Intervene, or be complicit

I was bartending at a lovely wedding last week for a happy couple, obviously in love, and a slew of their friends and family. Just as the couple had exchanged their “I dos” and embraced in their new marital proclamation, many of the guests hurried to the bar for a celebratory libation. Two men converged on the bar, and I quickly greeted them and began making their beverages. One started to leave me a $20 tip (we’ll call him “Tipping Guy”), and his comrade clearly and dramatically wanted me to see that he was placing the bill into the tip jar.

“Hey, he’s leaving you a $20 tip, that deserves a kiss!” he shouted across the bar.

Feelings of cringe and disgust rippled down my spine and I replied that such an act is “not in my job description,” hoping to have nipped this toxic masculinity in the bud with some awkward sarcasm. “Well, how about a kiss on the cheek?!” He said laughing and nudging Tipping Guy, who was shifting uncomfortably next to him in silence. I ignored the second comment and tried to pick up my humanity and carry on with my evening.

Hours later, as the evening trudged on, and the guests had consumed copious amounts of booze, Tipping Guy came up to the bar, sans douche bag friend. “Hey, I am so sorry about my friend earlier — that wasn’t me,” he said. I appreciated his empathy for my having to endure the harassment of his friend, I truly did. Yet, in the weeks following the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo hashtag glutting social media, with victims coming forward with stories of sexual harassment, assault and rape in Hollywood and in our own communities and industries… I began thinking about complacency in such circumstances. I cannot tell you how many times one comment steeped in machismo, or one perpetrator amongst a group of men in a bar or restaurant, gets inadvertent positive reinforcement because no one amongst him speaks up.

Tipping Guy does not get to be seen by me as a “good guy” because he apologized for the gross behavior of his friend after the fact, when said friend was nowhere to be found. What would have really helped me, in that moment, is if Tipping Guy would have intervened the second his friend decided I owed him a kiss for doing my job. Many men may decry rape and assault, and public figures are only now being ostracized years after their crimes. But are the men who walk into our establishments doing anything to actively protect the women harassed by their peers? No, most of them are not.

Tipping Guy, unwilling to speak up or create a momentary awkward moment between he and his friend, is the status quo.

This is the very real culture of the bar and restaurant industry, and that has got to change.

Anthony Bourdain recently came out in support of victims of sexual assault and harassment, in the wake of #MeToo. Certainly, he’d be remiss not to mention such instances in the restaurant industry, particularly how he “unintentionally validated” and even romanticized it (most notably in his book, “Kitchen Confidential”). However, he made it clear that, while he was willing to speak out against such atrocities, he really isn’t going to do much to curtail this behavior in the industry, because he feels it is “unrealistic to expect men to change their hearts and minds.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

It is not unrealistic to expect that, chef, and expect that to fly as an excuse for the harassment and coercion that goes on in restaurants and bars on a daily basis. Men cannot sit idly by and give themselves a pat on the back for simply not engaging in harassment or assault. It is action that we need in that moment — intervene, or you are complicit.

The New York Times reported that as of last year, there were 9.1 million restaurant jobs, and women make up over half of them. Millions of women are in an industry that is practically defined by a culture of objectification and hostility toward them, so how can we begin to change the climate of sexism and all-out violence against all genders here? Not surprisingly, women started the charge by tackling this cascade long ago, and it’s gaining traction. And, we won’t tolerate silence or complicity any longer.