On Sept. 18, restaurant workers from McDonald’s restaurants across the country walked out in protest during their lunches. This was the nation’s first multi-state protest against sexual harassment in the workplace, according to its organizers.
It was in response to the restaurant chain’s alleged lack of action, after 10 employees filed complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May stating that their company ignored the constant harassment they underwent, the Associated Press reported.
The public consciousness of toxic masculinity and sexual harassment has increased significantly, and the #MeToo movement has quickly grown as a widely discussed social movement.
Still, the food service industry has yet to catch up with the progressive reform of the #MeToo movement.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center United found in 2017 that the single-greatest source of sexual harassment charges filed from 2005 to 2015 by women to the EEOC came from the restaurant industry. According to Harvard Business Review, 90 percent of women in the restaurant industry experience sexual harassment.
Many men, as consumers or workers, feel a self-endowed ownership over women’s bodies, which is a blatant reason behind toxic masculinity within the industry.
This is why it’s so important that men speak up against this injustice as much as they can. In our patriarchal society, cisgender men are born with a level of privilege. They need to utilize their privilege to speak out in support of the victims of sexual assault and harassment in the food service industry.
It is more than just “locker room talk.” It’s the unwarranted sexual advancements by coworkers, the crude comments by customers who control tips, and the sexualization of young female employees by the entire staff that make restaurant jobs dangerous.
Nadine Rosechild-Sullivan, a gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor at Temple University, was the target of rampant sexual harassment by customers when she was a server during high school.
“One of the things I came into contact with regularly was customers hitting on me, making rude comments, pointing to their crotch or to my chest,” Rosechild-Sullivan said. “There was still two-fold pressure on me to be nice to those customers, both from the management telling me to be nice and from the fact that I was working almost exclusively from tips. So I had to make that customer happy if I wanted to go home with any money. I would go home literally feeling like my face was frozen to a false smile.”
Rosechild-Sullivan was sexually assaulted when she was 17 years old. Today, she teaches about her experiences and has written extensively about being a survivor of sexual assault.
As college students, we play an enormous role in the food service industry, whether it’s as consumers or as employees. We consistently go to restaurants where power dynamics exploit workers of all genders.
“In situations where someone is employed by someone else or managed by someone else, there is always the potential for the person with greater access to money, power or corporate pull to take advantage of that and use that as collateral for the person who’s being harassed to not speak out,” said Morgan Slutzky, a senior journalism major and the public relations chair of Feminist Alliance, a student organization.
A study the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology published in 2003 found that 75 percent of people who reported sexual harassment were retaliated against, which causes countless sexual misconduct cases to go unreported because the victims cannot risk losing their income or putting themselves in potential physical danger.
Businesses, especially restaurants, need to invest in human resource managers who are willing to fight against this fear and bias, listen to the concerns of their employees and educate all personnel on sexual harassment and rape culture in the workplace on a regular basis.
“We need to make it clear that we give a priority to the victim’s statements, that we do investigate and we do make sure that people have due process, but that we are highly likely to take this victim’s word, and to listen to and really hear them,” Rosechild-Sullivan said. “Then victims will be far more likely to come forward.”
Men need to stand up for those with silenced voices. Cisgender men and other people with privilege need to report sexual misconduct when they witness it and ensure that swift action is taken against those who engage in inappropriate behavior. Customers need to immediately inform the restaurant’s corporate management, and if they see no action being taken, they need to take their purchasing power elsewhere.
As participants in the restaurant industry, we need to recognize that the #MeToo movement is an intersectional fight across socioeconomic classes as we address and fight against sexual misconduct in the food service industry.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Morgan Slutzky has previously written for The Temple News. She took no part in the reporting or editing of this story.