I Hate That I Made the Pizza
#86this: Main Menu
By Allie Silvas
photo by Liz Clayman
The most exciting part of this revolution we are participating in is the chance for the quiet voices inside all of us to roar. We are collectively deciding to get better, to heal our industry, and to protect ourselves and others, and in order to do that, we must first speak.
About six months ago, I started my first kitchen job. I was hired for a part-time position assisting another line cook—who vehemently rejected assistance. This person was extremely aggressive. He would stare me down and push me out of the way. I didn’t expect the job to be easy, but I was not prepared for the constant battle of defending my personal space. I talked to a kitchen manager who was often on the line with us and, while she assured me she would say something to him, she also insisted that I stand up for myself. Pulling from her own experience, she said to use my voice and that I was the only one who could change the situation. I just needed to learn to defend myself so men would know they couldn’t mess with me anymore. I was told that I would continue being targeted because I am “so nice.”
After learning to respond directly when I was feeling uncomfortable and vocalizing when something was not okay, I felt the issue was almost resolved. Yet, I was still underprepared when another man came in for a stage and stayed an hour on my station. From the beginning of our interaction, he was a little too close to me, asked me a few too many personal questions, and kept tapping me to get my attention. When I said I’d be right back, he followed me into the walk-in and hovered over me, blocking the door. I should have said something right away. Perhaps if our culture was more supportive of women or less forgiving of men, I would have. It is all too easy for us to excuse this behavior with simple explanations like “He’s just friendly.”
He spent one hour with me and then another hour at a different station. When he changed stations, I figured it was over and brushed off his intrusive nature. But I was blindsided an hour later when he came over to me, wrapped his arm around my waist, pulled me into him, and asked, in a whisper, to make him a pizza. I was stunned. I asked him to please not grab me and he laughed it off as if the whole thing was a joke.
I made the pizza. I hate that I made the pizza. I hate that in an open kitchen with so many people I felt trapped and alone and watched all at the same time.
I reported the incident to management. I felt overwhelmed—not just by this one moment, but by all the times in the past three months that I had felt a man was trying to get something from me. All the times I've been called sweetheart, all the questions I’d fielded about my relationship and living arrangements. All the times some guy has said my name just to get my attention, a hello, a smile; whatever they wanted in that moment with no regard for myself, my time, or my energy.
These things happen to women everywhere, every day. I am not special. It may not seem like a big deal, but these small moments add up. They weigh you down.
I got so upset, I was in tears. The general manager looked at my notice and offered me my last paycheck.
I took it.
I appreciate that I was able to get out of a toxic environment once I recognized it, but it is sad for me to acknowledge how long it took me to do so. It’s part of our job now to call out toxic situations. We must have the courage to trust ourselves and refuse to be comforted by the “that’s how it is” mentality.
In order to reshape our workplaces we have to start identifying the patterns that make women feel inferior and unseen. We cannot allow women to be spoken over. If a man is speaking over you, say so. If someone touches you out of turn, say something immediately. These are not easy things to do and they take practice, but they will bring empowerment.
It is also crucial for us to have allies, both male and female. Identify your support system within your workplace and lean on it. Remember it is not shameful to be harassed or targeted. The shame belongs only to those who harass.
Listen to yourself and do not be silenced.
Together we shall roar.
Allie Silvas is a writer and line cook based in Los Angeles. You can find her writing about food and culture at www.matchstickcooking.com
Liz Clayman is a New York City-based photographer specializing in culinary, lifestyle, and portraiture. She is the photo editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She shoots for a range of freelance clients as well as in-house for Union Square Hospitality Group. www.lizclayman.com