“Hi, how are you? Welcome to ____,” is what I’ve repeated countless times during my summer job as a hostess (I still have one last shift left so if you’re wondering what restaurant it is I’m working at I’ll release it once I clock out for the last time this summer). During this time I have interacted with many different people but none of these interactions stick out more clearly and uncomfortable than the ones I have had with men who appear to be over the age of 35. From what I have gathered, many men over the age of 35, though not all, do not know how to interact with women under 25.
Let me offer an example.
It’s a hot summer night like any other and it’s almost time for my shift to start so I walk up to my hostess stand. I unlock the front door to the restaurant promptly at 5:30 p.m. and customers begin to stroll in for dinner. One of the customers who is a regular comes in to sit at the bar. And yes, he is a man over 35. I have seen him come in on countless occasions, each time smiling and exchanging pleasantries with me then seating himself at the bar. I expect the same from him this evening. However, it seems that our familiarity with each other has grown so in passing he decides to offer me a high five. To my surprise and discomfort, I hesitate and look at his hand hanging in mid-air. I do not know what else to do but to give him a high five back. He gives me another smile and nod and makes his way to the bar.
Now you might be thinking, “What is so discomforting about him giving you a high five?” Let me answer that question with another question. Has someone you barely know ever offered you a high five in passing while you are at work for no apparent reason? When I think of a high five I think of children. Would you not feel slightly embarrassed and infantile if this happened to you?
Some may say that I did not have to give him the high five back. Trust me, I did not want to and I’m cringing just thinking about it. In a busy restaurant, I’m sure no one would have noticed if I hadn’t given him a high five back. So why did I then? I and many other young women are accustomed to being treated like girls instead of the dignified women that we are. My current “Mad Men” obsession has made me more aware of the infantilizing effects of the patriarchy towards women. It’s somewhat pathetic that I did not come to this realization sooner but I have Netflix to thank for not only satiating my television addiction but also heightening my awareness of patriarchal forces at work in my everyday life.
I and many other young women are accustomed to being treated like girls instead of the dignified women that we are.
Now writing this I remember at the start of the summer when I was being trained for my position by the former manager, another man who appears to be over 35, I can recount him offering me high fives as well and myself begrudgingly accepting them. He would give me a high five at the end of my shift for a job well done but I never saw him offer high fives to any other worker in the restaurant who was working just as hard as myself. From these high fives, more questions come to my mind: Would I have been given high fives if I was a man? Would I have been given high fives if I was a slightly older woman? Would other women give me high fives? I believe the answer to all of these questions is “no.” So why me? The only reason that comes to mind is that I am a young woman and thus by order of the patriarchy I must receive high fives because saying “good work” just won’t do.
There are four other women I know of on staff at the restaurant-- 2 on the kitchen staff who do not appear to be over the age of 35, another hostess my age who works on the days I have off, and a server who is around 35. I have not asked them if they have also experienced infantilizing effects at work from their male co-workers but from my observations, they do not seem to receive high fives although they might feel similar social exclusion from the men’s’ conversations.
After what I’m calling the “high five effect,” I decided to reflect on other interactions I have had at work with men over the age of 35. My conclusion is that many men who are over 35, though not exclusively, experience challenges and disinterest when it comes to interacting with young women. For instance, I have felt infantilized by the exchanges I have had with the chef at the restaurant, also a man that appears to be over the age of 35. When I first interviewed to be a hostess at this restaurant, he was one of my interviewers. During my interview, he was perfectly friendly and professional and conversation was plenty because we were just talking about my job experience and education. But after that interview, the most we ever exchange now are pleasantries when I come into work. I feel excluded from the social sphere of jokes and conversation he creates with the other colleagues who are all several years older than me, most of them men. Sometimes I feel as if I am six years old again among adults who take little interest in what I have to say and I am forced to sit at the children’s table alone while the adults go on to mingle with each other.
My conclusion is that many men who are over 35, though not exclusively, experience challenges and disinterest when it comes to interacting with young women.
Not sure if you believe the extent of his disinterest in me? In the beginning of the summer after I was hired, he tried to relay the information that I had shared with him during my interview with the rest of the staff. He couldn’t remember my major, grade level, or school I attend. I’m not even sure if he knows my name. To be fair, when a new server who is also of college age was hired, he messed up his name. However, he is much more friendly to the server, who is also a male, than me.
Sometimes I feel as if I am six years old again among adults who take little interest in what I have to say and I am forced to sit at the children’s table alone while the adults go on to mingle with each other.
In contrast to the infantilizing high fives and social exclusion I have experienced, I have also been exposed to professional and inclusive interactions with my male coworkers in the 30-35 year old range. We talk about music, television, and the news among other things in a normal fashion. I even receive a daily fist bump when I come to work from one of my male coworkers who is 30 years of age. Some may ask, well why doesn’t a fist bump make you uncomfortable? A fist bump doesn’t have the same connotation as a high five. While I view a high five as having an authoritative divide to it, a fist bump is representative of a friendly exchange where both parties are equal.
From these encounters I have learned that I and other young women must speak up for ourselves for when we feel uncomfortable and unimportant no matter what the scenario may be and not feel embarrassed for doing so.
Why then do these men who appear to be over 35 treat young women in a childlike manner? Perhaps it is a generational divide that causes them to act this way. In the current climate of various sexual harassment cases surfacing, I do not blame men for being more reserved about their behavior towards women. Some may wonder whether I have had these experiences because of my age and gender or perhaps just because of my personality. I will admit that I do not talk to everyone at my work who may or may not be closer or further to my age or of the same or different gender. But I will stand by and say that it is only men who appear to be over 35 that have made me feel infantile. I do not believe these men to be ill-intentioned and I do not want this to read as if every man over 35 is incapable of interacting normally with young women.
From these encounters I have learned that I and other young women must speak up for ourselves for when we feel uncomfortable and unimportant no matter what the scenario may be and not feel embarrassed for doing so. It feels much worse to say nothing than to continue to accept childlike treatment. So men, please, for the love of god, do not offer me or any other young women high fives and maybe try treating us with as much professionalism, interest, and enthusiasm as our male coworkers.
Emma Ceplinskas is an avid feminist who loves not only advocating for gender equality but also staying involved in domestic politics and up to date on international affairs. She is beginning her junior year at Denison University where she is majoring in International Studies. When she's not writing feminist articles, you can find her at local cafés, thrift shops, record stores or some other trendy millennial hang out spot. Her favorite quotes are by Comedy Legend, Tina Fey: “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”