage, I scanned the room and wondered if anyone else had ever had someone come into their workplace and imitate milking their teet. This, my friends, is among the reasons why we lady barkeeps can often gain the reputation of “sassy” or “bitchy” as we bartend, along with a myriad of other challenges women in the inherently sexist service industry face on our daily grind. Slinging drinks and fighting injustice: That’s what we do.
If you’re thinking that this pervy creep a la Bodyguard story must be one in a million, let me enlighten you. Beyond this lovely story, I’ve also had a man tell me, upon greeting, that he would like to “lick my chocolate snowflake and turn it into a winter wonderland.” All I’d asked him was what he’d like to drink. I’ve had someone grab my arm and stroke my tattoos, “What does this one mean?” he asked. Um, that’s assault, brotha. Another fun one was, “Will you be my son’s future ex-stepmother?” — a man amongst a group of construction workers asked. Yes, absolutely! This is actually how I’ve always pictured meeting my future husband — by serving beers to a group of sweaty, intoxicated laborers who carry the misperception that all female bartenders exist as brainless eye candy! Sign me up. But hey, I’m the “bitch” if I say that aloud, right guys? Surprisingly enough, some of the worst sexual harassment I’ve received behind my bar has come from married men. Pro-tip, ladies: Jot down the name on the credit card, look him up on Facebook and shoot his wife a quick blurb about her beloved hub’s bar banter. Mission accomplished.
Outside of the offensive behavior that comes from the persistent notion that all female bartenders must be escorts, the plight of the barmaid extends into the inequity that all women in the workforce face: We have to work twice as hard to get to the same level as our male counterparts. Take the world’s top mixologists: Dale DeGroff from Milk & Honey in London, Colin Field from Hemingway Bar in Paris, Dario Domo from Kahunaville in Vegas. All spectacular men in our field, yet I have a hard time believing that there isn’t a woman dazzling enough to have earned such prominence in the cocktail industry. Even so, when we do get into a great bar gig, we broads are like a shiny object behind the bar. “How on earth did she get there?” or “She must be blowing the bar manager” are a few of my favorites. When I started working at my current place of employment, a guest asked, “How’d you land this gig? It must be because you’re so beautiful.” Yes, please, let’s dismantle any hard work, talent or charisma and chalk it up to the size of my tits.
Alternatively, some people will try their darnedest to compliment you and still take a jab at your career path. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the old, “You aren’t the type I’d expect to be a bartender,” because god forbid someone be college educated, well-spoken and still want to sling drinks. Or there’s also, “What are your dreams?” and “What do you want to do in the future?” Granted, I know that oftentimes bar customers are just trying to strike up a conversation and learn a little more about us — and I love getting to know my guests! — but why is it my responsibility to a) divulge my future aspirations to Bill from Chicago and b) respond to the insulting insinuation that I don’t currently have a “real job”? Truly, does anyone go into your work place and ask these questions?
It’s my belief that the babes of the bar industry are the among the strongest of the lot: Most of us have tough skin and a take no-prisoners attitude WHILE making you feel at home and important in our realm, and continually overcoming the obstacles of our own gender. Being a female bartender is both a plight and a privilege, in my opinion, so here’s to banding together in equality, respect and (of course) bourbon.