Dear Pink Hair Girl,
I work at a GameStop because I enjoy playing video games, and because I need to make a buck while finishing up getting my BA in Marketing. I also happen to be a girl, and it’s this fact that seems to make all the difference at work. Many of the people who come into the store treat me just fine, they ask questions or pay for their items without incident. But most, (yes, more than half) will either hit on me relentlessly causing awkward moments, or treat me like I’m incapable of my job right off the bat. My coworkers mainly just think it’s funny, and I’ll admit it happens so much that I’d probably find it funny too, in a sad sitcom way, if it weren’t happening to me. My boss tells me to just keep doing what I’m doing, and that these attitudes towards female employees is common. He doesn’t want me to make a fuss because he doesn’t want to lose customers. And while I get that, I also don’t appreciate being treated like crap or meat on a daily basis. I’m good at my job, I do like my coworkers, and I feel like this still beats working as a waitress, so I wanna stay. But is there anything I can say or do to customers to make it clear that I’m as much a professional as any guy working at the store?
Welcome to the wonderful world of video game retail. I think almost any girl who’s worked at a video game store you talk to will have stories like yours, at least to some extent. The world of video games is very much a male dominated genre still. It’s still a regular occurance for girls to find disrespect when playing games (see: fatuglyorslutty.com), let alone being professionals in the gaming world. So on the one hand, your boss is right; the way the customers treat you is actually a common phenomenon. On the other hand, should anyone accept this sort of treatment as valid? Absolutely not. Including your boss.
Chances are that if someone acts out on an assumption about your gaming knowledge or credibility based on the fact that you’re a girl, nothing you say or do on the spot will change their mind. That’s what makes it an assumption. And no matter which assumption they’ve made, it will take more than a few minutes to change. And for some, these blind assumptions and preconceived notions go so deep, that your input is likely to have little to no effect on their idea of you after you’ve given it. This is why it helps to have the support of other people, mainly your coworkers and your boss.
Assumption 1: You’re a girl who likes video games, which is uncommon, so I need to hit on you because we have that in common and I bet we’d hit it off. – For most people it’s enough to just behave business-like, they’ll get the signal that you’re a professional just there to do your job and answer their purchase-related questions. But obviously, your problem is not with these people. It’s with the ones that don’t get the hint. The trouble happens when it’s one of those customers who just makes it awkward and doesn’t quite get that you’re not interested, so they keep coming back, or keep trying to talk to you about unrelated things, or draw out the conversation. If they don’t get social cues, or body language hints, then it’s up to you to be forward with them. Yes, it will probably feel crappy, but it’s better than letting things drag out. When you start to feel like the conversation is no longer about the game or within your professional scope of work, you have to tell them so. You can say, “I have to stop our conversation now because I don’t feel like it’s professional any more.” or tell them flat out. “I’m feeling uncomfortable talking to you. If you need any more help with your purchase, please ask my coworker, X for assistance.”
This is when it starts to be important that your coworkers understand what’s going on, and that they have your back. If a customer gets aggressive or angry at you for not returning advances, that’s when you need a boss or a manager to step in and ask them to leave the store. It is very VERY important you know you can trust your higher-up to do that. Sure, they’ll likely lose that person as a customer, but what does it say to the rest of their customers that this store allows its employees to be treated this way?
Level with your boss, make sure they know that this is important to you and you need to feel safe at work. If they give you any response that is less than super-serious and supportive, tell them then and there that you’re going to go over their heads to a regional manager to get the support you need. I know they hate this, and it probably causes drama, but it’s the only recourse you have left at that point. You either make them feel butt-hurt about it for a while, or go around work feeling like a piece of meat to every asshole who walks in thinking they can get your number if they push you for it. Over and over and over, because they know where you work. They can be back for you. And if after talking to your boss you feel like they’re not going to help you out of spite, then your only option is to report them and probably ask to be transferred to a different store. This part isn’t because you’re a girl, mind you, it’s just the cost of working with people who don’t take your personal comfort and safety into consideration. It could happen to anyone, anywhere and thems the ropes I’m afraid.
Assumption 2: You’re a girl who just works there for the money/attention/whatever and doesn’t know shit about video games. – Sometimes it’s enough to rattle off a bit of helpful knowledge when the customer seems skeptical. They’ll spend a minute listening to you and realize- oh yeah, she’s probably had this question asked before, and knows the answer. But of course, you have your assholes who just don’t wanna believe you know beans, even though this is your job. And again, in this situation it’s not personal, it’s because they have this cloud of idiocy right around where their brain should be, telling them to be utter douchebags.
You could spout out in detail what the new individualized resource system will be like for each of the 5 classes coming up in Diablo 3, maybe give your two cents about whether or not the developer’s design choices reflect the same horror atmosphere of the existing Diablo series, but they’ll likely tell you that RPGs are for bitches or something equally dismissive and not give you a shred of cred. Cuz you don’t have a wiener. And you don’t have to put up with customers like this. At least you shouldn’t. If they’re at the store, asking to be helped by someone else, start by saying that you’re a professional, and that if you’re not able to answer their question, you’ll gladly ask another employee if they know the answer. If they refuse and continue to demand that a man help them, go ahead and get a male coworker or manager. Tell them something like “This customer here doesn’t think I can help them, probably because I’m a girl. Can you humor me and just stand there while I help them so they believe I know what I’m talking about?” If the customer demands that the male employee give them the answer, your fellow employee should feel comfortable telling them that you know what you’re talking about.
Again, for this you have to have the support of your coworkers. Mind you, if you’re experiencing this on a daily basis, asking your male coworkers to do this will get annoying to them. Good. At that point, your fellow employees can just say to these customers flat out, “I assure you that L/HG here can help you. She’s knows just as much about X as I do.” And then walk away. At the very least, they’ll have a new understanding of what it’s like to have to prove yourself a million times over, just cuz you’ve got boobs.
These options might sound like a lot of work. But I’m afraid that’s what it means to prove yourself as a woman on a ‘man’s turf’ right now. You could always just let the mouth breathers who don’t pick up social cues continue to hit on you. You could just pass off your work to the men in the store anytime some jerknut doubts you because of your chromosomes. But you won’t be solving your problems that way, and you won’t be helping out any girl in your position, let alone yourself. What it boils down to is respect. Ask your coworkers to respect your authority, by requiring that customers also respect your authority. Anything less and you’re letting everyone walk all over you. And you deserve better, no matter what job you’re at. Of course, this is in part about activism for women’s equality, but it’s also about respecting your own personal right to be treated like a qualified individual. So even if you’re not a bra-burning feminist out there to prove that video games are for chicks too, you owe this one to yourself. You just happen to be helping out gamer girls everywhere by setting a good example.
Also, it can be really gratifying to take chauvinist assholes down a peg.
Pink Hair Girl
If you’ve got a snag in your social life, cramping your g33k style, feel free to ask me for some advice!
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