Lauren, of Faux Real Tho, had an... interesting experience at a gas station recently. This post reminded me of some of my own experiences living and working in a college town.
I used to work retail at one of the largest bookstore chains in the United States. No, I won't mention names on here. *cough, cough* Excuse, me. Anyway, over the course of my time working at the bookstore, and living near two major colleges, I found myself in situations not entirely unlike the one Lauren describes.
It's interesting to me, because the attendant was treating Lauren the way that I expect most sexist asshole clerks treat other men. This is how it usually went for me: I'm standing in line waiting to make a purchase, and the woman in front of me catches the clerk's attention. He watches her as she leaves, and I'm waiting to make my purchase. Clerk takes my purchase and rings it through and starts talking to me like we're old friends- "Daaamn, she was hot. (insert comment about her chest or ass). I'd totally hit that in a heartbeat, right?" The exact words change, but the idea remains the same- the clerk thinks that the customer is hot, and wants to make it clear to me. And, of course, because I'm a guy, he expects that I'll agree with and appreciate the remark.
I suspect that a lot of other men have been there.
Of course, it's not just register jockeys that make grossly inappropriate, sexist, racist remarks. When I was working at the bookstore, the customers would frequently make horrible comments to me, both about other customers and about my fellow employees. Even if you take the blatantly creepy people out of the equation- the guy who would position himself so that he could see up women's skirts when they rode the escalator, the guy who'd take pornography into the children's section and leave it there, etc- there were plenty of people who were just huge assholes.
Two incidents stick out at me. The first was a group of teenage boys who were hanging out in our store all day. They were annoying, but not really doing anything particularly troublesome, until they discovered that they could look down women's shirts if they leaned over the railing looking down into the middle of the store (where the escalators were). I realized this is what they were doing when they began making very loud comments about a woman's chest and cat-calling her.
In the middle of my store.
At 4:30 in the afternoon.
On a weekend.
Before I could get to them, another employee (Hi, Nat!) dressed them down and, I believe, kicked them out. But, this is a busy store at one of the busiest times of the week, and these guys didn't think they were doing anything wrong by sexually harassing our customers. That's a big problem.
The other incident was a case of racism. I was covering the music department for a break, and we were listening to something- Shivaree, maybe? I don't remember now- but something like that. A customer came back, and asked what cd was in, and I figured he was thinking about buying it (whatever it was, I thought it was listenable), so I told him and started to tell him what I knew about whatever group it was. He cut me off with something like "well, it's really terrible. It's just awful. The worst thing you've ever played in here, hands down." Then he walked away.
Ten minutes or so later, another employee came back and we were going over a display chart, when this same guy comes back over. "I just wanted to let you know again, this is the worst thing you've played in here" he says. I look at him and tell him that I'll let my manager know, and before I can say anything else, and to my shock, he says "It sounds like one of those Jap groups or something. They'd play them when I was over in Vietnam last year, and they all sound the same- singing in Japanese or Chinese or whatever crazy language they speak over there."
It went downhill from there.
I got lucky, and a manager was nearby, so I called her over and told her she needed to deal with him, because if I had to listen to him anymore, I was going to say something that would get me fired, and she ended up asking him to leave.
Moments like that leave me feeling both dirty and confused. I feel like there's something really wrong when people can say and do things like that without hesitation. It's bad enough that they're sexist, racist assholes, but that they don't even feel like there's anything wrong with what they're doing is just mind-blowing. Is there so little social sanction against these things that someone feels completely comfortable saying and doing these things in a busy retail establishment?
The other problem is, of course, how to respond. It's a question I've asked about other things, too- how do you respond to someone who says or does something like that. Particularly, if you're the employee in the situation, what do you do? If you're the customer, you can tell the clerk where to shove it, and take your business away, or get a manager and complain. As an employee, though, you're more limited (unless you don't care about losing your job, of course).
Anyone else want to share a weird/creepy/troubling experience they had, and how they handled it?