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The Realities of Retail: Sexism in the Workplace

The challenge of finding a job as a student these days often seems to be the matter of picking the best of a bad bunch. However, one of the matters that seems to always take a backseat in our job-search deliberation is equal treatment and protection in the work place – a matter that feels ever more important as we sell our soul to part-time work. Despite living in an age where the issue of sexism is becoming more recognised, sexism in the work place remains as the reality for many women. It is a reality, it seems, we are encouraged to simply shake off.

The unbalanced and unfair expectations of women were exposed to an extent I had never seen before in my most recent experience of working in retail.

One of the most prominent issues, that I personally experienced, is being forced to wear 4-inch high-heels for an entire shift as “part of the uniform” – regardless of whether you’re working 10 or 40 hours a week. The girls would be found crying in the back as they begged the manager to wear flat shoes, only to be met with a sigh and an apathetic “you’ve got five minutes”. The only way the store would grace you with the right to wear flatter shoes was with a doctor’s note. So, the girls would simply have to wait as the orthopaedic health issues creeped ever closer, while male members of staff wear flat shoes for every shift.

Another of my experiences of ‘up-market retail’ was the forced wearing of provocative uniform. A friend of mine recollects standing in a company meeting while the female members of staff were told to “get [their] boobs out” because head-office were visiting. It’s around this point when you realise that your humble role as clothes-folder is more corrupt and more convoluted than you originally realised. It’s around this point that you realise how you have been tricked into being another brand doll.

Beyond this, I have had friends tell me stories of being gifted by customers, catcalled, having pictures taken of them and being touched in their workplace- a place where they’re supposed to feel safe. The worst part about this is the management response who, on hearing about these issues, have said that they should “take it as a compliment”. With this said, you feel your safety, your control, and your respect slip away as the realities of retail become ever-more evident.

While discrimination in the workplace as a broad term is more and more recognised each day, it seems the ultimate goal of equal rights is still a long way off, especially with sexism justified through the ‘the store look’ or being part of delivering excellent ‘customer service’. The first port of call is to seek recognition of this issue and remove the blasé perspective that ‘getting creeped on’, or wearing completely unsuitable clothing, is just ‘part of being a girl’. Only when this misconception is completely stamped out can we work on creating safer, fairer workplaces for women in our society and constructing a world where the different treatment of women in the workplace fails to be justified at all.

For more on this issue check out the Style article this week!

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