What It Means to ‘Lean In’ as a Waitress in Vegas

It is as hard and occasionally demeaning to be a waitress in Las Vegas as you might imagine, as Brittany Bronson’s essay in the Times this weekend makes clear:

This week I will be sexually harassed on the job, and like many women in the Las Vegas service industry, I will count my tips at the end of my shift and decide that it is worth it. … Some argue that by eliminating tips and providing a living wage, restaurants could lessen the power exchange that too often occurs between customers and workers. But I do this job for the potential extra money that tipping can bring. …

My female colleagues share similar experiences. Some cope with laughter, some anger. Some leave restaurants, only to find themselves back a few months later. Some take the opposite approach, and say that engaging with sexist behavior in order to financially benefit is an empowering, rather than patronizing, experience. Maybe this is the Vegas version of “leaning in.”

I’ve never worked in food service but I have had jobs where “aggressive, sexist behavior” was the norm, and young female employees were expected to figure out how to tolerate it without indulging it. (How? There was no seminar for that, no training.) We at least didn’t worry that supporting a retro industry made us less “feminist.” That might be the most depressing part of Bronson’s piece, that she wonders whether doing what she needs to do to make money damages her political credibility. Is there any job a woman could do that would disqualify her from being a feminist? I can’t think of one.

Or maybe the most depressing part is that Bronson teaches at the university level and still has to serve drinks to pay the bills. She is, of course, not the only one. As a column in Chronicle Vitae points out, adjuncts = women.

When critics lament the adjunctification of higher education, gender and race are not necessarily at the forefront of the discussion. While contingent labor is a clearly problem for academia, it is not a problem that affects everyone equally. …

Women make up the majority of contingent faculty nationwide. Recent estimates of the proportion of contingent workers who are women range from 51 percent to 62 percent, while men account for 59 percent of full-time tenured faculty. In a 2012 survey by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, 61.9 percent of the respondents were women, which was almost 10 percent higher than the previous survey in 2009. Writing in The Nation, Kay Steiger described contingent workers as “the pink collar workforce of academia,” and noted there was a long history of women working off the tenure track with the wives of male professors often finding themselves in these untenured teaching roles.

In case you’re curious, Bronson has a BA and an MFA.

RELATED: Remember when Gloria Steinem wrote about going undercover as a Playboy bunny in the ’60s?

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