Last week a waitress posted on The Daily Blog that PM John Key had been continually harassing her at her place of work by pulling on her hair while she served him and his wife. The waitress described his actions as that of a “schoolyard bully” and says she was annoyed by his behaviour once she realised it wasn’t a one off. Key had made the café that she worked at a regular haunt for himself and his wife and said that he and the staff had a “warm and friendly relationship”. A friendly relationship with someone has never excused unwanted touching and that excuse doesn’t work for the PM any more than it would anyone else.
The fact that he harassed her in this way while she was at work brings into play unfair power dynamics, not to mention that he is our nation’s leader. Anyone working in the hospitality industry, whether it’s waitressing, bartending or something else, has most likely experienced some shitty interactions with members of the public. It’s often more difficult to assert your rights in these situations because you’re just trying to do your job, which is to please the customer and ensure they get good service. Because of the training involved in hospitality jobs, which always states and re-states the mantra “the customer is always right”, we aren’t taught what to do when the customer is wrong—in this case behaves in a way that no one should have to deal with.
It’s good to go into cafes and restaurants with the acknowledgement that the staff are there to do a job, they probably want to be doing something else right now and they’re definitely not getting paid enough for the shit that goes down. Key obviously sees himself above this minimal level of respect. He behaved in a way to offend the waitress and, when it kept happening, his wife also felt uncomfortable enough to say something. This isn’t about his position as Prime Minister—although his use of power over a young woman is messed up and needs to be addressed; this is about any customer feeling that paying $4.50 for a fucking trim latte entitles them to harassing the wait staff.
It’s worth mentioning that our trusty PM has apologised to the waitress and given her two bottles of red wine—which, given the circumstances, comes off a more like sinister grooming or a hush gift than a genuine acknowledgement that he’s acted like a drunken frat boy. He also said that he had no idea his actions were making the young woman involved uncomfortable until she actually said something. However, she claims that her body language “screamed I DON’T LIKE THAT”. It shouldn’t matter whether she explicitly made it obvious that his actions were inappropriate. It isn’t actually our job as women to wear a sign that says “please don’t harass me”—just don’t harass us! Just assume that we desire respect and space to do our jobs. Don’t call us pet names or whistle at us and definitely don’t touch us!
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An open letter written by chief executive Sue McCabe of the National Council of Women to John Key sums it up in a way that I hope our savvy PM will understand—“We need to change our culture so that we don’t see touching someone as our right, unless we know it’s welcomed”. The National Government recently released statistics showing inequality in pay, violence and a lack of women in leadership. These statistics are the result of an underlying belief that women don’t deserve respect and are simply there to quietly be of service. The fact this is still widely believed can be most apparent in the hospitality industry.