Prior to going to college and working from home as a writer, I worked in the hospitality industry. It was, honestly, soul crushing work to the highest levels. I did learn some very useful skills while working at the hotel/restaurant. For one thing, I have mastered how to listen without actually listening. This is an essential skill for anyone who works in a customer service-related industry. This is where you can smile and nod convincingly, while catching enough of the Karen’s complaints in front of you to appear that you care and are going to do everything in your power to make things right. You won’t, because you’re a minimum-waged employee that has no real say in anything and just has to bow down to the whims of management and customers. But, at least you’ve convinced the Karen that you’re useful. Interestingly, this is also a skill that is very useful as a mother.
When you’re a teenaged single mother, keeping your job is essential. This puts you at a disadvantage of being young and desperate. You take it when you get your butt slapped while waiting tables, having someone give you their number as a condition for getting tips, or just having people hang around in a sleazy way for you to finish your shift, despite the fact that you’re not finishing your shift because they are lingering around like lecherous predators trying to make a play for a barely legal teenager when you just want to get home so you can try to make it to school on time the next day. I was fortunate enough early on in my hospitality career that my chefs treated their waitresses like daughters. The waitresses were sisters who would watch out for each other. When the chefs happened to be around, you would just tell them what was going on and they’d come out with their dad face and those lecherous customers would disappear fast. Even Grampa Bobby, the MC/Banquet Manager could straighten out anyone who got out of line in protection of his waitstaff.
After I was promoted to the front desk at the hotel, I foolishly thought it would be a different experience. I still had to wait tables/do banquets in addition to full-time front desk work, because single mom and it seemed like less protection at the front than it was in the kitchen. You’re the face of the hotel. The first person that guests come across. Which would lead to frequent conversations such as when I would ask “Is it just you in the room, sir?” and they would respond “Depends, are you joining me?” They would creepily wink as if they were trying to pass off that comment as a harmless joke… unlesssss… I would always raise my eyebrow at them and then program the key, hand them the key, and then say “One key, it is then.” It never stopped getting uncomfortable when that happened. But that was just something we’re told to suck up because it’s going to happen. Women are told to change our reactions, while the men aren’t being told they shouldn’t be lecherous predatorial creeps.
Eventually our banquet manager left and a new one was hired. The kind of manager that if you didn’t want to sleep with him, he wanted to make sure your life was miserable at the workplace. The kind where if you didn’t flirt back, he would figure out ways to replace you with someone that would. You don’t develop a thick skin or a higher tolerance for these things. You just end up accepting things because what’s the alternative? Back then, even 18 years ago, you didn’t really have any options. They instantly fired a male housekeeper that made me feel uncomfortable with his advances on me. But a manager? The manager’s indiscretions were just ignored because he was him? Maybe he was good at his job when he wasn’t drunk, high, or hitting on the barely and not legal staff? Even then, I just accepted my fate of being the target of unwanted advances and the ire that the unrequited nature of them caused.
The final straw came right before I decided to go back to college. Back when we were in high school, there were these gel bracelets that we had. If someone had a cool color, we’d trade one of our cool colors. It was fun. It turns out, in some areas those bracelets were offered in exchange for sexual favors or were used as a coupon for future ones. Not our school. It was just friendship bracelets being exchange for other colors. There was this one that I was particularly fond of that was blue and glittery, given to me by someone who was going off to college while I was going to spend forever working at this hotel. I wore these bracelets to work, because it was the only joy I had some days. I could look at them and remember who gave me which ones. How did I learn that these bracelets weren’t so innocent? A customer came in to check in and saw the bracelets. He goes “which one does this one get me?”, or something along those lines, as he grabbed my wrist and broke my beloved one baby blue glittery one and put it in his pocket. He laughed at me as he let my wrist fall down to the desk and smash because my body went limp in terror. He continued to lurk around the desk for the rest of my shift. But since it was a Sunday, it was just me on site. No manager. No owner. It was a slow day so housekeeping was already gone. It was just a twenty-something year old sitting alone hoping that she was going to be safe for the rest of her shift. I don’t remember if I tried calling the manager about it. I remember just being terrified.
I did end up leaving right after that incident, after serving a few shifts and being completely terrified while doing so. I had to wear a wrist splint for a couple of weeks because my wrist had been sprained. The last thing I signed as an employee there was the incident report that was filled out 2 or 3 days later when I realized that I had to go through worker’s comp rather than my own insurance. My manager, who was the nicest person and who tried really hard to do the right thing, told me that she was going to send the customer (I remembered his room number) the medical bill and a request for the bracelet back.
Why did I tell this incredibly personal story? Because it’s relevant. Not just because of what’s happening to Activision/Blizzard. But because this incident was 18 years ago and still haunts me today, probably to the point that I’m too terrified to work outside of the home because of it. Because these are stories that women today are still telling about their experience working and getting nowhere with it. Because we’re expected to change our reactions instead of having them being told that they need to change their behaviors. Because we’re afraid to speak up because we can’t afford to lose our jobs. We’re victims of having people take advantage of us and our uniquely vulnerable situations. That’s why women not only need to speak and men need to listen, but men also need to speak out. Speak up when they see something. Listen to the stories and offer support so that they have the strength to do something about it. Everyone needs to do their part to make the change.