TG = teen girl
Last week, I found out that a teenage girl I know quit her job at a restaurant because she was being sexually harassed by the owner. He was married, had children, and was twice her age. I’m in contact with many teen girls because of my position as mother, aunt, high school teacher, and church member, but I won’t identify who this person is in relation to me. I’ll call her TG for “teen girl”. TG is lovely, and I was profoundly outraged by the details of her experience, particularly since I personally know the restaurant owner involved.
Here is TG’s story of sexual harassment:
A promising start
A high school student, TG had a part-time job she didn’t like. The workplace atmosphere was sterile and cold. She was trying to save up for post-secondary schooling though, and she liked having money to go out with her friends too.
TG found out that a restaurant nearby was hiring. The place was small, cozy, warm, and casual. She really hoped she’d get the job. And she did.
The first few shifts presented a tough learning curve, but before too long, she had it down pat. TG grew into her role as an efficient, pleasant server. She learned how to deal with busy times, cranky customers, needy customers, and the multi-tasking that came with take-out orders in the mix. She learned how to manage debit, credit, and cash payments. She cleaned and even cooked.
TG gained the confidence that comes with learning new skills and being liked and respected. She was earning twice as much as she had at her previous job because of tips. “You’re 100% now!” her boss (the owner) told her. “You’re part of the family.”
The rationalizing begins
By this point, TG knew that her boss was having an affair with one of the waitresses. It was not hidden, and it was casually accepted. This didn’t sit well with TG. The owner was a married father, and the waitress was more than 10 years younger than he was. TG dealt with it by thinking (as most of us do when we know there’s a workplace affair), It’s none of my business. It has nothing to do with me.
Soon TG was further invited into “the family”. The boss offered drinks to workers on their shifts. Wine, shots of harder stuff – and joints to pass around as long as the back door was opened. TG was under-age, but she too was welcome to put back a shot. She did, and it helped her get over her initial shyness in dealing with customers. Being included in the ritual made her feel grown-up.
Trouble in “the family”
The waitress in the affair with the owner broke it off. She’d found a boyfriend. The quiet privileges she’d been receiving – like too much pay – ended. The owner started to find fault with her work and her character. “The family” wasn’t so cozy anymore as there was gossip, conflict, yelling. The waitress told TG she quit. The owner told TG he’d fired her. TG was just glad the drama was over.
More rationalizing . . . and more . . .
The compliments came on strong (and who doesn’t like compliments?) “You’re beautiful.” “You’re going to be running this place before long.” “You’re my best waitress.” But somewhere, it all took a turn. “You’re sexy.” “I can’t wait to see you in a short skirt in the summer.” “I’ve booked a hotel room New Year’s Eve. You should come by.” There were odd comments like, “If you’d had a boyfriend, I never would have hired you,” and TG remembered that right at the start, he’d asked her if she’d had a boyfriend.
She had grown adept at rationalizing the situation as it deepened. The work-place affair, the drinks, the joints, the gossip, the yelling, the evident lies . . . She accommodated more and more. I’ll gently refuse, she thought. So she laughed as she said, “No thanks” to invitations – and as she distanced the hugs he tried to give her – and as she pushed away the hand travelling too far down her back.
When she realized her pay was too high, she let her boss know. “You get special treatment. You’re the best waitress.” It left her feeling an uncomfortable combination of flattered and creeped-out. But the job was still great, and the money was too.
The ugly end
“You should have come to the hotel. We all had fun,” he told her in the New Year. “You and I could have got together.”
That was it. She said it loud and clear: “I will never have sex with you.”
Her pay went back to normal. Her boss became frustrated with her work and her character. He started to yell at her. Words like “slow” “stupid” “retarded” “handicapped”. To her friends and family, TG seemed unhappy, distant, preoccupied. She had trouble focusing on her school work.
Last week, she quit her job.
The aftermath of sexual harassment
Now what? Anger, fear, confusion, Why didn’t I see it earlier? self-blame. No law was broken (apart from serving alcohol to a minor and smoking joints). Standards weren’t respected, but what proof was there? Others have been harassed, and others will be harassed. TG was quickly replaced. “When it’s hot in the summer, will you wear a short skirt?” was the first question the owner asked a pretty girl who applied for the position. She said she would. She was hired.
What lessons has TG learned?
- That the world is still biased against women.
- That good looks can be powerful but also dangerous.
- That you can’t trust charm.
- That there are snake pits all around.
These aren’t bad lessons to learn. They might make TG stronger and more insightful going forward. But there are worse things she might take away from this experience. Perhaps she’ll have a hard time trusting men in general. Perhaps she’ll be reluctant to look for another job. Perhaps she’ll scale down her hopes and dreams because working hard and being competent don’t seem to matter.
Sexual harassment: an impact on personal finances
And since since this is a personal finance blog, let’s state the obvious: Sexual harassment has impacted TG’s personal finances. She was paid more money in an attempt to groom her for sex. She quit after being verbally abused for refusing – and now makes no income. It just sucks.
Multiply TG’s story by the countless other women who deal with sexual harassment at work. The women who need that money desperately. The women who don’t have TG’s confidence to refuse. The women who can’t see it when they have passed the line in the steep descent of their rationalization. And those who feel depleted, unmotivated, depressed, and ready to give up on their aspirations when the wake-up moment comes.
It’s just ugly, unfair, and infuriating all around.
Image courtesy of Pixabay