By Doug Barry
Jezebel • March 3, 2012
Applebee’s may be great place to wash down your cheese-infused dinner with an Oreo milkshake (they still have those, yes?), but, according to an undercover reporter who spent time on the prep line at one of the popular restaurant chains, its male-dominated kitchens simmer with sexual aggression.
Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, writes on the Daily Beast today about how she struggled to fend off harassment from an all-male staff while she was working in an Applebee’s kitchen, an experience, she says, that culminated with her being drugged and molested by a male co-worker during her farewell party. As the only woman working the prep line, McMillan found herself constantly being tested by her co-workers’ general ickiness, with only the intervention of a no-nonsense manager to rely on if things got too out-of-hand. She writes,
When Geoff, a dark-skinned Caribbean cook asked me if I liked chocolate, and said he preferred vanilla, I rolled my eyes. When Christopher, born and raised in a rough part of the city, puffed up his chest, tapped me on the collarbone and said, “I’ma put my name right there, on a chain, ’round your neck,” I pursed my lips, said, “I would like to see you try, motherfucker,” and we both laughed. I learned that “culo” meant ass, and made sure to ask Joel, a cook, if there was a problem when I caught him eyeing mine.
When managers began discussing her “future” with the company after 2 months, McMillan decided, despite her acquired knack for applying delicious sauces and managing kitchen traffic, that it was time to GTFO and her co-workers sent her off with fresh ceviche, Mezcal, and a horrifying tale of sexual assault, disabusing her of the notion that she’d been fully accepted as “one of the guys.” She writes that, though the entire night of the party remains “fuzzy,” some co-workers helped her piece a timeline together, that includes the party moving to another co-worker’s apartment and a girl from the prep kitchen preventing a man named Joel from taking McMillan home with him:
But when I crawled into the apartment’s only bed and fell asleep, a friend of another colleague saw an opportunity and took it. So far as I can tell, I was molested, not raped. I filed a police report, and there was an initial arrest, but not enough evidence to pursue a case.
Restaurant kitchens have long been described as boys’ clubs that sanction the hard-living, brotastic culture Anthony Bourdain popularized in his first panegyrics to the brutal restaurant industry. Such a stagnant culture, fraternally jocular though it may be, easily becomes the ideal environment for rampant misogyny and discrimination, since male employees never have to work alongside women and develop the professional respect that peers should have for one another, regardless of gender. A recent national survey, moreover, pointed to vast discrimination against women in the restaurant industry in terms of pay, working conditions, and sexual harassment, and even though only 7 percent of working women are employed by restaurants, according to McMillan and MSNBC analysis of the current data, that small segment of the female workforce accounted for 37 percent of all sexual harassment complaints filed by women n 2011.
Pretty bleak, eh? Though these numbers probably won’t significantly improve any time soon (especially as long as headlines about a woman filing harassment charges use the verb “cry,” as if making such claim were an act of public whining), McMillan’s account constitutes an important step in addressing and fighting workplace harassment. Women who make sexual harassment allegations are often picked over by legal eagles and press jackals alike, — see the Great Herman Cain Debacle of 2011 — and when a woman such as McMillan takes ownership of her narrative by sharing it candidly with so wide an audience, it goes a long way to obviating Mario Batali’s advice that women in the kitchen merely need to “get over” workplace iniquities.