In Solidarity with the 22 Former Juventino Employees

30 Aug

I have been mulling over a number of posts this past week or so.  Mostly they are in draft form, requiring the kind of editing that I tend to be too lazy and too attached to specific sentences to really undertake.  I suppose it’s the difference I find between writing about a personal experience, or an issue that I have personal experience with, and those things I feel very strongly about but maybe don’t feel entirely qualified weighing in on.  It’s mostly a fear of misrepresenting an issue, coming across as an enemy rather than an ally due to a poor choice of words, or inadvertently insulting someone I care about because I lack the depth of knowledge I really need to adequately express myself.  My post on Chik-Fil-A met this fate, abandoned to draft status after being alerted by my wonderful sometimes-reviewer that one of my paragraphs could potentially be misread by someone who doesn’t know me and my liberal social leanings.  The topic today, however, does not fall under that category.  It is something I know very well indeed.

While perusing Jezebel this morning, I came across this article written about sexual harassment in the service industry.  (The complainants have a blog which you should check out.  Hopefully more hits will let them know they are supported.)  As I have written here before, I am a bartender and have been for the past number of years.  Ever since my senior year in college, when I was 21 years old, I have been working some sort of food-service job.  I was a barista, a hostess, a server, a cocktail waitress, a reservationist, a bartender, not necessarily in that order.  I have done it all.  Over the years I have come across all types of sexual harassment, usually at the hands of patrons, but occasionally by bosses and coworkers.  One specific instance I remember occurred when I was in my early 20’s working as a server at a crappy Irish pub in the West Village.  I was working 6 days a week — 5 nights and one lunch shift — for a man who, for lack of a better description, totally sucked.  He lived in Bay Ridge and had the entire restaurant outfitted with cameras that live-streamed to his television set at home.  He and his family would watch the non-events of the restaurant unfold while eating dinner.  We got admonished for wearing sweatshirts over our tops during a particularly chilly week and there were rumors that the wife and kids watched one of the male bartenders (women were not allowed behind the stick) change clothes in the basement.  I regularly came into work paranoid, afraid that an errant coffee ground would send my boss into an unreasonable abuse-session where he wouldn’t fire me, but would certainly point out my lack of intelligence and poor work ethic, making me aware that I was lucky he wasn’t sending me packing.  He, however, knew how to keep his hands to himself.  One of the bartenders — different from the downstairs changer, he was a standup dude — did not.  One instance during my weekly lunch shift I went to the end of the bar to get some sodas for my first table.  The bartender on shift slapped my ass to get my attention and when I turned around he shoved me against the wall, out of view of the cameras but not of the 5 men sitting at the bar, and kissed me, tongue and all.  I turned bright red and stormed off to calm myself down, chalking it all up to “industry culture.”  The men at the bar hooted and hollered.  The bartender was about 15 years my senior and expecting his first child.  After the attack, he routinely sent me text messages requesting we play a game of strip poker at my house.  I never reported the harassment to anyone.

As any regular reader of my blog knows, I am not one to keep quiet about harassment.  Currently, I work at a bar with incredibly supportive bosses who would (a) never behave in a manner such as Juventino Avila has been accused of and (b) are supportive of me when I call a customer out on inappropriate behavior.  It is a luxury in this industry to work in such an environment and I feel incredibly lucky.  That being said, the industry as a whole needs to change.  Inappropriate touching and comments should not be allowed and employees should be better protected when voicing complaints about the behavior of employers and coworkers.  The 22 former Juventino employees who wrote this blog should be commended for coming forward.  It’s a much overdue step towards acknowledging and challenging the overwhelming belief that sexual harassment is an inevitable, and acceptable, aspect of the industry.  I only hope their complaints get the attention they deserve and that residents of Park Slope and beyond hold Juventino Avila accountable for his abhorrent behavior and withhold their business from his establishment.  I know I won’t be eating there.

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