Playing On Femininity and “Masculinity” in the Workplace

by Latina Fatale on 02/08/2011 · 1 comment

in Feminism, Work

CBR003583A few weeks back I came across this article about femininity and masculinity in the workplace. In brief, this piece describes that the most successful people in the work place tend to be women who play on masculinity, (read, assertiveness, smarts, go getting badassery) and femininity (playful banter, smiles, googly eyes). That is, in comparison to women who only act ‘feminine’ and men who only have ‘masculinity’ to offer.
I immediately thought of office jobs, and felt like I had never really had a job where I played my femininity/masculinity up or down. Then I immediately realized I was royally lying to myself. I was in the service industry for ten years. Let me tell you, being a bartender/server is certainly a job where performance, of gender especially, is rewarded. With cash-money, no less.

Personally, I do not like being referred to as having ‘masculine’ qualities because it feels like it takes away my power. I consider my assertive, confident, and aggressive go-getting badassery as a part of me that makes me, well, me. Let’s be realistic, if these are considered ‘male’ traits, it is because our society put’s little emphasis on women taking on these roles.

With that said, for the sake of this piece, I will agree to use the terms ‘masculinity’ & ‘femininity’ in a personal manner, but know that I cringe when I write it.

Unless you have worked in a bar or restaurant setting, it is hard to understand the intricate dynamics that go on past the bar/table. I am referring to dynamics with co-workers, managers, cooks, and other guests. In other words, while on the surface it may seem like I am simply playing on my femininity to get tips, there is much more going on.

Consider the following:

With my guests yes, I am usually playing up my femininity. Charming, smiles, no fuss about whatever it is you, the guest, want. Simultaneously, as a shift leader, I am playing up my ‘masculinity’ (cringe) by being the one who enforces that everyone stays on top of their shit (in other words, do their job). With certain male co-workers I have to act assertively to get them to respect me, with other male co-workers I play up my femininity. It does change with women but, I am usually acting as a ‘fellow feminine comrade’ to get them to do their jobs.

With my cooks, it gets more complicated. Understand that the cooks are in a higher position in a restaurant hierarchy than the servers, but the servers generally make more money. It is crucial as a server to have a good relationship with the cooks; otherwise they can make your work life a living hell. They are the ones who prepare the meals, and while in theory people know this, they forget that bit of information when they are hungry. For example, if food comes out late, or too scattered, you take it out on the server’s tip, and don’t think that maybe it was out of the server’s control.

Okay then, cooks. Certain (male) cooks only respond to female servers who are overly flirtatious. Some only respond to female servers who are flirtatiously sweet but not dirty, (the kind of woman their wives would be friends with). Others prefer the female servers who act like ‘one of the boys’. Then there are the female cooks – usually only one or two in a kitchen. (In my ten years I never saw more than three in single kitchen (of usually at least an ensemble of ten). They like to hear how badass they are for dealing with being in a male dominated environment. They also like to hear that they are faster and consistently more accurate than most of the men. Most women in a kitchen are not overly ‘feminine’, simply because of their environment, so with them it is really more of a ‘understood sisterhood’ relationship.

I suppose when most people think of bartenders or servers, they might think of flirting for tips. And in that case, yes, I am totally ‘guilty’ of playing on my femininity. I have done my fair share of flirting with dirty old men, business men, older women, young women, couples, all over the board. Side note: I do not flirt with dude-bro’s. In fact, they always get bad service in hopes that they won’t come back. Actually, I am usually quite assertive and challenging with them. I act in a much more masculine manner with dude-bro’s because they tend to not like that. It hurts their egos. And that’s fun for me.

Ultimately however, while I may seem all giggles and winks as a bartender, I have to maintain a high level of ‘masculinity’, most especially if I am alone behind the bar. I have to remain assertive and in control. Remember that in a bar, the bartender has the power. You need my attention more than I need yours. You need liquor more than I need your tip. I can work your tip from someone else. And that’s powerful to know.

The question is though; did I get ahead because I am seamlessly able to switch from masculine to feminine qualities in seconds for hours at a time without thinking about it? Absolutely.

I have seen male servers struggle and loose tips because the cooks did not care about those specific orders, (in other words, the male servers cannot flirt their way into getting the cooks to help them out). I have seen women struggle and lose their jobs as bartenders because all they were good at was being eye-candy.

I know I have an ability that many others lack. Mind you, I was not an overnight sensation. Not in the least. I learned from my mistakes and crafted myself into being this person. I noticed what worked and what did not, in order to get people to do what I wanted. Whether it was the cook to make my order for a fourth time, my female co-workers to gladly agree to help me take care of my other tables while this one was going down in flames, or the guest to tip me over 20% when their order did not come out right until the fourth attempt.

So yes, I do play with my ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’. But I maintain that it is simply an extension of my badassery, that is, me in control, versus allowing gender stereotypes to own me.

About the Author: Ariana is a first generation Chicana feminist, currently working on a double Bachelors degree in Women’s Studies and Humanities & Religious Studies at California State University, Sacramento. Ariana is president of the feminist organization on her campus, addicted to feminist blogs and shows no signs of slowing down in her search for contemporary Latina Feminists. She also blogs on Feministified.

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