update: a creepy customer complained my employees aren’t friendly enough

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the hospitality director whose creepy customer complained her employees weren’t friendly enough? Here’s the update.

This incident gave me the opportunity for some personal reflection because I realized that I was part of the problem, which took me by surprise. I vaguely recalled when the employee told me about what happened with this customer and her deciding to wear a wedding band to protect herself. I remembered saying something to the effect of, “yeah, that happens to women in the tasting room sometimes,” and moved on. I’m 46 years old, which means that when I entered the work force, sexual harassment, especially from customers, was frankly acceptable. And who was I going to complain to? In my first letter, I didn’t mention that my former colleague also said that women just needed to turn sexual harassment to their advantage to increase sales. This is the kind of man that I have worked with over the course of the many years of my career. For example, at one of my jobs, there was a limo driver who liked me and give me a pat on the bottom on his way out the door. It was a well-known fact, and the attitude was, “what’s a little pat on the bottom if he keeps bringing good customers to us?” I talked to other women my age and older; they confirmed the same experiences. I always thought of myself as a “good feminist” and role model for young women. I was deeply ashamed of myself that I accepted sexual harassment as a normal part of working in hospitality and expected everyone else to as well.

I called an emergency meeting with our owner and our other (female) manager. I’m very lucky because I have a forward-thinking boss, and he agreed that this behavior would not be tolerated. We discussed how to best to deal with this customer. We were all in agreement that Creepy Bart was no longer going to be a customer with us. We were also in agreement that despite this, we felt a phone call to him to tell him he was no longer welcome wasn’t the best course of action, given that I had just begged him to remain a member and the specific incident happened so long ago. We quietly canceled his membership and removed him from all mailing lists, knowing that he wouldn’t miss what he didn’t see. If he called me for an appointment, I would let him know at that time his behavior was unacceptable, and he would not be welcome in our Tasting Room. We then talked with the employee to make sure she was okay with this or if there was something else she wanted us to do. She was happy with this strategy and thanked us for taking care of this. We then called an emergency meeting with the entire staff and informed them of our decision. Additionally, should Creepy Bart come back without an appointment, our owner would take care of him and let him know that he was not welcome.

I apologized to the staff for my apathy with regard to this incident and any others that I treated with the same disregard. We talked about the importance of them letting a manager know when an incident like this happens, and we can deal with it in the moment. I also promised that going forward, any incident like this would receive my full attention and it would be handled appropriately. I hope my feminist sisters can forgive my lapse in judgement.

As for the former colleague, I decided that I no longer wished to maintain any kind of relationship with him. Fortunately, our paths don’t cross anymore, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I also decided that I was not going to try to educate him. If, in this day and age, he still had that attitude, there would be no changing his mind. As my stepfather has frequently said, “some people are like cement: all mixed up and permanently set.”

Thank you to everyone who commented. This site is so valuable and has completely changed my professional life – probably my personal life, too.

{ 233 comments… read them below }

  1. Environmental Compliance*

    “some people are like cement: all mixed up and permanently set.”

    I will be using this statement going forward.

      1. quill*

        The AAM cross stitch sampler includes this along with such lines as “Black Magic is one of many occupational hazzards.”

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            If the pattern doesn’t already exist, I could make one. I have WinStitch. :) Just reply with a list of quotes and I’ll see what I can do!

            1. Quotes, got your quotes*

              Resigning via Cod–do you have cod in the program?
              I will confront you by Wednesday of this week
              Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm
              Update season is the most wonderful time of the year!

              Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great?

            2. UnclearInstructions*

              I’m so glad I happened to see your comment! I’ve been looking for something to help me design a pattern.

    1. Heffalump*

      I learned that expression decades ago, and it totally describes some people I’ve known. Of course it’s not your fault that you weren’t exposed to it until now.

          1. OhNo*

            Just FYI: the reason your original comment comes across as condescending (to me, at least) was the way it was phrased to present it as a “fault” not to have heard this particular line before. Just wanted to mention that in case it helps to see the other side!

              1. That IT Guy*

                For what it’s worth, it didn’t occur to me to read it as condescending until someone else mentioned it. My reaction to the “not your fault” line was much more akin to XKCD’s “Lucky 10,000” concept. Sometimes there is no subtext.

    2. Papillon Celeste*

      I love the line too and I trust OP’s assessment of this particular colleague but I don’t like to generalize the statement.
      Some people can indeed be educated even it their opinions seem to be set in stone and their strange ideas about sexual harassment can indeed be broken up.
      I once had a colleague, older gentleman, saying that this was just what men do after a comment of another female colleague about harassing comments from a male customer.
      I asked him if it was ok to make such comments and to be expected, why didn’t he himself ever do it?
      He looked at me quite surprised and admitted because it was disgusting. He even apoloized to the female colleague and offered to deal with the customer in the future.
      Another time a male colleague made a comment about a ‘wifes obligations’ in the bedroom and hinted it was ok if a husband ‘helped her see that’. I guess we all know what he meant.
      I asked him if he still though that way if his daughter came and told him her husband had raped her and if he then would just tell her she had ‘obligations’.
      He became so red and agitated by the mere idea I thought he’d explode. His daughter was just 13 and started dating. That’s the phase good fathers think about such stuff with horror.
      He too admitted he’d not tell her that but rip the mans throat and that from that point of view he was wrong.
      Sometimes men are just like that phrase, mixed up and set. But sometimes one can change their point of view.
      But I repeat: OP will know best which type she’s dealing with. Those two men in my example where overal pretty decent and friendly. Those strange comments didn’t fit their own behaviours and where just things they parroted without ever dreaming of doing something like that themselves and I knew them well enough to make that statement.

        1. Properlike*

          I actually appreciate Papillon Celeste sharing these strategies for helping people question their own assumptions.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I agree, in particular the first anecdote–I’ve never heard of someone being called out and basically being told “if you don’t act like a creep then why do you allow others to?” I find that very interesting. Obviously wouldn’t work on dudes who *are* creeps but seems like a nice tactic for the bystanders.

            (The daughter one is obviously much more common, and it mostly just makes me sad that so many men have trouble understanding that women are people in their own right and instead they only suddenly matter when it’s their daughter or sister or whatever woman is related to them)

          2. Becca*

            I also found it relevant and I thought the first example of “if it’s OK why don’t you do it” a really great idea that I’d never thought of and can see myself possibly using in the right scenario.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I for one found it interesting. It’s good to have ways of dealing with those “some people”.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Well, yes, of course, but that is why it says “some”. It’s always worth trying to educate if you feel it has potential to make changes, but I see the point of the statement as also a – if it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up over it, as some people just refuse to change.

      2. Frauke*

        I think the difference comes down to this: your examples are decent people who never thought deeply about “the way things are” as long as it didn’t concern them directly. Which isn’t great, but we all have our blindspots.

        The other kind is people who *have* thought about it and come to an awful conclusion. Much harder to convince.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t at all agree that it’s decent or a mere blind spot to not see women as people until having a daughter of one’s own. Even the simple fact of having a daughter apparently did not give the guy in this example occasion to reconsider his mindset. A coworker had to spell out the implications for him. It’s very fortunate that someone got though to him, but we don’t have to pretend his mindset is a minor flaw.

    3. Sharpie*

      That is one of the most concise yet memorable descriptions I have read in a very long time. I will be adding this to my own repertoire too! Thank you, OP!

  2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Great job! Anyone can make a mistake, but it takes strength and courage to admit it and do what you can to make things right. I hope this is the last such customer you have to deal with.

    1. Clorinda*

      He won’t be. But she’s ready for the next one, and her employees now have seen that she has their back.

      1. RB Purchase*

        100% and the next time is going to be crucial for LW to prove to her employees that this is a permanent change in the right direction! It looks like this was a huge growth point and I’m sure she will do right by her staff.

        I really thank LW for the introspection here. It’s hard to realize when your behavior/attitude was detrimental and I’m so glad that you’ve stepped up to challenging the way you were taught to run the industry and committing to update your business practices to protect your staff.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Same. I think a lot of us are a frog in a boiling pot and may not always see the bubbles because we’re just used to it. I applaud OP for the self-reflection and actions taken. This will be good for everyone going forward.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Not only are we used to it, back in the 70s and 80s we had to put up with it, or the men wouldn’t put up with employing women. It was the price we had to pay for wanting a career.
            Now that it’s well established that women can work just as well as men, we can push back on such behaviour.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Yeah, although 46 is not “was at work in the 70s and 80s”– I’m 43 and I was 11 until the very end of 1990! I am actually quite surprised to see someone only a few years older than me (and the same age as my female partner) cite this as something that was Just Normal when she was younger. I think it must be one of those things that really varied by sector and region.

              1. Ellie*

                I’m 42 and it was absolutely normal and just something you had to put up with when I entered the workforce. It does vary a lot by sector, I noticed a huge difference between what was considered normal in casual retail and food industry work, and then proper office/IT work just a year later, after I graduated. Awful stuff, and I really admire the OP for taking care of the issue in a way that gets everyone on the same page like that. Its really great to see.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yes, I think it’s pretty understandable how OP didn’t realize the issue before–it definitely speaks more of the world we live in than of her own character in my opinion! Her reaction now, her ability to admit she was wrong before and the way she has pushed to support these employees during this is what speaks to her character. I hope she doesn’t beat herself up too much for not getting here sooner.

  3. Jules*

    Bravo, OP. It takes a lot of guts to come to the realization that you were wrong and to change your way of thinking.

    1. Lils*

      100% agree. Good work, OP. I underwent the same journey as you did. I imagine this situation will sharpen your management skills and make you an excellent advocate for all your employees.

    2. Anonymous Not By Choice*

      Yes!!! This is one of the greatest updates I’ve ever seen. Congrats, OP, you did good. Nay, great. You did GREAT.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, I really admire people who realize they’ve been wrong and make significant changes to improve their employees’ lives.

  4. redflagday701*

    This is a great update. I love how much self-reflection you did, and I’m really glad your owner and the other manager stepped up. Too many owners in a situation like this — especially in the hospitality industry — would shrug it off.

  5. learnedthehardway*

    Great update – it takes a lot of self-reflection to realize that you were part of the problem – especially when it wasn’t even your fault, but rather, the nature of the business culture that you had internalized.

  6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    This update has me in tears.

    A combination of pride and relief in how this has been finally sorted, and grief over how pervasive the ‘women gotta put up with harassment to get ahead/sales/keep customers happy’ attitude is. And the realisation that actually, no, it’s not acceptable is a harsh and troubling moment because it goes against what you’ve always been told.

    I speak from experience. I’m genuinely proud of OP coming to that realisation because I know how damn hard and troubling it is for those of us who’ve got a history with it being just shrugged off.

    OP: from the heart – I hope you’re okay today. You’ve done the right thing and also done the amazing step of challenging your preconceived notions and changing your outlook accordingly. It’s a helluva thing.

    1. the cat's ass*

      Keymaster, well said and eloquent as always, thank you.

      And OP, I’m of that generation too and suffered that sh!t for a fair chunk of my career. It’s never too late to have a paradigm shift AND protect your younger colleagues.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I felt sad for the OP that there weren’t the policies and procedures in place to protect her from that behaviour when she was younger, then proud that she realised that she could put those policies in place to protect others. Situations where people are expected to just smilingly put up with workplace harassment do not ever happen by accident.

        I’m very glad that the OP realised that she could provide a better experience for others than she had for herself. So many people just take the attitude of “well, I had to go through a lot of crap when I was young, so others should too” – and honestly, this attitude is responsible for a lot of the horrible stuff that people go through at work.

        1. Candi*

          “You will have a horrible time because I had a horrible time” is a toxic, destructive thinking path that needs to die. There are few things pettier than taking revenge on innocents for what was done to you, and the fact that many of them weren’t even born at the time of the original offenses makes it even worse to me.

    2. JSPA*

      “What we did and do to get by” (whether in ways large or small) is psychologically-tolerable in large part because people set up mental walls labeled, “how it has to be” / “this is reality.”

      Knocking down those walls, retroactively, is a pretty big deal.

      Everyone, be kind to yourself, as those walls come down! The light coming in can be glorious. But it can also throw a stark beam on painful or shameful stuff that was safely, “permanently” down the memory hole (often with an inadequate label pasted on top).

    3. Kate*


      I was a wine rep 20 years ago; I worked for a wholesaler and would call on retail and restaurant accounts for the wines we represented to be sold in their stores or placed on their wine list. All of my accounts (but one) were men. As a wine rep, the majority of your income is commission based and these men obviously knew that.

      Calling on accounts involves bringing 6-10 bottles with you for the buyers to taste. This can be done efficiently, in about 15 minutes, or the buyer can drag this out – peppering the conversation with sexual innuendos or sexist jokes. Keeping you waiting, insisting that you sit down with them and chat. You “learn” quickly how to smile, how to laugh at the jokes when you can’t pretend you didn’t hear them, just so that you can keep your bottles on their list, so that you can get paid that month. What I learned to tolerate became my new normal – it’s just “part of the job.”

      I understand the LW experiencing that (I’m 48) and subconsciously shrugging it off over the years as “part of the job.” And I applaud her for recognizing that she now has the opportunity to actually make real changes and forging ahead on that path. Kudos to you, LW – I’m no longer in the biz, and I’m so proud of how you’re changing it.

  7. Ilima*

    LW, I have struggled with the same internalized sexism you have overcome. Systems of harassment and abuse are designed to become normalized and accepted. Bravo to you for rising in spite of the harassment and sexism you endured, and using your leadership to make things better for the next generation of women.

    1. Thursdaysgeek*

      Yes, this. A few years back I was in a grocery store and an older man pulled the curls on my granddaughter’s head, complimenting her on being pretty, and I just smiled. My granddaughter looked uncomfortable. After he had walked away, I realized that I was teaching her to accept touches from strangers instead of protecting her and teaching her to speak up. I’d always had people (men, boys) grabbing my hair, to the point it was normal for me. But it shouldn’t be, and I don’t want it to be for my granddaughters.

  8. Stitch*

    It wasn’t just retail where women were just expected to take sexual harassment. It was everywhere. When I was a teenager I was groped while working at Disney World. A place where you bring kids! I was retail but my friend who is a costumed character said it happened to them all the time.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same. A middle-aged male customer pulled me onto his lap when I was working at a steakhouse in music school (this was mid-80s). Our uniform consisted of a very short polyester skirt, a plaid shirt, and a matching kerchief. The skirts were so short you didn’t dare bend over to pick anything up; you had to squat. I guess he thought that I was there for his entertainment with my mini-skirt.

    1. Emotional Support Care’n*

      Yep, I am constantly reminding my cast mates that “costume is NOT consent”. I am a wench (International Wenches Guild, local 49). I expect pawing. I’m also somewhat older, so I no longer get all the leering. My kids? Oh, they do. And each and every woman, regardless of age, knows that if a patron makes them feel uncomfortable, they can just yell for their “mother” and I will happily place myself between them and the creepy/grabby/handsy individual(s). It’s a real letdown when you’re trying to cop a feel on what you assume is a 19 year old and her mother shows up to burst the bubble and get all inappropriately flirty and remind you of your age and just how young that girl might actually be…

      1. quill*

        I worked ren faire one summer and oh boy did the late middle aged lady who ran the leatherworks know how to run a guy off.

        Picture a stout woman in period gear with a very sharp awl turning up to tell me I should come in out of the rain and glare at the guy telling me about how you go commando wearing a kilt. A VERY sharp awl.

      2. jane's nemesis*

        I’m so glad you protect your younger colleagues in this way, but I would love for it to be established that groping/pawing/harassment were unacceptable at ALL, not just only unacceptable of the young “comely” wenches. Making a joke of age and equating it to unattractiveness is obviously an effective deterrent and I totally understand why you use it: you don’t want to run off the paying customers, right?

        But what if it were just announced from the beginning that even though these customers are in a playful environment with Wenches from the Wenches guild, we are still in the 21st century and pawing women of any age is unacceptable?

    2. LizM*

      I’ve been harassed working in government. There is very much an attitude of “I’m a taxpayer, you can’t refuse to help me.”

      1. Stitch*

        Oh yeah, I’m a lawyer now. I once had a clinic client make inappropriate comments too! Harassing your free legal help!

      2. Lady Danbury*

        I had someone tell me “I pay your salary” once. Of course he was an old rich white man. It wasn’t sexual harassment but a different flavor of inappropriate behavior. Definitely don’t miss that aspect of working in government…

        1. LizM*

          Yup. It’s so frustrating how people think they can treat government employees.

          I’m a manager now, and people are so surprised when I call them to tell them they can’t talk to staff the way they’ve been talking to them.

          I can’t always flat out refuse service, but I can make them jump through a lot of hoops (requiring that communication be through email and not in person or by phone), requiring that any meetings include me (my schedule is a lot less fuller and less flexible than staff schedules, so it takes longer to work through issues), refusing to work with specific employees when we’re dealing with a contractor or larger company. I’m not necessarily doing this to “punish” people, but to protect my staff.

          I also feel really lucky that I have leadership who will back me up when people complain that we’re being too bureaucratic, if I explain why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it, my leadership will support me. It helps that I’ve got a track record of being easy to work with in most cases. That hasn’t always been the case in my career.

          1. AppleStan*

            Hmmm…..I work in government too, and I have to tell you, I’ve done some of these things (mostly because people were rude, rather than sexually harassing), but I didn’t exercise all of these options, and now, I’m taking notes!!!

        2. Nene Poppy*

          The appropriate response is: I pay tax/rates, too so I guess that makes me self-employed.

          As a UK local council employee, I have used it on several occasions! It usually shuts them up.

          Next time it happens (and it will) I am going to give them a one pence piece and tell them to keep the change on the refund.

          1. LizM*

            I have been so tempted to pull out $0.15 (the average that a taxpayer pays towards my agency) and hand it to people who say that, and say, “Okay, now we’re even.”

    3. JSPA*

      I wonder…if I saw that, whether I’d think of it as “groping the person in the suit,” and assault, or as “groping the non-existent parts of a fake character,” and just a really juvenile photo op.

      I think I’ve assumed that the crotch and butt on the suit don’t line up with the equivalent parts on the person inside (ditto with Minnie’s chest, and the costume-wearer’s chest)? Seems like a minimal thing that designers should ensure?

      Not that it’d stop grabs that are intended to target the person in the suit. But if the costume butt is nowhere near your own butt, then someone grabbing “Mickey” will be grabbing air or padding or armature, not an actual human butt.

      1. Tricksie*

        I think it’s often the characters who are Disney princesses, who aren’t wearing those big fuzzy costumes.

      2. Corrvin (they/them)*

        I don’t know that it would make sense to make suit-areas and wearer-areas NOT line up. If the areas do line up, then you can say “you know you were grabbing Character’s butt” because the person-butt and the costume-butt line up. And then you can deal with the unwanted toucher.

        On the other hand, some suits/costumes have a “dropped crotch” with shorter legs and a longer torso than the person inside them. Unfortunately this means that touching the lower belly of the suit means touching the crotch of the person inside it– AND the toucher being able to say “oh gosh I just wanted to touch the belly it’s so fuzzy and soft looking, I didn’t mean anything bad” so they don’t have to face any consequences.

      3. Student*

        There’s still a person inside that outfit, regardless of how well the anatomy lines up. I can’t imagine actors at theme parks feeling less violated because someone groped them in-character… if anything, it seems even more dehumanizing and objectifying. Especially since many of those characters are either associated with childhood or meant to be children themselves.

      4. LizM*

        It’s still sexualizing a situation in the cast member’s workplace in a way they didn’t consent to. Even if the character is fictional, the person inside the costume is not. If you go to grab my butt, and miss and get my upper thigh instead, it’s still violating.

      5. Batgirl*

        It’s got to be easier to just kick out the creeps than it is to bubble wrap the inside of the costumes. It’s amazing how many little non confrontational tricks, we are willing to come up with instead of this simple solution. If you pad some of the costumes, they’ll go for the less padded costumes, or non uniformed members of staff. Just get rid of the sex pests. Done.

    4. Ellie*

      I’ve been reading about sexual harassment at Disney World and how rife it is, particularly for the Princesses with the slightly more revealing costumes (think Tinkerbell and Jasmine, but they all seem to get it). It just underlines that the men doing this aren’t necessarily the weirdos lurking in the corner, they’re Dads and Granddads. Depressing, but any environment where there’s a social expectation to not make a fuss, they’ll be people cruel enough to take advantage.

  9. Don*

    My experience in my professional life has been that literally nothing else has made me feel as appreciated and loyal to a supervisor as when they have listened to me, acknowledged a problem, accepted their responsibility in it, and taken steps to fix it. Kudos to you on your personal growth and taking care of your employees. How awesome is it to have a chance to make the world a better place, improve your employees’ working conditions, and build employee loyalty? All at the low low cost of dealing with one fewer jerk.

  10. jm*

    your letters have been inspiring, op. i’m so glad you found a way to reflect and realize your employees don’t deserve to be mistreated just because you were told that you deserved it when you were in their shoes.

  11. animaniactoo*

    I didn’t mention that my former colleague also said that women just needed to turn sexual harassment to their advantage to increase sales. This is the kind of man that I have worked with over the course of the many years of my career. For example, at one of my jobs, there was a limo driver who liked me and give me a pat on the bottom on his way out the door. It was a well-known fact, and the attitude was, “what’s a little pat on the bottom if he keeps bringing good customers to us?”

    If you happen to speak to this former colleague again, I’d want to ask him if he was willing serve his own ass up to be patted in order to increase sales. Because if so, he can feel free to run the interception and stick it out there where [cough cough] it might do some good, rather than where he’s currently sticking it…

  12. oranges*

    I love this update, and great job to the OP.
    As I’ve tipped to the second half of my professional life, I’m no longer part of the new guard who comes in with a new generation of ideas and thinking. I’m part of the old guard who relates more to the 55 year olds than the 25 year olds. “This is how we’ve always done it.”
    Woof. Hopefully I keep some of that new generation fire and actually listen to how they see the world and the ways that it’s changed.

  13. Artemesia*

    I am elderly and entered the workforce in the 60s; it is so true that enduring sexism and sexual harassment was just expected — there wasn’t even a name for it i.e. ‘sexual harassment’ wasn’t a thing. I knew if I reported the distinguished Harvard scholar who stopped the car pulled over and started to rip my blouse off that it was my new career that would take a hit, so I just got out of the car and ran and continued with my work. Women were troublemakers if they tried to push back on the more garden variety sexism in the workplace. It is great that the LW dealt with her own attitudes on this and moved forward on this particular threat.

    1. Kshoosh*

      My husband and I, in our mid-30s, are enjoying some of the sitcoms from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. We just finished The Mary Tyler Moore show (after we finished Dick Van Dyke!) And now we’re watching Lou Grant.

      I found myself judging some of these women in the situations they were in, but would remind myself that many women couldn’t have bank accounts on their own until the 1960s, and couldn’t apply for loans on their own until 1974. It’s hard sometimes to remember it was not that long ago! And it was a much different working world than the one I entered in the 2000s.

      1. Artemesia*

        I married in 72 and my husband and I were planning a European trip after he graduated law school, before he started his job. I could not get a passport in my name. I went to renew my passport from childhood and they insisted it had to be with my husband’s last name which I had not taken and never used. The compromise was I could be Artemesia Hisname AKA Hername as if I were a bank robber on the run — alias. We didn’t travel because no way was I going to do that. We had no window for international travel for many years and by the time we were able to do it when our youngest was 8, I was able to get the passport in my own name.

        And of course credit cards etc were denied married women. It was not that long ago. Heck my grandmother couldn’t vote when she came of age — it has not been that long. Birth control for married women was not legal till 61 (depended on the state, but in some states it was illegal to prescribe birth control). SC case in 61 changed that.

        1. Lils*

          Artemesia, that is a powerful story. My parents are about your age but these little details about what life was really like for women in the 60s and 70s don’t always trickle down to us younger folks. Thank you for sharing.

        2. Kshoosh*

          It really just hasn’t been that long at all. When I started to get serious with guys in my early 20s, my mom warned me never to having everything in my husband’s name. Because… my grandma, her mom, was married to a man who died in 1962, when my mom was 3 years old. She was a widow with 3 children- 7, 5, and 3yo, and when he died the bank froze ALL of their assets for months. Everything was in his name, because of course it was. She had a small farm and was a schoolteacher, with kids to feed and bills to pay, and was not allowed access to any of their money. It took years to recover, and she never made that mistake again. She taught my mom to protect herself- when I grew up the cars were in my mom’s name, and she was on the house deed (rare at the time) and had a separate savings in her name. Grandma eventually remarried once her kids were adults, to a man she’d been seeing for decades, and kept relatively independent finances from him so she’d never get screwed again.

          1. Freya*

            This. Also, these days, having even just one bill in your name that gets paid off regularly means that you have a credit history, which really helps if/when Things Happen. It’s a small thing with a very big potential impact during very bad times, and getting in the way of such a thing is a big red flag on my masterlist of red flags (not for me personally, these days, but for those friends who like to have objective second opinions on their potential partners before they repeat the personal history that they’d rather not repeat).

        1. Kshoosh*

          We are watching it on YouTube, through our fire stick. It’s lower quality video, but it’s there. One of the early episodes, the sound was mismatched to their mouths moving and that was annoying, but it was only 1 episode so far.

    2. urguncle*

      Currently adjacent to Harvard and they are STILL trying to protect lecherous faculty who sexually harass or assault graduate workers. In fact, it was a real sticking point with the student workers union and they still have not approved 3rd party mediation, instead opting for a paltry legal fund to help victims fight against a hedge fund disguised as a university.

      1. Artemesia*

        I was on the faculty of another prestigious university and a member of faculty Senate at one point. I got to listen to old tenured profs argue against enacting a policy that banned sex between faculty and students. The policy passed, but these guys actually stood up in front of their peers and argued ‘freedom’ etc.

    3. turquoisecow*

      My mom told me when you applied for a mortgage or a car loan back in the day they didn’t even take the wife’s income into account. The couple’s financial viability was determined solely on his job, since I guess it was just assumed that he made more.

      1. Yay, I’m a Llama Again!*

        And, she would give up work when babies came, so therefore it would be silly to include her income because the pretty little thing wouldn’t be working much longer, just waiting for the babies to come along!

      2. UKDancer*

        My Godmother told me she had intense difficulties getting a mortgage in the 1970s because she was on her own, had no father and no husband. She had to really argue with the bank that given she was earning a reasonable salary for the time she could afford this but she had an uphill battle with the bank simply because they didn’t want to give a mortgage to a woman on her own.

        My honorary aunt bought a house with another lady also in the 1970s and they had enough capital that they didn’t need a mortgage. She had any number of problems buying a car because the salesmen were so dismissive and really inappropriate. In the end she took my father along and he gave the guy evils and loomed threateningly (being 6 foot and broad my father looms well) so they could get the sale through without my aunt putting up with too many stupid comments.

        There were definitely a lot more obstacles for women at the time and it was a lot harder to fight them.

        1. Batgirl*

          My mother remembers her teacher telling her in the sixties that even though she had a good salary she needed a letter from her father to get her mortgage, simply because she was a woman on her own.

          1. UKDancer*

            I can believe it. My godmother’s father had died, she had no brothers or uncles and wasn’t in a relationship (the only man she ever wanted married her best friend and she refused to settle for someone she didn’t love). The bank were really difficult for purely sexist reasons. She had a pretty good salary and being in local Government was very difficult to sack so there was no logical reason not to give her the money. They just didn’t like a woman on her own with no men to attest to her abilities.

            She said I was so lucky that when I wanted a mortgage the bank only cared that I could pay the money back.

        2. Kshoosh*

          I went car shopping for my first car in 2010 and I was dismissed by the car salesmen until I started bringing my brother with me just so they’d take me seriously. Ugh, car salesmen can be the worst.

          (He spent most of the time saying, “don’t ask me, she’s the one buying the car.”)

  14. bunniferous*

    I’m in my 60’s. What they said about tolerating a certain amount back in the day brought back the memory of when I worked in a country club as a very young woman. I remember walking downstairs with my hands full and a member (a doctor!) slapping my rear as he went up those same stairs. At the time I rationalized he was tipsy (he was) and when sober was nothing but respectful and nice (also true) so I laughed it off. It wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to me there. I look back now and am astounded at the things we put up with in the 70s!

    1. Green Kangaroo*

      I’m in my late 40’s and every woman my age to whom I’ve posed the question has a story to tell about their babysitting days and creepy, handsy dads.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Back in my college days, working a campus job, I was routinely harassed by custodians and very nearly stalked by one. Every other woman I know has at least one story (I’m 50ish), many of them more distressing than mine.

      2. JSPA*

        Yep. Never let them drive you home. Especially when they come back later than promised, and drunk / coked up. Not at all surprised that they were hurting for babysitters–I didn’t go back, either.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      I’m 30. 10 years ago, at the country club where I worked, a member pinned a bev cart girl to his golf cart and gave her a hicky. His three friends had to pull him off, and the GM bullied the girl out of filing a formal complaint by telling her it would be impossible to make it truly anonymous. The creep didn’t even face a brief suspension of his membership benefits as a result. It took me a long time to realize there were employers willing to do anything about harassment or assault.

      1. Artemesia*

        In the 30s my mother, an office nurse, was pinned to the wall and groped by one of the doctors and had her rib cracked. His only consequence was being told by the other doctors that if he did it again he was out of the practice — but no consequence for the actual event.

        1. La Triviata*

          My first job – temporary – was playing the Easter Bunny at a small suburban strip mall. It was the ’60s, I was 15 – I’d put on a rabbit suit (which completely covered everything but my face) and walk up and down the walk in the mall handing out candy. I was extremely shy and stuttered so that I almost never talked. A lot of the men in the stores – who were indirectly paying me – would joke about how I ought to be wearing a Playboy bunny costume instead of being all covered up.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          In my first job, most of the employees were women in their early 20’s. We had an accountant in his 40’s that always “joked” about trading in his presumably 40’s wife for 2 twenties. I don’t know why he kept making the joke since the early 20’s (who didn’t have a lot of financial obligations yet) was usually an audible “eeeew.”

        2. Constance Lloyd*

          Absolutely, and I’m sorry it came across as minimizing. I struggled to find the balance between going into too much graphic detail, which can be triggering (for myself as well as others) and still making it clear how badly he crossed the line. In the end I used the words she chose at the time to describe her experience, which of course were chosen in the immediate aftermath of trauma.

          1. Batgirl*

            I think you described it perfectly. The “pinning” detail outlines it was assault, and the hickey detail describes how the assault was done. That guy is disgusting.

          2. Freya*

            She also may have faced adverse consequences for the member’s assault, because a hickey is a visible thing that, were it consensual, would indicate to onlookers that she was happily engaging in sexual activity. It wasn’t consensual, but douchecanoes don’t care that it wasn’t, just that a woman or girl is having sexytiems and therefore must be available for them to have sexytiems with.

    3. Maree76*

      I’m 45, and in 2001, was running a hotel A guy that was in our extended friend group thought it would be funny to slap my backside when I had arms full of glasses. He didn’t think it was so funny when I told all my staff to refuse to serve him until he apologised. He tried to get my bar staff to give in, but he ended up having a very long, dry day.

      1. Gumby*

        I mean, you didn’t even require that he be sincere in apologizing. Just say the words. And he still wouldn’t. That says a LOT about him and I sincerely hope that the friend group has punted him because… ugh.

  15. Allegra*

    Much in the way that we talk here about how a terrible workplace can warp your perception of what’s normal and acceptable, I think being a woman in fields with a lot of sexual harassment can also seriously warp your perception of what’s normal. You build up coping mechanisms and internalize how to just deal with it and build up a callus over any feelings you might have about it. (and the same for just the avalanche of sexism in everyday life, honestly.)

    I’m so proud of you, OP, for reckoning with that, and for being able to do something about it for your employees and for yourself, too. It’s really hard and it’s sometimes thankless but you have done something so good and important here. This was such a wonderful update to read. I hope you’re doing well.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      All of this, especially building up a callus over our feelings about this. That was necessary to survive in earlier days, and a lot of us learned it (much as we learn unhealthy coping mechanisms around other dysfunctional behavior). Great job, OP, for overcoming this conditioning and taking steps to make sure things are better for women going forward.

    2. SarahKay*

      Seconding on how easy it becomes to just dismiss bad behaviour as the norm.
      I was recently part of an peer-interview board for a new manager, and one of the candidates was a 50-something white male who referenced looking for a new job after a merger because political correctness meant a female candidate was chosen over him for the consolidated remaining role.
      It took my male colleague to actually bring it up with the main hiring manager as undesirable – both the sentiment, and the foolishness of saying it in this day and age. Although I’d heard the candidate say it, I just hadn’t thought to raise it as an issue. Talking it over with the male colleague afterwards I realised that I’d mentally dismissed it as ‘oh, lord, one more older white guy complaining about how they are the most discriminated-against group ever’, which goodness knows I’ve heard my fair share of over the years, and I just hadn’t seen it as egregious enough to say anything about it.
      It was actually kind of an eye-opener for both of us – for me, that I’d dismissed it as not worth fussing over, despite being on a team that I truly trust to try for equality, and for him that on my scale of experience this was an incident too minor to notice, when I’m usually pretty hot on equality.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        This is such a good illustration of this – the way some of this stuff just becomes “background noise” for women, because we deal with it so much that we can’t spend the energy to get upset or raise the flag on everything, because we’d do nothing else. And sometimes, we casually mention something to a guy, and his reaction reminds us that, no, this really is gross/inappropriate.

        It reminds me of something that happened on the old Wizards of the Coast online discussion boards years ago. One of the male posters started a discussion on how his female friends were complaining about harassment in online gaming. So he made a female persona to demonstrate to them that it really wasn’t that bad…and found out that it was actually worse. I know it’s frustrating that it seems like so many men can’t just believe us and need an experience like that to really get it. And sometimes I get frustrated, too. But I also feel like, the more guys who do stuff like this, find out directly, and talk about it, the more that gets out there and hopefully more people start thinking differently about it.

        OP’s experience is another good step in that direction – a person rethinking their perspective and taking different actions because of it. We need more of that!

      2. Artemesia*

        I personally know two white men who, or whose wives, whined about losing out on a job ‘because they had to hire a black person or a woman’ and where the actual job was filled by another white guy. Sometimes hiring managers tell men this because they think it is an easier rejection and sometimes the rejected just make it up to cover that they didn’t get chosen. It is a pretty bad look in a candidate.

        1. Gumby*

          It’s also a really, reallybad look on the hiring managers who are both too lily-livered to be straightforward in their communication to rejected job candidates, and think this explanation is somehow more palatable than “there were many great candidates and we have decided to go with someone else.”

      3. Mimi*

        I only started noticing when male clients would talk to the junior man instead of me (even if I asked the question) because one of the junior men mentioned it, and I thought back and went, “Yeah, that’s what was happening there.” It just wasn’t egregious enough to realize it was happening. And this was only five or six years ago. I’m in my 30s.

    3. SansaStark*

      This is such a good point. The service industry is so rife with this even now that I can absolutely see how the LW went for so long without even really questioning her power to change it, or at least make consequences for it. One of the things that shocked me the most when I transitioned from the service industry to an office job was the fact that no one ever touched me or made lewd jokes. This made the few times that it did happen REALLY stick out as incredibly inappropriate in a way that it didn’t back when it was just a normal Tuesday at the bar.

  16. a thought*

    To the OP: before you write someone off as completely unchangeable, just keep in mind that you recently had a change of heart! It’s not your job to educate/persuade this guy (and it sounds like you don’t run into him anyway… ) but some people do adopt new attitudes given new information over time – including you!

    1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

      I think their respective memberships to male/female, ingroup/outgroup is relevant here, though, and it’s a disservice to write as if they’re exactly the same.

      1. a thought*

        You are definitely right – they are not exactly the same. Gender is definitely one difference. It also seems that the colleague is at a more extreme starting point. I didn’t mean to imply that the colleague and the letter writer are exactly the same, just that change is sometimes possible for most people.

    2. Observer*

      I wouldn’t write someone off as unchangeable. But it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend that there is any likelihood whatsoever of the OP being able to change his mind. The differences between the OP and the colleague, including the starting point of their attitudes, is vast. So vast that it’s just not a sensible comparison.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      The original letter said that he had been banned from at least one other vineyard already for this behavior. He’s already been given the information that his behavior is inappropriate and decided to make zero changes. If he does decide to change his harassing ways, cool. But OP and her workplace aren’t required to be his “practice being a decent person” guinea pigs.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I just realized you were probably talking about the male colleague and not the customer. My apologies.

        If OP decides it’s with having the conversation, it might be helpful for him, but I don’t thing she’s obligated to.

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        I assume “a thought” was referring to speaking up to the male coworker who suggested the female staff just accept that harassment comes with the job, not Creepy Bart.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          The creepy Barts of the world, though, find much of their validation from the inaction of Laissez-faire Pig Colleague.

      3. Artemesia*

        Men who make the obligatory ‘I don’t usually get to speak to such a beautiful audience’ when there are women in the group are changeable; these are old stupid habits that people do without thought. They are not bad people and they can change. Men who grope and leer and hit on staff — yeah, not really changeable. They are jerks.

        1. a thought*

          For clarity, I wasn’t referencing the creepy customer in my above comment, I was talking about the other colleague.

    4. FridayFriyay*

      I think the real question is how much emotional energy OP wants to spend educating someone who may not be receptive to that education. It’s fair not to want to put in that time and effort and it shouldn’t be her responsibility.

      1. a thought*

        I agree, it’s not her job if she doesn’t want to take it on. I actually put that in my original comment :)

        1. Mami21*

          I think you need to consider that your comment does reinforce the idea that all these awful men need is a patient woman to thoughtfully and kindly explain that their awful behaviour is not ok, and to persuade them to change their ways. I can’t speak for all other women, we’re not a hive mind, but I find this to be a pervasive sexist belief both in the workplace and outside of it. It is not our responsibility, it’s not an easy thing to do, and the ‘educator’ opens herself up to more negativity, especially when the offender is in a position of power.
          And I’m SO tired of it. If someone punched you, would you consider sitting down with that person and gently explaining that violence is bad? Or would you just want them to be held responsible for their actions? Well, that’s how I feel when someone slaps my butt. I don’t care if they know it’s wrong, because I know it’s wrong.
          The reason OP’s ‘concrete’ saying struck a chord with so many is because it’s unusual and refreshing to hear someone say that no, in fact, it’s NOT our responsibility to try to change someone.

          1. a thought*

            Fair, I see why this strikes a chord with people! This is coming from my own experience as a woman who has experienced positive change because other people have gone out of their way on my behalf, but other people have other experiences which lead them to different perspectives – so I can see why this one line leads to divergent responses.

            To be clear, the colleague who I was talking about is not the creepy customer, but the other colleague who has excused the behavior in the past (similar to the way that OP used to and now doesn’t!)

            But again, I definitely agree with you that it’s not the OP’s job to take on talking to this man she no longer even works with, she can take what she learned and apply it in her own interactions/management, and honestly that will probably have a much greater impact.

  17. Dasein9*

    Great job, OP! This is such a courageous thing to do. The more of us who learn, the better things get for all of us.

  18. Jam Today*

    This is such a satisfying update. I wouldn’t be *too* hard on yourself for having been dismissive of it, I think those of us of a certain age have been through the wringer with this type of stuff for so long, and have been met by so much dismissal ourselves that we build up walls and bargain with ourselves about what is a tolerable amount of harassment or even assault. After being ignored about harassment for years, do I keep fighting the battle and exhaust myself, or do I grit my teeth and accept this as a “cost of doing business” in a vocation that I otherwise love? Do I give up my career, or a slice of my dignity? This is the calculus that women engage in daily.

    I am so, so glad though that you chose to put stake in the ground on behalf of the younger women who are coming up in their career after you. Every woman deserves an environment where she can put forth her best effort, and not waste all that energy threading the needle of dignity versus job. Its exhausting.

  19. JustKnope*

    “If, in this day and age, he still had that attitude, there would be no changing his mind.” I’m actually not sure that I agree with this! You’ve clearly grown and evolved through this situation and others, and your former colleague may not have had as much exposure to different ways of thinking. It’s not necessarily your job to fix other people, but if you did want to try to explain your evolution of thinking or new policies, that could potentially help.

    1. Quack Quack No*

      It might, or LW might end up with a dispiriting experience after having wasted time trying to convince this guy that women’s bodies are not public property. In the context of the planet’s human population there is of course the chance that he might change, but in the context of LW’s working life, and not least based on my own experiences trying to talk people out of bigotry, I would not recommend LW prioritize trying to “expose” this guy to the truth that women are people.

    2. Important Moi*

      As a POC I literally don’t know what to do with the belief that if the injured party just to talks to a bigot enough, the bigotry will change.

      How many conversations does LW have have have with the former colleague before she’s done enough? LW said their paths don’t cross anymore, so what next?

      LW evolved and implemented policies for her workplace.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        exactly. it’s not a minority’s job to educate a bigot/misogynist into no longer being one

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I sometimes don’t have the spoons to explain to some of my male colleagues what it feels like existing being female and dealing with everyday sexism / harassment issues. There’s enough evidence out there if someone wants to know, otherwise you’re just pissing into the wind trying to convince them.

        2. quill*

          And especially when the scale of the work is sure to be so immense! Someone saying that women are unprofessional if being harassed derails their work is not like telling your elderly relative “oh, we don’t use that word anymore” and them saying “oh, I didn’t know that.”

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Exactly, she has made the necessary changes at her workplace. Job done.
        She has no obligation to try and change the mind of someone she doesn’t currently work with and who probably isn’t going to listen to her anyway. It would be a waste of both time and energy.

      3. a thought*

        I agree with JustKnope – I think JustKnope and I both were struck by the LW saying the person was “set concrete” who could never change in the context of a letter all about change!

        It’s BOTH true that change is often possible, AND that it’s not the LW’s job to make that change (especially when the person is the injured party, as Important Moi points out). Both can be true. It’s also true that change could be possible, but not happen! Perhaps the colleague will encounter these ideas on his own and change without the LW at all, maybe he will never change.

        1. Student*

          …then maybe you should read the OP’s comment as, “He will not change… for me.”

          That’s all we mean. It’s also all that’s in our power. If he won’t change for the OP’s sake, then for her, it is essentially true that he’s not going to change for the better – if he ever does, he long ago lost the chance to develop a good raport with OP specifically. If he perchance finds enlightenment some day, better to employ that enlightenment to socialize with some other woman, because him moving on and learning still would not undo the harm he’s done toward the OP.

        2. Quack Quack No*

          I thought this was a letter about addressing sexual harassment and preventing future harassment. Why should the education of assaulters and those who make excuses for them be the priority here?

          1. a thought*

            Until very recently, this OP was someone who was considering making excuses for the creepy customer. This community (Alison and commenters) helped her realize otherwise, and she had a pretty incredible change of heart that I bet has had a huge impact on her staff. So I do think it’s relevant to say that addressing sexual harassment and preventing future harassment involves educating managers/colleagues who are enabling the behavior.

            (Though, I agree it’s not the OP’s job to do this if she doesn’t want to, and given the lack of interaction with this man anymore – the colleague, not the creepy customer – it probably doesn’t make sense.)

            1. Quack Quack No*

              The OP took the initiative to bring her question to Ask A Manager and put in the energy and honesty to consider what she had been told, to learn from it, and to implement it. The OP did the work to change herself, but you keep suggesting she put in the work to change someone else, then appending “but she doesn’t have to.”

              It’s just so incredibly exhausting to hear over and over and over that the victims of bigotry are responsible for educating bigots who do not respect and will not listen to those they oppress. I’ve been hearing it since I was a kid and I have not seen it work yet unless and until the bigot initiates the process of changing their own mind<. ALSO in discussions of bigotry the topic of victims of bigotry educating bigots always seems to come up as a worthwhile use of our time and our lives. Maybe we have better things to do, such as recovering from the harm bigotry has caused us. I’ve heard over and over that POC need to educate racists, that women need to educate sexists, that LGBTQ people need to educate homophobes and transphobes, and so on.

              When will bigots ever be held responsible for educating themselves? LW set out to educate herself and I admire her immensely for it. Her former work connextion can do so too, without requiring her help.

              1. a thought*

                It’s very true that an absolutely critical difference is that the LW sought a new perspective by writing to Alison. You are right it is the colleague’s responsibility to seek it out himself, and that’s on him if he doesn’t, and any intervention by the LW would really depend on him having an open mind (which he doesn’t). Additionally, I don’t know this person and the LW does, so in retrospect, I should take her word for it that he’s cement!

                As I put above, I am a woman whose experience in the workplace/world has benefited from people who have sometimes spoken up and said “that’s not okay” on my behalf but it was wrong to project that experience onto the LW. (In fact, from the updates in her story, I know that LW is having that positive impact on her employees so I should have looked at it from that angle).

      4. RabbitRabbit*

        Plus it uses her valuable time, energy, and headspace, to pour out effort into such an unworthy person. It’s not her mess to clean up.

  20. ForgotMyUsername*

    Overall a great update, although I am a little disappointed to see the behavior wasn’t addressed with the creeper directly. A possible approach would have been to call him and say “upon learning new information, your membership has been terminated”. It just feels like the door is left open now where the employees may have to encounter or deal with him again. But I’m glad to see the OP took steps in the right direction and is open to new perspectives.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Choosing to reengage with a creeper can be risky. LW said the staff has been instructed on what to do should Creepy Bart return — that’s enough.

  21. Kate R*

    Great update! Love a company that truly supports its employees and also that it led to some self reflection for OP. It can really be difficult to identify how much we’ve internalized as normal vs. what is actually normal. I will admit to being slightly disappointed with “we felt a phone call to him to tell him he was no longer welcome wasn’t the best course of action” though. A phone call could have explained that it was his behavior specifically that was inappropriate, and it could have helped avoid a potential scene in the tasting room and your previously harassed employees having to deal with him were he to show up on his own.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      Agree–and quite honestly, I’d love to be the one making that call. “Yeah, so I talked with my staff after our conversation and learned you’ve been sexually harassing them for years. You’re no longer welcome here, your membership has been terminated, and if you show up here again, we’ll call the police and have them issue you a trespass order.”

      Damn, it felt good just typing that.

    2. Observer*

      A phone call could have explained that it was his behavior specifically that was inappropriate, A phone call could have explained that it was his behavior specifically that was inappropriate,

      Except that he’s been told this already. Sure, it would be nice if he heard this again, but not as important as just keeping him away.

      and it could have helped avoid a potential scene in the tasting room and your previously harassed employees having to deal with him were he to show up on his own.

      Actually, I think that the reverse is true. I think it’s slightly less likely that he’ll show up this way – no reminders of the wine cellar at all. Let’s keep in mind that what he’s really after is prey, not wine. I would be surprised if the prey available at the winery is SO interesting that he’d keep it top of mind to keep going back, especially since he knows that he no longer has the management “begging” for his business.

      And yes, it’s a pretty gross way of looking at this, but do you have any doubt that this IS the way he sees it? The women he’s harassing are NOT people who deserve to be treated with basic respect.

    3. Quack Quack No*

      While it would have been awesome to read about Creepy Bart getting his well deserved scolding, I can see the practicalities of LW’s business just quietly ceasing contact and letting their establishment slip from his mind. Not least because he might take a dressing-down as a pretext to show up and cause trouble and “see if they really mean it”.

  22. Gigi*

    OP, I’ve grown to think that we’re all on a journey to examine the things we were taught and to see if they still serve us. Some of this is early programming and it isn’t always obvious that your lizard brain believes things that your frontal lobe would be appalled by. Every time someone makes a suggestion, at work or otherwise, that makes me recoil I stop and really examine why I had that reaction. Which is what you ultimately did, to the advantage of your current employees and customers and also for the future. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

    1. Veruca*

      This is a really insightful comment. I have nothing to add, just wanted to say I wrote it down to look at again and really think through.

  23. AnonEMoose*

    I’m so glad to see this update, OP, and so glad that your employees know you will listen to and support them. Someone like Bartholomew is more trouble than he’s worth.

  24. Dust Bunny*

    My 1990s college-aged self is chanting, “Women unite! Take back the night!” (and the workplace).

    This is a great update!

  25. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    As my stepfather has frequently said, “some people are like cement: all mixed up and permanently set.”

    This is awesome, I totally have to remember this!

  26. Quack Quack No*

    LW, I really want to commend you, and how you put in deliberate work, both on yourself and at your workplace, to make yourself part of the solution. I envy your employees such a thoughtful, resourceful, humane supervisor. Well and awesomely done.

  27. Observer*

    OP, I’m so glad that you did what you needed to do. And really, you can be proud of yourself for taking on what people were saying and really making a change. I’m also glad to see that your boss is a decent person.

    as for your colleague, I’ll point out that his comment that “women just needed to turn sexual harassment to their advantage to increase sales.” would have been considered gross by a lot of people even in the 80s. So this guy is no just out of date.

  28. Kel*

    Honestly, admitting you were wrong and part of the problem is one of the toughest things you can do. Good for you for recognizing it, and making moves to change the culture and yourself!!

  29. Cheap Ass Rolex*

    Good for you x1000 for reflecting and accepting that you messed up. A lot of times, with this kind of thing, admitting that you were wrong feels like a blow to your identity – you think “I’m a Good Feminist, full stop” so if you admit that you enabled this harassment, does that mean you’re actually a Bad Feminist through-and-through? And thinking of it in identity terms can stymie reflection, because you can think, “well I know that I’m an ally/good feminist/kind person etc” so therefore anything you do must be in line with that mantle.

    But if you strip away all the identity stuff and look at it as a series of decisions and actions, some good and some that fell short of what you hoped, it becomes so much easier to grow without bruising your self-perception. It’s healthier to think of yourself as a caring person who messes up sometimes than as someone who must safeguard their place in the good column.

    It’s extremely mature and honorable of you to have admitted to your staff that you were wrong and made amends going forward. They’re lucky to have you.

  30. Zona the Great*

    Thank Glob. I have twisted myself into so many different positions to avoid the creepy customer. I shouldn’t have had to do that. Good for you for recognizing this and taking it seriously. Next time, always get your dedicated employees’ sides before offering anyone restitution.

  31. CatPerson*

    I love this. Your support of your employees and your self-reflection and acknowledgement of your change in thinking about this is exactly what makes change happen! Blessings and happiness to you.

  32. Distracted Librarian*

    Kudos to OP. I find I’m constantly having to deprogram myself from all the unhealthy coping devices I learned growing up in a time when “sexual harassment” was known as, “Thursday” (and every other day of the week). Those early experiences leave deep scars and teach powerful, painful lessons that are hard to unlearn: suck it up and deal with it, because reporting won’t help; no one cares; it’s just the way things are; etc. It’s so easy to perpetuate the bad old days because of how we’ve been conditioned.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      This is so true. I have to constantly work on it too. It’s kind of sick how ingrained it can be!

  33. Former Retail Lifer*

    Thanks, OP, for ensuring your staff knows they don’t need to tolerate this behavior. For most of my career, I worked in retail and, while maybe not always so blatant, my mostly female staff and I dealt with countless people like Bart over the years. It was an unofficial rule that you still had to be nice to the harasser and, if no one else was available to help them, you just had to deal with it and fake a smile. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I dealt with a Bart who was extremely inappropriate to one of my employees, beyond the point where we could tolerate it and be polite. I confronted him, told him the inappropriate comments stopped now, and that he would no longer be welcome if he continued to say such things. I did this without the blessing of anyone higher up, as we subscribed to the “customer is always right even if he’s clearly not” philosophy and I didn’t want to get in trouble. I worried that he might call and report me so I did tell my brand new boss what happened. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER IN MY CAREER, he told me I did the right thing and that we didn’t need to deal with that. I’d tolerated Barts for almost 20 years before someone finally had my back and told me I didn’t need to. I’m so happy the wine staff here will not have to tolerate this indefinitely, and they know someone has their back.

  34. Spooky All Year*

    Thank you for standing up for your employees. I had a rather foul experience working as a scare actor this fall, and while I enjoyed scaring the souls out of people, I did not love how many men made disgusting comments to me and the other younger femmes working there. The lackluster response from management has me seriously considering not coming back next year, and I’m definitely not the only one.

  35. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I’d just like to push back on the “it was acceptable when I entered the workforce” concept.

    I think it’s worthwhile exploring the difference between “acceptable” and “accepted” – and also “expected”. I’d prefer to say the behaviour was never acceptable, even when it was widely accepted to the point of being expected.

    1. mrsfields4701*

      I’m happy to see someone else say this. I am 42, so not that far removed from OP’s age, and I entered the full-time workforce when I was 20. At no point in my professional career has sexual harassment been acceptable. Accepted, perhaps. Acceptable, no.

    2. Workerbee*

      I mean, semantics are fun and all, but since people still behave to this day as if such behavior is indeed acceptable, perhaps better to divert some of the energy toward squashing the actual perceptions and actions.

      1. Observer*

        It’s not just semantics. I think that this is important to call out. One practical reason is that it changes the conversation around this stuff. So often people talk about how it’s hard to change what people find acceptable etc. Except that it actually never was truly acceptable.

        Basically what people are trying to say is “All that has changed is that we are finally calling out behavior that has always been gross an unacceptable. (So why are you getting bent out of shape?)”

        PS “you” here is the generic “you” / person complaining that it’s hard to adjust to changing expectations.

    3. UKDancer*

      Agreed. I’m in my 40s and it was more accepted / tolerated but never acceptable. I think the main difference was when I joined the older women warned me which men were safe to be around / have meetings in their offices with and which weren’t and there was a lot of sexist / homophobic / racist “banter”. But there was always an undercurrent of having to not make waves if you want to get on.

      Over the past 20 years that has really changed. There’s a lot less tolerance in the sort of companies I work in for that and people are a lot more willing to challenge it.

    4. Student*

      That’s cute rhetoric, but I can’t say that I agree with it.

      I’m 36. Sexual harassment was considered accepted, acceptable, and expected at several of my jobs, throughout my education and in my parents’ home while I was a child (and still to this day).

      One particularly egregious story for you:
      My own mother threw me out of the house for my transgression of ordering my (young adult at the time) brother not to masturbated in front of me while I was eating breakfast. While I did not seem his behavior acceptable, it should be evident to all that all the people with power in the situation did consider it acceptable. She did not so much as raise an eyebrow at my brother nor hear me out; she screamed at me for an hour before throwing me out for being “one of those horrible feminists”. This was in the early 2000s.

      If the people in power consider it acceptable, but the people being harmed do not, then calling it “accepted but not acceptable” is just so many words. Perhaps you think the people who protect, foster, and commit this behavior are somehow blushing about it after the fact? Perhaps you imagine that their ears are red with shame as they call women and minorities vile slurs? I have seen no evidence of that myself, and I have seen it in person enough to have a reasonable statistical sample at this point.

      No, the reason this kind of crap persists is precisely because too many do consider it acceptable to do to women. Men consider it unacceptable to themselves get grabbed randomly on the balls or crotch or ass or chest – that is what “unacceptable” actually looks like. I hope we get there one day, but we are not there yet.

  36. Empress Matilda*

    This is so great, OP. Thank you for having your employees’ backs, and for making them feel safe in the workplace. And thanks also for writing in to tell us!

  37. Purple Jello*

    Sexual harassment was just part of the culture it was normalized. The ‘minor’ issues of hair patting, shoulder rubbing(!), the ‘endearments’ -honey, sweetie, dear, were just about everywhere after a while you didn’t notice. The more major stuff : breast/butt groping, tearing of clothes was obvious, but still had to be ignored if you wanted to get ahead.

    I remember once getting groped in a store and was so angry I started yelling at the guy I had never seen before. The manager came running over and said she was worried he would attack me. Another shopper said she was glad I had shouted because he had done the same thing to her.

    I’m glad the OP broke thru and realized that even if it was normal that the customer’s behavior wasn’t okay. It’s hard to break entrenched thinking, even if you are the victim and know it’s wrong.

  38. Tirv*

    I think back on the behavior we were forced to tolerate not that many years ago and I cringe. I was fairly new in sales at a large manufacturing facility about 20 yrs ago and I ran into our biggest customer in the hallway. It was a bit noisy and I thought he was leaning in to talk into my ear. Instead he stuck his tongue in my ear, chuckled and carried on down the hall. I was stunned -but only told my female colleagues who all agreed he was a pig, but as our largest customer he got away with it. A few days later I got called on the carpet by my boss as someone had complained to HR about this customer and my boss suspected it was me and wanted to let me know that MY behavior was not acceptable. ( it wasn’t me btw)

  39. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Amazing update! Great work all around. OP, please don’t be too hard on yourself. You had been gaslighted and conditioned by years of microaggressions. The point is you recognized where you could do better and made it happen! You’re to be commended for that!

  40. Julia*

    I’m really glad you reflected, OP, and that you plan to do things differently moving forward. It sounds like you had a productive conversation with your employees. That said, as someone who has experienced workplace sexual harassment, I’m disappointed that you chose not to confront either of the wrongdoers here and have a difficult conversation about their behavior. I think you’re doing better, but you could be doing even better than this. And I believe you owe it to your employees. Best of luck.

    1. Observer*

      What exactly will her employees gain by these confrontations?

      The colleague no longer works there, and there is no real chance that the OP will actually change his mind. As for Creepy Bart, the best (and really only) thing that the OP can do for her staff is to keep him out of there. A phone call is not going to make that more likely.

      1. Julia*

        We have the tough conversations because the more tough conversations we have, the more incremental change we make.

        A lot of women don’t have the luxury of speaking up about workplace sexual harassment. When you’re a manager in a position of power, I’d argue you have a responsibility to speak up.

        1. pancakes*

          I agree with that, but calling a meeting with management and another meeting of the full staff is speaking up. A showdown with Creepy Bart is both risky and unlikely to put an end to his creepy behavior. There are some scenarios where it is relatively safe and potentially effective to challenge behavior like his when it’s happening right in front of you, and if people can speak up in those scenarios, they should, yes. I don’t quite agree that confronting Bart after he’d left the premises is one of those scenarios.

  41. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    Congratulations, OP! It takes a lot to admit when you made a mistake and rethink thing, and you did it.

    One nitpick, though. You wrote “I’m 46 years old, which means that when I entered the work force, sexual harassment, especially from customers, was frankly acceptable.” Sexual harassment might have been *accepted*, but it was never *acceptable.* It’s a small difference, but I feel like it’s important.

    1. Jam Today*

      I guess everyone’s mileage varies, but it was definitely considered acceptable at a previous job I held, in the 2000s.

    2. Julia*

      Also, if OP is 46 and started her career in the mid-90s, I mean, we’re not talking about the 60s here. Sexual harassment training was a thing in the 90s. I’m not saying it’s not hard to be a manager dealing with these situations, but that particular line felt a little excuse-making to me.

      1. Kate*

        I’m glad you were never in an industry or an environment where it was acceptable; for many of us it was not only acceptable but it was the norm.

        I worked in the restaurant business – both front and back of the house from the ’90s through the 2000s, and also in the wine business – both on the wholesale side as a wine rep and the retail side. And this was in Seattle and Portland – not exactly hicksville.

        The LW’s experience is 100% spot on for both me and all the women that I worked with during that time in the industry.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes sexual harassment training was a thing but it didn’t always make a difference to how people behaved unless it was coupled with management taking action. If a company is telling female staff not to make waves or “he’s just old fashioned” then it doesn’t matter what training they say they’ve done, nothing will change. Like many things it starts with leadership.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      About the same age as the LW and when I worked in retail and food service in HS and college it was definitely both accepted and acceptable from customers (less so from other employees/bosses). Some of the tactics I was told to use (and did use) to upsell/sell more were pretty gross looking at them through today’s eyes (e.g. giggling and becoming flirtier if groped). It was basically assumed that women in these roles were decorative objects for the customers to use and enjoy

      1. SansaStark*

        That was my experience working in the mid-late 2000s, too. When no one with any power did **anything** to make it stop, it sure felt “accepted” to the rest of us.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          I had one work in 2016 where it was made clear, through action an inaction, that I was expected to be okay with being flirty to make sales, and that I was hired mostly because I was eye candy. So when I was treated as a decorative object, and my voice had little to no practical meaning (with my male bosses undermining me constantly) and I’m hearing people above me using sexualising, misogynistic language, it was pretty clear to me any harassment was “accepted ” and that it should be considered “acceptable”.

          It was never anything overt that I could do anything tangible against, nothing that could have legal consequences, but it was still there, insidious as all hell.

      2. Seconds*

        I’m a woman in my 50s, and this horrifies me! I had no idea women were ever asked to do such things.

  42. Abated*

    Glad to see this update! I feel compelled to share that I really found it off putting that the original letter included each of the women’s ages, marital status, and how attractive they were. For the benefit of all, none of this matters. None of this should impact how you treat a woman at work. Whether she’s attractive or not does not impact whether or not you should sexually harass her or expect she should be used to a little sexual harassment. Woman’s looks are not an indicator as to if she has experienced such abuse. It’s almost guaranteed we’ve all experienced it no matter how we look on any given day. Anyway, I wasn’t sure exactly what these comments were meant to illustrate for us in the original letter. Not bashing OP, I just didn’t understand the reason for it.

  43. Heather*

    I’m confused why there wasn’t more discussion/reflection on your choice to include the attractiveness and marital status of the female employees who had to deal with the behavior. Neither is relevant.

    1. Chashka*

      It may well be relevant. Many harassers prey on the younger and more attractive women, but not others who may not fall into that category. It sounds like Creepy Bart targeted the younger, single, attractive women. A manager who checks on this situation with all employees might be dismissive of the behavior if a fair number of employees have no problems with the customer, thinking these are rare, isolated incidents. Just like many males who are dismissive because “I’ve never had any problems with this guy;” these women must be exaggerating and mis-interpreting the situation. Like the Wizards of the Coast situation referenced above.

      1. pancakes*

        How exactly is it relevant? Please don’t say that hiring older employees or ones who aren’t conventionally attractive is a good way to discourage the Creepy Barts of the world. The problem in these scenarios is Creepy Bart, not his targets. An employer that is dismissive of behavior like Creepy Bart’s is also a problem, no matter whether it happens to all of the staff or only one or two of them.

        1. Batgirl*

          No she’s saying that it’s worth identifying Bart’s target demographic, because the opinions of people outside Bart’s target demographic aren’t relevant. Like the male former colleague. They may also have a blind spot if they’ve not seen Bart in that light. OP is my age, and because she’s been harrassed herself in the past like myself, she probably thinks of herself as a good creep spotter. These guys like to target younger and younger women who have less power, while older women think the world is getting better or they’ve finally mastered keeping them at a distance. One of my students told me she gets her bum pinched while waitressing and I was honestly surprised it’s *still* happening

          1. Chashka*

            Yes, that’s what I meant, Batgirl. You said it better than I did–thank you.

            I in no way meant that hiring employees outside the demographics of the Creepy Barts of the world is an answer. Yes, Creepy Bart is the problem, but it’s possible that a Big Boss might be dismissive of the problem if they have a blind spot.

          2. pancakes*

            She’s my age, too. One year older, to be specific. I don’t agree that age categorically or solely shapes one’s views on this. I don’t work in hospitality myself but I have friends who do, and I keep up with the reporting of labor journalists who focus on it – some are mutuals on social media and I see their work constantly – so I don’t find it all surprising that behavior like this remains hugely problematic. Older women who look at the world strictly through the frame of their own personal experience are choosing insularity. It’s a very common choice but certainly not mandatory.

            I also don’t agree that people outside of the groups targeted by the Creepy Barts of the world should be categorically excluded from internal investigations at work. Their feedback can always be set aside as irrelevant if it is, but not making any effort to gather it in the first place is inexcusable. No one is so pressed for time as to need to take that particular shortcut.

            1. Batgirl*

              I honestly don’t know what you mean by excluding people from internal investigations at work because no one mentioned that!

              1. pancakes*

                That was in response to your comment that “the opinions of people outside Bart’s target demographic aren’t relevant. Like the male former colleague.”

                1. Batgirl*

                  Yes but that comment didn’t come close to suggesting anything about internal investigations or excluding people from them and I wanted to correct the assumption.

  44. RetailIsKillingMe*

    I made the mistake of reading this on my lunch and now I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon pissed because I’ve had similar problems at work and THIS IS WHAT GOOD MANAGERS DO, THEY PRIORITIZE THEIR EMPLOYEES’ WELLBEING OVER TERRIBLE CUSTOMERS

    If I had any way to hand this to my managers (and the regional manager, and every coworker who told me to “stop taking it so personally”) I would, but I have no access to email or computers that can reach the internet at work, and no printer at home. I’d attach it to all the “your bad attitude is the problem” quotes they’ve been posting lately. Ugh.

  45. This stuff makes me so angry*

    Just here to say that having a boss who takes sexual assault and harassment seriously is not “forward thinking”. It isn’t ‘progressive’ to say that people’s bodies should not be groped at work!

  46. Anon attorney*

    I think you’re being a little tough on yourself here OP. It’s good that you reflected on the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace so as to handle this incident in a more supportive way, but the responsibility for creating and maintaining that culture lies primarily with the men who do it.

    1. Oh for the love of...*

      Conversely, this is an appropriate amount of reflection and we need to stop adulating people for doing the bare minimum.

  47. Tea and Cake*

    This is such a great update. OP well done.

    And I really want to visit your winery, become a club member and recommend it to everyone I know who visits Napa.

  48. Very Social*

    What a wonderful update, LW. I’m so proud of you for your self-reflection and for doing the hard work of standing up for your employees. And I’m so pleased that you didn’t have to fight to get the boss on the same side, too.

  49. RagingADHD*

    I’m glad it all worked out, but I’m puzzled about the whole “I’m 46 and didn’t realize” thing.

    I’m older than 46, and I knew what sexual harassment was, and that it was not acceptable, when I entered the workforce.

    My mom started working in the 1950s, and she knew it was gross and inappropriate, and knew which people in leadership were not creepy themselves and would therefore put a stop to it.

    Maybe this tunnel vision is really specific to the hospitality industry, or to toxic employers /industries that give employees no recourse. But society in general was well aware that this kind of behavior is gross and unwelcome, even many years ago.

    I’m glad you were able to step up for your employees and do the right thing.

  50. Waitress*

    I was a waitress for a long time (just recently became a manager) and once I ended up being the veteran server working with younger servers, I found (and find) myself coaching them on how to set boundaries with customers and what they don’t have to tolerate.

    Some of them definitely think I worry too much or have too strict boundaries, but that’s been hard-earned from a career of handling inappropriate customers (and bosses) & I desperately want to prevent as much as I can for the next generation.

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