There has always been a certain stigma around women working in bars. Bartending, along with mechanical jobs, labouring jobs, and civil servant positions has, and sadly probably always will be, associated with men. This is simply because our brains are hard-wired this way due social history and the media. Having worked in bars for two years now since becoming a student, I myself am still pleasantly surprised to see a female bartender, but I shouldn’t be surprised…this should be the social norm.
In the early 20th Century, it was illegal in certain states in America for a woman to mix drinks, unless there were the wife or daughter of the establishment (weird, right?). Until 1971, California had a law barring women from ‘pouring whisky’ because it was not deemed as an acceptable thing for a lady to do. There is still that same taboo to an extent about woman working in bars even in the new world, and we are certainly treated with a lot less respect, not to mention men believing we are incompetent at pouring a pint or mixing a cocktail.
Ironically, it has been proven that bar revenues increase with a woman behind the bar, particularly if they are cheerful, not to mention if they are wearing revealing clothing. The entire sexualised notion of women working a bar disgusts me, and I find it incredibly sexist, outdated and frankly appalling that men are still so shocked to see a woman behind the bar that they act like complete pigs. Whilst a male bartender may get drunken girls flirting with him, I doubt they will they have somebody lean over the bar and whisper ‘I’m going to give you a tip for your tits you can’t even imagine.’
My first part time bar job was at a night club- a club in the centre of Bath mostly inhabited by students and occasionally middle class 30-something locals on a Saturday night who had been thrown out of the pubs. As with most clubs, pubs, or bars…the majority of staff will be male, and is something that has to be accepted purely because of the higher ratio of men to women not only in the world, but in Bath. I began the job with an open mind, having no idea what to except with no previous bar experience. On my first shift, a dead Monday night when all of ten men came into the club…I was tipped £10 for serving a frankly shoddy rum and coke, purely because the top I was wearing exposed a bit of skin. My male co-worker, who had watched this happen, then turned, smiling in disbelief, and said ‘I have never been tipped a tenner, let alone on my first shift! That’s why they call tips for tits.’
Sexism within bars occurs completely nonchalantly. Drunken men think it is normal to treat me like I am eye-candy, a pair of tits to stare at, or an abiding escort they can treat how speak to however they choose purely because they are paying me for my service, and because it’s a bar. A man would not speak to a female policewoman or female taxi-driver in the same manner just because of their sex.
Another time, whilst collecting glasses in said club, a drunk man in his late twenties dragged me towards him and tried to throw himself at me, all because he saw that I was working and therefor deemed as below him. Though in these situations I never consider myself a damsel in distress, this incident was genuinely scary. The man in question was a lot stronger than me, and a lot drunker therefor persistent than me. He was able to hold me against him and pull me tighter and tighter whilst I was helpless. Luckily, a bouncer saw the event and quickly dealt with the situation. The fact is though, I should never have been in that situation. Would an overtly drunk girl have the audacity to hurl themselves tenaciously at somebody whilst they had a stack of glasses in their arms and were unable to defend themselves? Certainly not.
My second bar job was at a smaller bar; a classy, pre-diner, almost speak easy bar…thinking this would be far less sexist and intimidating due to the 12am kick out time and older, more specified clientele. Within the first hour of my first shift, a Saturday night after the Bath rugby (i.e. every bar in town rammed with men who have been drinking since 10am), I witnessed a customer come behind the bar and grab the arse of the other female member of staff. When she asked him what the hell he was doing, he shrugged, smirked, and stated ‘he couldn’t help himself.’ I was absolutely appalled, mostly at the casual way in which someone deemed this acceptable. The man in question did not know the girl, she had in no way led him to believe this was something she wanted, but because she was behind a bar and a woman, he thought this was okay.
The truth of the matter is despite feminism having a positive impact on how woman are viewed, I doubt that in my life time, or my children’s, a female bartender will ever be viewed as anything other than a rare species by the majority of society. Perhaps this can largely be blamed on the bar industry in general being deemed as less worthy than other professions. I would completely disagree though, as bartending, or ‘mixology’ as it is coming to evolve as (you can get qualifications for mixology, and there is even a school solely dedicated to bartending and mixology in Santa Clarita Valley, US) not just a part-time or a cop out profession.
Working behind a bar has not just been a negative experience for me, and I would definitely recommend you work behind a bar at least once in your life because of how much you learn. You experience team work and team bonding like no other profession, purely because you’re dealing with drunken idiots most of the time, and if you’re all in a good mood it makes this a lot easier. You learn patience, and how to smile despite wanting to throw a slush bucket at the customer across from you. But you also meet some wonderful, genuinely great human beings who are grateful for your service and complimentary of your craft.