Every summer I go back home and work as a waitress at a restaurant. At the restaurant I started working for last summer, we’d get a good handful of regulars.
Among them were two older, rich men, who I presume were in their late 60s to early 70s. They were friends, always dining together at this restaurant on the same day, at the same time, every week. Once they took note of me, I quickly became their usual waitress because they deliberately chose to sit in my section of tables.
While I was on the job, they would flirt with me, saying things like, “Why don’t you do this for me, sweetheart” and winking. Normally I’d think older people saying such things would be sweet and kind of cute, but that’s not the vibe they were giving off.
It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, but I was restricted by my job, unable to escape. I felt violated in a very odd way because, normally, we see violation as involving some form of physicality, but this was something else.
I wanted to tell them how incredibly gross it was to have two fully grown men flirting with me, barely even an adult at age 18. I would’ve told them that it was incredibly inappropriate and I hoped to never be their waitress ever again because of how disgusting it all was. But instead, since I was in a service position, I wasn’t really free to speak up, lest I lose my job. So I decided to laugh and brush it off, as if they had to have been joking, and maintained my role of a nice, quick-serving waitress.
One time in particular one of the guys asked me to sit on his lap, quickly moving his legs and his body so that it was possible. While it was simultaneously revolting and creepy, I wanted to keep my tips, so I had to continue acting as if nothing bothered me, as if it was all a joke.
I simply told him that there was no way that I could do that, and he’d have me fired; I figured placing the blame on me (who would otherwise be the victim in this situation) while at work would prevent them from getting angry with me and giving me no tip.
I was right: Insinuating that I would be the inappropriate one by taking up the offer, rather than telling them that they were the inappropriate ones, meant I kept my customers happy and got my usual tip. There was never any sign that they ever interpreted what they were doing as wrong. I have avoided them ever since by switching to a different section of tables, but they would still try to talk to me when I walked by.
I’ll always remember this experience because I felt so trapped in such a public place by, of all things, two old, creepy men.
If nothing else I want people to remember that sexual harassment doesn’t only apply to extreme acts of violence or even require physical touch. Sexual harassment is making someone feel trapped, choiceless, and violated. It happens everywhere, and could happen to anyone.
Reach writer Kelsey Hamlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ItsKelseyHamlin