Hands off! Why I'm tired of being touched as a bar worker

An insight into the harassment some female bar workers are subject to.

Kayleigh Fraser
13th April 2022
Interior of a Pub. Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Being a woman is tough sometimes. Being a woman and a bar worker is even tougher. Here's why.

My job on the surface sounds pretty straight forward. Pour a pint, take the cash, collect the glasses and keep things tidy. As a woman however, work (every once in a while) gets tough.

I just want to assert that I do like the bar I work at. Some days are harder than others of course, but I work with lovely staff and we're a great team. Sometimes, the customers make life more difficult.

Sometimes the customers make life more difficult

On the 20th of November 2021, Newcastle took on Brentford at St James Park. Being a football pub, we had our usual busy Saturday. Things were going well throughout the pre-match rush. We were on top of glasses and had no bother from anyone.

It was only when I went to have a toilet break that thing got weird. My pub is unconventional in the fact that we don't have staff toilets so we have to use the communal ones. I walked down the stairs with a man walking in front of me (which is hardly unusual). He was unsurprisingly looking for the gents toilets, but he had walked right past them, ending up in front of the ladies toilet. Realising his error, he stops (and realising I work there) kindly asks where the male toilets are. I smile, and tell him they were back in the direction he just came from. Just as I entered the ladies and moved away from the interaction, he said thank you and tapped me twice on the side of my hip. Immediately realising what he'd done, I swiftly turned around and stated "Don't touch me. There's no reason you need to touch me." Muttering 'sorry' like a bad impression of Simon from The Inbetweeners, he sulked off.

He said thank you and tapped me twice on the side of the hip

My thoughts straight after it happened were simply "why?". Why was there any need for him to touch me? Would he have done that to a male bar worker? As polite as he was, there was no need for him to make any attempt at physical contact when I was literally just doing my job. If I don't have autonomy over my body at work, how am I supposed to feel safe?

This isn't all. We get a hand on our back as we walk through the bar. Sometimes it's when we're collecting glasses and unable to move around the front of the bar, they gesture us past but feel the need to touch us as we struggle through.

The customers feel the need to touch us

I asked some of the women I work with (of which there are eight) and a number of them replied saying they had been touched inappropriately by a customer whilst on shift. One girl who will remain anonymous told me some of her experiences:

"Numerous customers have slapped my arse and have commented on my boobs." she said. "It happens once or twice a week. It happened more on that weekend."

Another story from more recently was, again, from a match day. A co-worker of mine was collecting glasses from the top of the stairs. Her arms were filled, and she didn't have any hands free. As she was making her way back to the bar, a man placed his foot out in front of her in an effort to trip her up. That's right. A middle aged man tried to trip a 19 year old girl down the stairs whilst she held around nine glasses.

A middle aged man tried to trip a 19 year old girl down the stairs whilst she held around nine glasses

The result of that scenario, had she tripped, still gives me nightmares. Why was it necessary? What was he to get out of it? A kick of power and domination? She was just doing her job!

Personally, I just can't understand why women have to resign to the fact that we have to be touched, poked and almost injured as we go about our jobs. I've been told so many times that it's just 'part of the job', yet I cannot understand why. It's funny how when I go to a bar I don't feel the need to touch male bar staff or attempt to hurt them. It's such a double standard.

Going into the future, I want things to get better. I want men to understand boundaries and I want to go into work and not get unnecessarily touched by people I don't know. Am I hopeful? Unfortunately not.

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AUTHOR: Kayleigh Fraser
Campus Comment Sub Editor for 2021/22 and Head of News at NSR. English Literature Student heavily obsessed with politics, bath and body works and making positive change. Also slightly infatuated with iced coffee, guinea pigs, my dog and binging The Simpsons.

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