I am a woman in a very male-dominated space, whether it’s patrons or the vendors we work with, the bar, restaurant, and liquor industries are full of men, men, men. Everywhere.
Men who have been encouraged to take up space and be loud, and that they are entitled to it.
Spaces occupied by a male majority aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves until they are. Bars might be generally more welcoming and safer to women if more were part of the industry.
The experience of a woman in this space is a delicate one. We notice things men don’t, we have challenges men don’t, and we are absolutely taken far less seriously.
So, with my six-month expertise, let me share with you some things I’ve noticed or experienced. Some may not be necessarily specific to women, but they are my experiences nonetheless.
- No one ever assumes I am the owner.
The number of times I’ve been in a situation with a vendor and our male bar manager, someone like our tap cleaners for example, and they don’t even look at me is, well, a lot. And do you know how many times I have heard someone ask our bar manager if he is the owner? Also, a lot. He politely says “no” and points to me and/or my partner. I have never been explicitly asked if I am the owner without first hinting at it. Usually, I get asked, “Is the owner here?”
And then I instill shock in the inquirer when I say, “I’m the owner.” Truly. Eyes bulge.
There have been countless times I’ve listened to people tell Harrison how happy they are for him as I wipe counters and plug taps. Just last week someone told Harrison, “Man, you’ve got great bartenders here” after I made him a cocktail. I’m pretty sure he had been told already been told that I am an owner. Alas, misogyny wins again.
2. Women are still vessels to everyone, and no life decision will be as important as marriage and children.
Very early on, an older man came in and started telling me how great it is to have a family-owned business and that someday, my children can work there. I looked at him and said, “You assume I want children, sir.”
He has come in several other times, and without fail, he brings up the prospect of children. Every time, I say, “Nope. No kids.”
Apparently, I’ve made it my personal responsibility to tell one solitary white-haired boomer that children are not always a desire for women. Furthermore, it is so impolite to talk to women you don’t know about such a sensitive topic for reasons that should be obvious.
My sister-in-law is currently pregnant as is Harrison’s sister. I am thrilled to be an aunt. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, and I support and stand behind their decisions as women to have kids. BUT battling some family expectations to drop everything and make time to fly across the country for a baby shower has been frustrating to say the least. We also just made a huge life change that requires immeasurable amounts of our time and energy, but that also brings meaning, purpose, a fulfillment to our lives. Sort of like having kids, I assume.
My point is that some people choose to have kids, some people choose to buy a bar. Some might choose to do both (God help them). Everything is a choice, and I would love to celebrate choices that are anything other than having children. Other things are also very hard and require immense sacrifice.
3. Men say weird shit to me all the time.
I take the environment that exists in the space that I own extremely seriously, especially considering the space that we took over was very male-dominated. Since the previous bar was very dominated by men who were obviously never told “no” by anyone at the previous bar, imagine their surprise to have someone tell them, “That’s not how we talk about women here” after they’ve said something gross.
The things that men feel comfortable saying to people never cease to amaze, but here are a few:
- “How was yoga this morning. Was there a lot of talent there?”
- After a cupping session with visible bruises, “Did you go to go to a massage parlor? Were they Asian?” Nothing like some not-so-veiled gross racism to start a Wednesday night.
- References to their condom size, which is obviously magnum, to which I reply, “You wish.”
- After I converted our gendered single-occupancy restrooms to gender-neutral, two very offended men argued that women want their own restroom because men pee on the seats and then don’t put them down. I told them all they were doing was outing themselves as jerks who can’t aim and don’t put the seat down, and that as a woman, I can unequivocally say that we actually don’t care. Oh, and they should probably work on their aim.
- A man asked me if the tampon shortage was real. I said, “yes.” Then for some wild reason, he felt it appropriate to tell me, “I just pull them out anyway.”
4. I never feel like I belong.
Imposter syndrome sucks, and it has been constant for the last several months. There are fortunately several women who own bars in our area, usually with their partners just like me. I don’t know all of them personally, though I’ve met many. No matter who it is and no matter their gender, I always assume they have their shit way more together than I do, that they know far better how to build a successful business. And they might because they’ve been doing it longer, but it’s really hard to shake the feeling that I just don’t belong in this club. At some point, they’re all going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. I am mustering all the confidence I can every day, and when it’s not there, I fake it. Big time.
5. A little bit goes a really long way for women in often male-dominated spaces.
One of the first things I did when we opened was stock our bathrooms with pads and tampons. I immediately had several women thank me for doing that. It is so incredibly rare for restrooms to be stocked with menstrual products. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen this need accommodated.
6. I feel very exposed and isolated at the same time.
I’m a fly-under-the-radar kind of person. I don’t love being the center of attention or having every decision I make be judged. But that is the position I inevitably find myself in as a business owner. I have to answer for everything, and unfortunately, I’m usually trying to explain things to people who have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. They’ll comment on prices being too high without knowing what it costs us or how little we actually profit after our costs are covered – if at all. They don’t know that we are also working full-time jobs to keep ourselves afloat financially because our business cannot sustain us, at least not yet. They have no idea the difficulties that come from inflation or supply chain issues, and that it isn’t our mistake that we are out of cheese pizzas for three weeks. Our supplier couldn’t get the ingredients.
While I don’t really owe anyone an explanation, I know they expect one.
As a woman, it’s hard not to think about things that are a non-issue for men. Is what I’m wearing professional enough to look like an owner, but comfortable and outwardly approachable enough to be behind the bar, where I spend much of my time?
Unless my friends come to me, I lose track of them these days, and while my alone time has become sacred, it’s still lonely. But, I’ve also really learned who my true friends are through this whole process.
Unfortunately, some friends misconstrue my lack of availability as selfishness or get frustrated that I can’t do the things I used to, and that’s hard. I always try to be there for the important things, even for those who haven’t really shown up for us, to be honest.
It gets hard to carry the burden of worry because talking about it feels like a nuisance or worse, a failure. Not to mention, people like to give advice or try to “fix” at times that I’m just hoping to feel a little less alone.
When I had COVID and had to isolate, causing a lot of logistical nightmares and added burdens placed on Harrison and our bar manager, a friend told me that everything would be okay because her manicurist had it and didn’t have anyone to cover for her, and it all turned out okay for her. I didn’t respond. I was looking for support and for someone to listen. Maybe a “how can I help?” Instead, I got unsolicited and unhelpful advice that honestly didn’t even make much sense.
To the public, you are the owner – some sort of entity that is outside of human, and therefore, you don’t have needs or feelings. When we lost our cat, who had been attached to me since I got him as a kitten, I lived in that grief alone. I had one day to cry and then I was back at it.
7. My diet sucks because I’m always eating quick meals on the run.
8. I know levels of tired I’ve never known before.
9. I have extremely limited time for my own needs.
Self-care, exercise, taking care of my house, grocery shopping, and any sort of leisure activities get pushed aside in favor of sleep. But when I do have a spare hour for a pedicure, know I take that shit. Remember when I used to read books?
10. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the most rewarding.
The day the Marshall Fire hit neighborhoods in Louisville and Superior, a couple of our regulars came in and said they were waiting for word on a family member’s house. Their family member was out of town, so they had to wait until the next day and be the ones to tell them if their home was still there.
I remember thinking, “This is why.” Yes, we’re a bar, but on that day, they came to us seeking respite.
Just last week, one of our regulars came in just hours after losing his dog. Yes, he wanted a drink (or several), but he also wanted a place where he felt safe and cared for. We were able to talk about our lost pets together, and shortly after he arrived, another regular came in with a brand-new puppy. It was as though the universe aligned to provide comfort.
On any given day you’ll find friendship and conversation and laughter. Also, it’s an opportunity for Harrison and me to bring unique experiences to a place that perhaps hasn’t had them. We host stand-up comedy every week, which isn’t something that exists anywhere near the bar. When I contacted Sofar Sounds about hosting, they said they had never done shows in our area before, opting for only central Denver locations. Now, we’ve hosted several sold-out shows with them.
We are also able to support organizations we care about as we have done with Period Kits.
Unlike the soul-sucking nature of my corporate day job, I can use this space to do what I want. We can be part of a community in a way that I’m not sure I expected from a neighborhood bar. It helps to make up for the exhaustion and loneliness. I’m confident that the other things will eventually fall into place. I’ll have time for self-care and leisure again. I’ll find some sort of balance again. This is our long game – a chance to do something more meaningful with the time we have.