Patriarchy’s Waitress – Would you like to taste our special feminist coffee? No thanks, I’ll have it the usual way.

Being a waitress under patriarchy is so much fun – I love it. What makes it so special is that not only are you working as a subordinate for bosses, customers, and capitalism, but your job is also shaped by your gender identity. Being identified as female makes your experience of service a specific one. You’re not doing a shift, you’re waitressing. It’s a specific activity, with specific requirements, specific joys. Here are my top 10 favourite things about being Patriarchy’s Waitress. The list is not exhaustive, feel free to add yours in the comments.

  1. The outfit. Having to wear an outfit distinct from my male colleagues’ makes me feel really special. And this way I am sure customers are aware that they shouldn’t treat me the same way as my colleagues.
  1. Smiling. “Hello [greeting smile], how can I help? [inquiring smile] The bathroom? [confirming smile] On the right. [indicating smile] Mind the step; you don’t want to fall over [advice-giving smile]. You’re very welcome [both grateful and humble smile]”. Having to smile all the time to strangers, no matter how rude or uninteresting they are is great. [smile] Watching your male colleagues being sometimes almost rude to customers and everybody finding it normal makes it even better. [smile] As a waitress, you can’t be neutral; you have to be super friendly, [smile] super happy, [smile] no matter what, as if you had to compensate for all the hostility of the world. People pay for your smile. The more you smile, [smile] the better your tips are. And since minimum wage is a miniwage, you do want tips. The best thing is: after a while you get amazing cheek-muscles. [smile]
  1. Being on display. I love that one. Being creepily stared at by random men when you’re doing highly arousing things such as drying glasses or having a quick lunch is a real pleasure. You can also be compared to your female colleagues. And with regular customers, you even get to be compared to your former selves: have you put on any weight? Are you (at last/already) pregnant? Are you wearing a wedding ring? Are you planning on wearing a wedding ring? An engagement ring? A ring?
  1. Being referred to as “the girl” in my presence by my boss (“the girl will do it”) is really nice. First because I don’t actually have a name. Second, because being directly talked to makes me feel like a human being, which is admittedly really awkward. Third because I love being gendered every time I am being talked about. And four, because being called “a woman” might make me feel as a grown-up, or as a political subject. “The girl” is much more empowering.
  1. Working on Valentine’s Day. You are surrounded by demonstrative heterosexual couples, and you get to take an active part into this amazing day of patriarchal propaganda. You can reinforce social institutions such as the heterosexual couple by treating the two partners as one entity, or by making the man responsible for the two people’s orders, by giving him the bill, by flirting with him in front of his partner. And you even get to discover new bad string quartets, or French romantic love songs. Special patriarchal playlist, especially for you.
  1. Having my period (even better when combined to Number 5, then it feels like it’s part of the celebration). Having to stand for 5 hours-long shifts when you can feel all you muscles from your shoulder blades to your knees helps you focusing on your job and forgetting your body. Knowing that you have to suffer in silence gives it an exciting dimension – such an interesting secret!
  1. Hearing the staff’s comments on female customers. It’s a whole festival of brilliant gender stereotypes. Table 1 is fussy, Table 2 is with yet another man, Table 3 is spiteful, Table 4 is on a diet, Table 5 is not on a diet anymore, Table 6 is a hen house.
  1. Solidarities based on male privilege. There are so many interesting excluding solidarity combinations when you work in a mixed and hierarchical environment. My favourite one is when your male colleagues (as in: people of the same professional grade as you) build solidarities with your male boss. Seeing them betting about their favourite football teams and then barking orders at you is highly reassuring: gender privilege is not endangered by other hierarchies.
  1. Being assigned special tasks. Apart from the fact that as a woman you’re much more likely to be a waitress than a barmaid (you don’t want to deal with strong alcohol, mind you!), you can also, as a waitress, be given tasks specifically designed for you. Usually, they are the ones no one else wants. I really don’t understand why, because cleaning, folding napkins and polishing cutlery is a real blast. And the best part is that you become an expert at those tasks, so that no one else does them half as well as you do, and you have to keep on doing them. When the cutlery is spick-and-span, you can check that your smile (see Number 2) is still on your face [smile].
  1. Playing a part. Waitressing is actually like playing a part: you’re a character, “the female waiter under patriarchy”, and the audience has high expectations about your part, so you’d better be good at it (and good-looking, obviously). The fun thing is: you have very little space for interpretation. Everything is scripted by the people you’re working for, either boss or customers, and you get encouraged for your good embodiment of the role by both. And you already know this part by heart, because you’ve learnt it since you’re a child. Taking care of people, preparing their meals, smiling at them, not complaining about your pain, you know it all. You’ve learned this lesson a billion times; you’re doing it every day without being paid for it. So really, there’s nothing to be complaining about, is there?

4 Comments on “Patriarchy’s Waitress – Would you like to taste our special feminist coffee? No thanks, I’ll have it the usual way.”

  1. Lis says:

    Painful but excellent post. I’m sorry that patriarchy sucks so much. 😦 That “emotional work” component (not spelled out in the job description, not paid extra) is such a big deal. But I think this post is going to be really useful to link people to…

  2. Alexa says:

    i was just thinking about your lovely term- patriarchy’s waitress- in another article you wrote earlier today… and here it is!
    God, i know every one of these descriptions intimately.
    i too have been refered to as ‘the girl’ i.e. ‘get the girl to carry that’ ‘get that girl to do it’, and bossed around by males of the same professional status who are macho-matey with the male boss.
    especially i was gawped at by random men- even shouted at and followed around the front of house, chatted up by male customers, leered at, asked for my phone number and where i lived.
    At the pub i used to work at the men who were regulars would expect to hug the [female] barstaff, put their arms round you or pinch your cheek and would openly comment on my appearance: hairstyle/too much or too little makeup/different earrings tonight?
    i got constant comments when i wore no makeup about how i needed some sleep or was i ill? or how i was the least attractive out of the barmaids. so i always made sure i put some on before a shift- to avoid the harrassment. but not too much, because then i got comments about how i had gone goth or how i had really trowelled it on tonight. i also got a lot of breast oriented comments- which were often said within my earshot loudly, but from male customers to their friends. they openly ranked us in attractiveness and sometimes you would get to be ‘their favourite’.
    sometimes a nutter would come in and just follow you with his eyes the whole night, and make weird comments and ask personal questions whenever you had to bring him something- and the female barstaff would ask eachother to swap a table to avoid the ones who had fixated on them.
    and the pet names i got called!: sweetheart, princess, doll, darling, honey, petal, one man called me ‘my precious flower of the desert’ on repeated occasions.
    the whole smiling/shoe kissing service standard is not enforced on the male staff- in my experience they can be matey, show fatigue, be efficient and neutral, blank faced, even stand offish, cold or borderline rude and get away with it- neither the bosses nor customers think anything of it. male staff would often complain about how humiliating it was to have to be so ass-kissingly subervient- basically they were being asked to act like a woman towards other men. if i was feeling down or tired i didnt smile and always always received a barrage of ‘smile!’ or ‘cheer up!’ from the male customers. it wears you down after a while and its easier to just smile like a maniac eventually.
    when couples come in you cant talk to the man or look at him too long because his girlfriend will evil eye you- obviously as a waitress or barmaid you are gagging for it from any of the malformed apes they drag in wearing people clothes.

  3. murenne says:

    oh dear i’ve never had to deal with such bad harassment. it ‘s really like it’s part of the job (but as Lis says, not stated in the job description) that you’re that much of a (sexualized) commodity. as always, writing this, and then reading your comment, Alexa, make me feel better about it. apart from the fact that it kept me mentally busy for the last shifts to try and draft it in my head, seeing that it’s structural and not something juste happening to me in my situation helps. waitresses and barmaids of the world, unite and fight!

  4. mxqf says:

    Thank you for this. I was a waitress for several years during school and university holidays and I can identify with some of this. Men and women working where I worked were definitely given different tasks, the men were behind the bar and women were out in the front of the bar and in the restaurant, which was more tiring, more exposing to the behaviour of the customers and brought fewer tips. A customer once grabbed my body as I served him a drink in a restaurant and asked if I’d bring him some free sandwiches, and I remember feeling so so shocked, as if this was surprising, and uniquely happening to me, and not part of the everyday experience of ‘patriarchy’s waitresses’. So it’s great to have this out here as a resource and I love how you’ve written it. Thank you murenne and Alexa for what you’ve added from your experiences.

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