Working retail is difficult enough with all of the multitasking and expectations to meet every customer’s demands. Having to dodge sexual harassment around the clock on top of all of that is absolutely ridiculous and draining, yet it is the unfortunate reality for many modern retail workers. Here is a brief, personal recount of creepy men I have encountered during my time as a retail worker.
1. When I was 19, I worked at a clothing store in the mall. I had a male customer in his 40s asking for assistance in picking out specific band merch for his daughter. One of the T-Shirts he wanted required me to climb up a ladder and pull it out of the display case on the wall because it was the last one we had in stock. As I was at the top of the ladder, I could feel him staring at my ass. I tried to tell myself it was all in my head, but then he said, “Damn, are you on sale too, by any chance?” I immediately got down, told him I couldn’t open the display case, and asked my manager to take over because I was uncomfortable.
2. When I was 20, I worked at a convenience store that also had a pharmacy. After closing, I would help the pharmacist with end-of-the-day tasks and cleaning up. One night, I was helping alphabetically sort the customer’s prescriptions, and I felt him watching me. I stopped what I was doing and turned to him to see why he stopped working. I found him just standing there, watching me and smiling. “You are so cute,” he said awkwardly. I smiled politely and immediately left the pharmacy area to clock out. I stopped offering to help him at the end of the night because I no longer felt comfortable working alone with him back in pharmacy.
3. When I was 22, I worked at another store where I ran the photo department. On this particular day, I wasn’t feeling well and was waiting for my coworker to come in so I could leave early. I was extremely nauseous and had severe stomach cramps. I was moving slower than usual and doing all I could to not throw up or pass out in front of any customers. This one man came in to pick up his photo order. I was polite, got his stuff, and rang him out all the while desperately trying to keep myself together. He said, “You know, it’s your job to also smile at the customers.” He then stood there, staring at me, waiting for me to conjure up a smile on demand, just for him. Meanwhile, my stomach was cramping horribly, and I was holding onto the counter to keep myself from falling over. When he realized I wasn’t going to smile for him, he sarcastically said, “I bet you’re loads of fun at parties.” At this point, I was fighting back tears and just glared at him with every molecule of hatred I had in me. I guess this got the point across to him that I did not give a fuck about him or his feelings, so he called me a bitch and left. I proceeded to sit on the floor behind the counter for the remaining 10 minutes of my shift until my coworker was able to take over.
4. There was a family who came into the store together. It was a couple and their toddler. Five minutes later, I saw the woman storm out the door with the child. The man slowly approached the counter and rolled his eyes sarcastically. He then proceeded to stare at my chest, lick his lips, and say, “Hey. So, uh, do you wanna be a stepmom?” then winked at me. He must have seen the look of disgust on my face, because he then proceeded to laugh, say “It was just a joke,” take his bag, and leave.
5. There was a male customer who wanted to buy some cigarettes. He named the brand he wanted, and I kneeled down to get them out of a carton on the bottom shelf behind the register, but he stopped me. “No, those aren’t the right ones. The ones I need are up there,” he said, pointing to the top shelf. Being a non-smoker, I didn’t know much about cigarettes and was still learning. So, I just went along with his request, stood on my tippy-toes, and reached for the top shelf. “They’re right there in the corner,” he directed me. As I reached above my head, I felt my shirt lift up a little bit and expose my lower back. I quickly grabbed the pack he wanted, looked at them, and said, “Yeah, these are the exact same cigarettes that I had grabbed out of the carton on the bottom shelf.” I didn’t even try to hide the irritation in my voice. He smiled. “I know. I just wanted to watch you reach for them, and oh boy, it was quite a reach for you, wasn’t it? My girlfriend has the same panties.” By that point I was so uncomfortable that I just sort of dissociated from my body and went on autopilot and rang him out so he would leave.
6. At 24, I started a job as a cashier at a new store. On my very first day of working with one of my older male managers, he smiled at me and said, “I bet old men hit on you all the time.”
7. This same male manager used to stand way too close while talking to me. There was a night he announced that he was really tired and proceeded to rest his arm and head on my shoulder, making me tense up with discomfort. It felt like he was testing my physical boundaries. There was even a time when he stood behind me while I was at the register and was “helping” me and a customer resolve an issue with a coupon, but he was standing so close to me that his upper leg/thigh was pressing against the back of my thigh/butt. I was frozen, pinned between him and the counter in front of me. The customer noticed my discomfort and looked at him weirdly, and he backed off.
8. There was also a day that I made a joke about this manager’s height. He wasn’t actually short, only a couple inches shy of 6 feet, and I was only kidding. He made the situation inappropriate by saying, “I compensate for my height elsewhere,” referring to his penis. He saw the look on my face and quickly tried to make light of everything by adding, “I’ve got great kneecaps!” before laughing and walking away.
9. At the same job, I had yet another creepy male manager who would walk and stand uncomfortably close to me. One time he walked so close behind me that I felt the keys he had hanging off of his belt rub against the rhinestones that were glued on the back pockets of my jeans. I felt the vibration go all the way across my ass. He slowly hit every single rhinestone on both pockets. Seriously? I was assisting a customer at the register, so I couldn’t take the moment to process what had just happened or call him out on what he had just done to me.
10. I had a male customer who kept talking to me, trying to ask inappropriate, personal questions until I was so uncomfortable that I walked away from the register to stock shelves. This guy followed me to the aisle and kept trying to talk to me until my female manager noticed the situation and asked me to join her in the stockroom, where we just sat until he left.
11. There was another male customer who needed help finding an item. I walked him to it and asked if he needed help finding anything else. He said he didn’t, so I turned to walk away. As I did this, he felt it was appropriate to reach out, grab my arm, yank me back to him, and say, “Actually, yes. Can you help me find the mouthwash?” I glared at him and pulled my arm away before ignoring his question and walking back to the register.
12. I would have so many men blatantly stare at my chest before shifting their eyes to my right shoulder to read my name tag and say my name aloud in a way that triggered my gag reflexes. This happened so many times and with so many men that I eventually just refused to wear my name tag and give them an excuse to look at me there.
13. One Christmas Eve, a man took it upon himself to reach over the counter, without permission, and grab my low-hanging pendant necklace, groping my boob with the back of his hand in the process. I ended up breaking the necklace while trying to rip it off and put it in my locker so another man wouldn’t use it as an excuse to touch me again.
14. I had another customer buy a pack of condoms with his order. I didn’t even notice, because I didn’t care to, until he took it upon himself to point it out to me. “I bet you don’t sell many of these!” he said, pulling the condoms out of the bag so I could see them. Uncomfortable, I said, “Yeah, we actually sell condoms all the time.” He said, “But probably not MAGNUMS. Those guys are probably all talk, but I’m the real deal, baby!” I rolled my eyes, called my manager to the front for backup, and told the creep to have a good night. When he saw my male manager approaching the front registers, he left.
This is only a brief compilation of my negative experiences with men during the six years that I have spent working in retail. To the young women currently working in retail, please know that this is not a part of your job description. Please do not become desensitized to this kind of behavior from men. I know that male retail workers have often been the victims of similar behavior from women, and I don’t write this to invalidate your experiences in any way. All I can do is write from my own personal experiences. Please know that none of you are alone, and it is not okay to be treated this way by coworkers or customers, regardless of gender. Please don’t hesitate to speak up or defend yourself in these situations. I know that society sweeps our discomfort under the rug for the sake of a paycheck, but we need to stop letting these disgusting people feel comfortable behaving this way towards other human beings. Make a scene. Your safety and comfort in your own workplace matters.