Friday, April 30, 2010

Sexist Customers

I'm working in a bookstore in a big, popular airport. As the weather has warmed up, a certain kind of customer has increased in frequency and insanity. He's always a masculine straight man, usually between 35 and 60 and upper-middle to upper class. Usually a businessman, white or European.

Most of my men coworkers are either flaming, laid-back or both. The more macho my coworker, the more often this happens: I ask a customer if he needs help finding anything, if he's looking for anything, how he's doing, etc. and the customer ignores me to ask my coworker his question. The first few times this happened, I thought I was just imagining things or noticing only when this happened. But then it became a regular occurrence and one customer even said "I'm going to go ask the computer guy my question" when my coworker was not at the computer!! This is insulting, apparently I'm less capable than my macho coworker despite my initiative.

And no matter with whom I'm working, if anyone, this same kind of customer (sometimes the very same person) flirts with me. Usually this is a leery smirk with a wink, calling me "honey" or "dear" or "sweetheart." Sometimes I get a pat on the shoulder... and one guy even said "you're too young to be a 'ma'am'!" WTF?!? Whenever any of this behavior happens, I basically withdraw and just perform the basic necessities of my work. What makes these guys think I - no matter how flaming I am that day - would want this attention is beyond me. Sometimes this flirting happens while another customer is trying to figure out what gender I am!

Many times, I want to say something and confront the asshole. This is customer service, though, and it would reflect terribly on me if a complaint was made to management or corporate. You can't really kill a lecher with kindness, the policy of dealing with angry people, and I've managed to show up some of the customers who assume I don't know anything to help them. I really don't know what to do about either of these habits.

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