The Vagenda

Men in Pubs: A Pint-Sized Issue

Being a 19 year old female working in a pub can be a strange experience. And no, I’m not talking about a trendy bar in a city centre crawling with hipsters, or even a local that is frequented by ‘those’ types of students looking for real ale. My pub is a fairly typical, Northern affair – the kind you could comfortably refer to as an ‘old man’s’ pub. It has been my local ever since I have lived on the road around the corner – that is, my whole life. My parents are good friends with the current and previous landlords, and are known there by name, as are many of the regulars. 
What makes my pub different to many other pubs in that it still has a vault, which used to be a male-only section of the pub. Nowadays, women can, and do go in, although it basically remains the men’s domain. And, perhaps predictably, it is in this vault that I experience the most trouble.
The role of the barmaid is such that male customers tend to simultaneously compliment and patronise you; simultaneously admire you and look down on you. The men who go into the vault that I’m talking about tend to see barmaids as one-dimensional cartoons, who are there solely to laugh at their rubbish jokes and flirt. These are the men who, when I was crossing the car park on my way home, shouted, ‘get in the van!’ at me; who shout crude comments about me while I’m serving other customers; and shouted ‘ooft, Jenny!’ at a female colleague of mine when she bent over to get something off the floor. I’ve no doubt that for some readers, this will remind them of street harassment, things that men shout out from cars and vans when walking down the street, and undoubtedly it’s the same flippant remarks that can leave you shaken. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that in the usual case of street harassment, those men are gone in a flash.
In a pub, the barmaid still has to serve these men, and smile at them. I’m sure many of you would advise me to speak up to my landlord – and I have after the worst instances – but usually these kinds of complaints would be met with, ‘That’s just something you have to deal with’ and/or, ‘It’s part of the job.’ Some people might imply that if I came to work in different clothing, or without make-up on, then this ‘part of the job’ might diminish slightly. But the fact of the matter is that, like with street harassment, it is not the clothes you are wearing or the shade of mascara you dare to flaunt that makes men shout at you: it is because you dare to be there.
Women have a strange relationship with pubs. In some ways, they are very much a female-dominated arena: most of the bar staff in my pub are women, and you only have to look at soap operas to see the ubiquitous ‘strong woman’ that rules the pub roost. Despite this, it still doesn’t feel as our positions are entirely comfortable, even when attending as customers – there are still assumptions that women will want a half pint and not a full one, for instance. My mum and her friend were delighted one evening that my friend on the bar assumed they wanted pints, not halves; yet another female customer looked shocked when I did the same thing – as if it was perfectly obvious she would want a half instead. A friend of mine at university says her mum has a pint, but has it in two half pint glasses. Why do women still feel like they have to act like the dainty, restrained customers when most of the men they come with show no such restraint? It’s as if they themselves still believe in the pub being a man’s domain, there to facilitate their after-work escape from the ‘old ball and chain’, and if we continue to believe it, then maybe it’ll stay that way.
It would be a lie to say that I don’t enjoy my work: most customers are kind and funny, if patronising and old-fashioned. There are situations that are patently not ideal – right down to the different glasses we serve to men and women – but in general, I have a good time. Perhaps that is enough, for now. And while I can’t speak for anywhere but my ‘old man’ pub on the corner, I’d be interested to hear if urban hipster bars have really moved on from these attitudes, or if they just conceal them better. Is it still, after all, a universal British truth that the watering hole is the stamping ground of the male?

11 thoughts on “Men in Pubs: A Pint-Sized Issue

  1. I got so many sexist and racist comments at the pub I worked in, despite the many lovely locals. Most people are completely unsympathetic to complaints/find the comments funny. Not so much when you’re not allowed to talk back or tell someone to stop staring at your totally covered, uniformed chest when you’re pulling a pint.

  2. In my experience, yes. In my teenage years of serving at pubs, the people (especially men) are all the same. I got did get less of it though, perhaps because I looked so underage which is odd because usually, that doesn’t matter the age or look of the woman, the treatment is the same. However, that didn’t stop a regular resting his hand on my bum one time…

  3. I and the rest of the women in the TA unit I belong to have just been banned from drinking out of pint glasses in our bar, because it isn’t ladylike. Because the feeble lady-wrist cannot cope with the weight of the pint.

  4. That’s completely ridiculous and I think it deserves appropriate levels of rage/fury in response! Perhaps a good slap is in order….although that might be too much for a feeble lady-wrist.

  5. i worked in a local type pub, and had a harassment problem with one customer for a while. I was however lucky enough to have a ‘strong woman’ landlady who made no complaint when i learnt to answer back to customers – mostly by asking if they wanted their beer with or without the pint glass – didn’t stop them completely, but they had to good grace to behave like i scared them.
    On the question of whether the pub a man’s stamping ground, i think society is not able get past the preconception that a woman alone in a place that serves alcohol is a whore (the old term being public woman) – the only woman that used to frequent the public house. A test to see how advanced your pub is would be to go and count the number of women drinking alone (vs men), especially in the evening. I know that despite the anecdote i wrote above, i still don’t feel comfortable alone in a pub when i am not behind the bar. i shall stop now because i did write a dissertation on this a long time ago, and this could go on a bit too long… and thats not even touching on the ale drinking issues….

  6. I never willingly go into pubs – dull, dingy, lifeless places given over to pointless drug abuse, and as for beer, make it a thimbleful and I’ll still rather spill the filthy stuff :o)

  7. Ejags – TA as in territorial army? Unbelievable! Pardon my assumptions, but I’m guessing that the women in your unit are not interested in being dainty anyway…? Such a rule is probably illegal anyway. Threaten them with going to the local paper, I’m sure they’ll see sense.

    Simon – I’m not sure how that’s relevant to the piece.

    I too worked behind the bar in my teens and I feel like I’ve just read a chapter of my autobiography. (‘sept I’m from down souff. No more enlightened in flashy London I’m afraid). 13 years on I’m rather depressed by that.

  8. I was going to say that it’s not unknown if a man orders a half for me he will be asked if it’s to be in a “lady’s glass”(i.e. a goblet), at which anyone who know me always says no, but Ejags’ story totally eclipses that.
    Stangely it doesn’t tend to happen if I’m ordering for myself (and I don’t look butch) or if a female friend is ordering. Some weird thing going on there that if a man buys you a drink you are viewed as more feminine/weak wristed….

  9. As both an ex bar girl and frequent pub goer I have to speak up in defense of my locals – I’ve never experienced anything that bad. Admittedly the pub I worked in was in a rather upmarket area of London, but I’m struggling to recall any negative experience. Sure, some customers of the older generation were quite set in their ways and would act surprised if they offered to buy me a drink and I’d opt for a pint rather than a glass of wine or a mixer, but it was always in a very sweet, polite and pleasant manner. In fact, I’ll go even further and say I’ve had few jobs where I’ve felt more in control than behind the bar.

  10. Years and years of bar work in different bars in different demographics have given me a wealth of sexist incidents and behaviour from both female and male staff and customers. Sadly i feel it is indicative of the still on going need for proper feminist discussion in society! However that said i also object to the way people treat anyone in the service industry male and female, just because i am behind a bar serving you a drink does not give you any right to treat me as a lesser being even if you are a drunk twat! I have forever refused to bow the the ridiculous assertation that the customer is always right and when faced with aggressive, rude, sexist customers hold my right to refuse to serve and also on numerous very enjoyable occasions personally physically eject said customers from the bars i work in. I refuse to be servile and any victim of sexism….. make this clear right from the start and you can create an aura of don’t fuck with me…. Although i am completely aware that this has been supported by some helpful bosses. As quoted from my recent boss.’you are the bar staff we recieve the most complaints about but i never seen you shoot down someone who didnt deserve it’ ‘plus you get bought the most shots out of anyone on the payroll! However i am aware of other members of staff particularly the younger female friends i work with, who do not have the same aggressive personality as me, being very upset and harrased by both male and female customers and feel very angry lest anything happens like this when im not around to support them. I agree with the comment about feeling in control behind a bar but its a slightly different experience when i waitress. I wonder if the presence of the physical barrier of the bar has the same symbolism as the exuecutive sat behind his impressive large wooden desk?

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