Imagine a sunny day in a fancy neighborhood, very close to the beach, inhabited mostly by tourists and new high-tech money. Lush bougainvillea bushes lead into a quiet alley. Inside the alley, there’s a small cafe. Generic singer-songwriter music is playing and everybody speaks quietly, like in a museum. Freshly baked pastries are arranged neatly on trays, and expensive-looking boulangerie cakes are placed in the fridge. The staff wears clean white buttoned-down shirts and aprons.
There I was with my coffee-stained shirt and stupid apron, the only female working with a male-only staff. All the guys with the too-long hair that ride bikes and play with their mediocre bands at night, standing there in their day-job like a bunch of cultivated dogs, wishing they were somewhere else.
A busty tourist walks in, wearing a very loose swimsuit top and shorts, and I know what everyone is thinking so I might as well be the first to say it. So I say that her breasts look like the dough we have back in the kitchen before they bake it, all white and wiggly. A colleague smirks and says they’re ugly, but there’s one specific thing you can do with them. Right away I get a very vivid image in my mind and a sour taste in my mouth.
What did she ever do to me?
I liked working with men because I’m a Cool Girl, a Tom-Boy, I don’t mind when guys say offensive things about women, I even add my own comments. I prefer it this way, of course, everything is simple and easy with men, and with women it’s all drama and cat-fights all the time.
I’ve felt like a little sister, Snow-White and the seven dwarves, a princess. Like Wendy with the lost children of Neverland, I was an exotic creature.
I hated working with men because Sometimes, gender roles force themselves on us, and like Wendy in Neverland, I never actually wanted to be the mother of the group.
Because this bitch doesn’t always feel comfortable inside the boundaries of her gender.
Where the men exchanged their pirate-yarns about shitting and fucking, I lost my voice. At first, when I was new, they would shush each other – hey, there’s a lady here, and I wanted to say – you know, I shit and fuck, too.
After a month or so, all hell broke loose. They would talk freely about their dates and blue balls and voice comment on female customers, dissecting their bodies into parts and debating on what you can do with each organ.
And I wanted to say, it’s not that I have a problem with that, we are all physical beings and it’s ok to look, but, well, this talk makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because if that’s what you say about stranger women, then what do you say about me when I’m not around?
But I was young and shy and didn’t want to be a bummer, so I played along. While they were describing their bowel movements, I would hide the fact that I get my period sometimes. I never said that I thought their comments bothered me; I tried to one-up them. I wanted to be cool, part of the pack, an easy-going girl. I used to say I was a tom-boy as a kid, which is a lie.
As a kid, I never even thought about what my gender meant.
In a country where everybody goes to the military, the men have a very small frame to grow into. I mean, the word for “Dick” in my language literally means “Weapon”. I remember my military service as a place with plenty of low-key harassment all the time, nothing you can put your finger on. Some of the female officers would even adopt male behavior – did this woman just give me this look? Or am I imagining?
Back in the cafe, I was never part of the pack. I was a short gal in a group of tall, condescending lads that looked down on me. If I were angry then it must mean it’s the time of the month for me, if I’m tired it must mean I’m gentle and weak. When we all had a night out at a bar, they gave us free shots. This one guy looked at me and quietly said, in an almost fatherly tone, are you ok with a shot, can you handle it?
Dude, you’re talking to The Lucky Bitch over here.
Years later, I find myself working with mostly female staff. Of course, nothing is black and white, and women have toxic behaviors as well. But now I don’t feel like my colleagues see me like a bag of clichés.
And I hate to say it, but whenever there’s a new male bartender, it doesn’t end well. Most of them start strong and eager to learn, and once they feel comfortable they begin to manspread, mansplain, all the usual behaviors. Hey, have you ever tried to replace a beer keg, an activity you do daily for years, when there’s a dude in his early twenties standing over your shoulder and giving unsolicited advice? Or try to work in a tiny bar with a guy who wouldn’t budge an inch to let you pass? Because those are typical.
Not that all the women are easy to work with, at least I know it’s not always easy to work with me, on days when I’m feeling particularly clumsy or grumpy. But I do my best.
So, imagine a bar in a lively neighborhood, where the streets smell like cheap weed and fresh graffiti paint. Maybe it’s about me getting older, but here, nobody can take away my voice. Not even me.