It’s been almost a year since the #MeToo movement began. Since last October, accusations of sexual misconduct have dramatically affected Hollywood and Washington, but has the movement had an impact on one of the country’s biggest economic sectors—the service industry? For long-time local bartenders Annalisa Suarez and Kristen Wood, the #MeToo era has brought a new sense of empowerment to dealing with familiar problems.
Change of attitudes
Suarez, who first started work in her parents’ restaurant at age 13, quickly developed a thick skin when it came to lewd or explicit comments from customers.
“You don’t let them go to your head; you just kind of—’OK, move on’ or ’Ha-ha, that’s funny,’” Suarez said. “Now … more people are standing up for themselves, and you start going like, ’OK, well, I need to stand up for myself as well too.’”
In November 2017, the Center for American Progress released an analysis of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission between 2005 and 2015. In an article titled, “Not Just the Rich and Famous,” they reported that 14 percent of the 41,250 complaints in which an industry was identified came from the service sector—the highest percentage measured.
Suarez has hosted, served and tended bar at the Atlantis and Eldorado casinos, where she noticed that confronting inappropriate patrons or otherwise addressing harassment came with social and financial costs.
“I think for females, if you’re trying to move up, you think you have to let that happen,” Suarez said. “Like, you can’t say something, or you think you’re going to get fired, or you’re not going to move up. Or that’s your job. Like, this guy’s a millionaire, and you can’t say anything back to him because he’s going to tip you one hundred bucks every time you see him.”
Suarez said she never felt unsafe at a casino, as the security staff was always close by, but she often felt that her all-male management staff rarely took her complaints seriously.
“I think in the past, if I said something, they would’ve just looked at me like, ’OK, well what do you want me to do about it?’” Suarez said. “Or it’s like, ’That’s not really a big deal if he touched your shoulder in a weird way.’ But no, to me, I felt it. It wasn’t just a touch on my shoulder—he’s like hanging on and grabbing.”
Suarez has spent the last four years at Pignic, which she considers a more community-oriented venture than the casinos, and has seen the public attitude toward sexual harassment shift over the last year. She’s also seen less complacency. As more people become aware of what harassment can look like in a public setting, more are willing to intervene or offer support in the moment.
“Now it’s a big deal; something will happen,” Suarez said. “I can say something, and they’ll be like, ’You need to report that,’ or ’I have your back,’ or ’I was there. I saw that.’” Suarez mentioned patrons like Natalie Henriques of Planned Parenthood, whom she said is vocal about offering emotional and clinical support to female staff and bar patrons in cases of harassment.
She also thinks that social media has been a powerful force for change.
“You can just take a picture of him and blast it out: ’This guy is this, and he did this to me,’” Suarez said. “More people are thinking twice about doing anything or saying anything just for that aspect.”
As bar manager, Suarez wields a huge amount of discretion over whom she chooses to publicly shame and insists that she doesn’t take such measures lightly. Instead, she reserves public 86-ing as an effective deterrent against criminals and potential predators.
“I mean, you have to really think before you put somebody out there, too, like, you’re going to ruin their lives,” said Suarez. “They have to really do something bad for me to be like, ’Hey! This guy!’”
Kristen Wood, who’s been bartending for 11 years and works at the Atomic Bootlegger Lounge in Sparks, has noticed a gender dynamic in the industry that affects both women and men.
“At the Eldorado, I was 30, which isn’t, like, super-old, but I was thinking about it, and there were only two other women in the whole casino that were older than me—two other bartenders,” said Wood, “And then when I thought of all the men that bartended at the Eldorado, I couldn’t think of one that was under the age of 30.”
Wood has bartended at multiple local casinos and bars—including Pignic—that range from fine dining to late-night dives. She noted a persistent double standard: for women, being flirtatious or attractive when they’re young makes it easier than it is for men to enter the field. But, when they’re older, men are more likely to remain employable as bartenders than women are.
“A lot of places only hire women because they want cute, hot chicks behind the bar or cocktailing,” said Wood. “So … yeah, maybe it’s easier to get your foot in the door as a woman because you don’t have to start as a barback, or they’ll hire you because you’re under 21 and cute. But you don’t see a lot of older women bartending.”
Wood said that women should be allowed to wear what they want at work without fear of harassment, but that conforming to expectations of hotness can be harmful to everyone in the long run. Instead, she thinks female bartenders should demand professionalism in a role that can already carry a social stigma—one that she questions.
“I think sometimes people think that you’re just a bartender, so, like there’s less value in a servant role,” Wood said. “You can be a great bartender and be respected for your job. You can really make a career out of this and take it to any level you want. You could travel the world being a bartender.”
Both Suarez and Wood agree that the public scrutiny of workplace harassment is driving positive change. With a visible community support system, more women are willing to voice their grievances against intolerable industry norms.
“Maybe it has to do with the movement,” Wood said. “Maybe just in general women feel, like, more empowered or comfortable saying, ’Hey, you can’t talk to me like that if you want to order your drink.’”
And to women who might just be entering the industry, Suarez and Wood both have the same advice: “If you’re uncomfortable with something, you don’t have to put up with it,” Wood said. “You can check a customer, and they probably won’t say it again, and they probably won’t say it to another female bartender either.”
“Maybe you have to be that first person to say something, and then you get followed,” Suarez said. “You’re not the only one who is going through what you’re going through, so speak up.”