Storyteller manuscript delivered by Lisa LeFevre on June 21, 2018 at United Way of Greater Toledo for Women's Empowerment Luncheon #BreakTheGlass, a storytelling campaign that focuses on inspiring women (and men) to break the glass ceiling.
When I was a 6, I went through a phase where I wanted to run around shirtless on hot summer days because boys could, so why couldn’t I? I spent every weekend of that summer at my grandmothers running around topless without a thought or a care as to whether it was appropriate.
When I was 10, I watched a movie that depicted a girl playing tackle football on a real team, not just in the backyard. Again, boys could, so why couldn’t I? I joined a team that fall and played for 4 years until the boys started really growing, and I really stopped.
When I was 15, I wanted to go to homecoming with my girlfriend. If you’re sensing a pattern here, you’d be right. The boys could, so why couldn’t I? We were the first ever out lesbian couple to go to a school function together.
When I was 18 I gave up trying to feel comfortable in women’s clothing. The boys could be comfortable, so why couldn’t I? I bought my first pair of cargo shorts and never looked back.
Time and time again, throughout my whole life, I have never let the barrier of gender roles and stereotypes stop me from doing exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
And because of my very obvious gender nonconformity, I’ve spent most of my life living in a space between the boy’s and girl’s clubs. I blend into both worlds for different reasons, and on that same token, don’t belong entirely to either. It’s this social duality that’s provided me the opportunity to pierce the veil between men’s and women’s career mobility.
Every ladder rung I’d ever climbed was been because I’d let men in charge effectively forget that I’m a woman. This chameleon ability is, what I like to call the “She’s just another one of the guys.” move. They don’t even realize what’s happening. Consequently, I have heard some colorful locker room talk being “just one of the guys”. But it’s a blessing, not a curse, because while I have had to listen to some objectively sexist talk, I have the opportunity in that space to confront that ideology and make change from the inside.
For most of my life, I had no idea what I really wanted to do for a living so at the tender age of 18 I started my first career on accident. I needed a job to make money to pay my older friends to buy me beer. So, I got jobs in pizza shops and diners, learning how to toss dough and make eggs. The finer things, really.
Eventually I developed a passion for bringing joy to my guests, so I started spending my free time learning everything I could about food and hospitality and really honed my skills in speed, consistency, and technique. I moved from restaurant to restaurant, learning a variety of different cuisines, and eventually flavor theory. All the while, I was also learning how to navigate every male dominated space I was in and applying my patented “just another one of the guys” move. It was honestly, the only way I moved up in that field. At every job I started, I had to wait through the initial first weeks of awkwardness while the men around me “figured me out” and got over their programed prejudices about women being unable to perform in such a high stress, high risk, passionate environment.
Restaurants are one of the few industries where sexual harassment and gender segregated job roles are not only tolerated but expected as just a cost of doing business. Jobs are, whether intentional or not, almost always clearly divided by gender. Women belong out front with the guests, men belong in the kitchen. Trust me, the irony is not lost on me.
Here are some phrases I’ve actually overheard in these environments.
“What if she cries?”
“What if she gets her period?”
“What if she’s a bitch?”
It was as if these men had never known a woman to be anything but an emotional mess who couldn’t function in life. And not one asked a question of their peers regarding my professional abilities or experience. It wasn’t even considered.
To my face, I heard:
And also “Bitch.”
They probably weren’t wrong about that one.
I’ll spare you the more sexually objectifying statements I’ve been subject to, but these sexist statements made me think: Did they have mothers? Sisters? Female friends?
With those questions of my own, I made it my mission to erase that line between the sexist roles restaurants are inexplicably still divided by, and as a masculine appearing lesbian, I did it stealthily. I erased their fears of the “other”, which let’s be honest, that’s what this is, by identifying with the men in my workspace, finding common ground, and guiding them to the great land of gender inclusion.
When we talk about the Glass Ceiling, I think back to my childhood. Every time I wanted to do something that the boys do, through sheer force of stubborn will, I smashed through every single barrier presented to me, without hesitation.
Now as an adult, with my culinary career behind me and a new one on the horizon, I have taken what I’ve learned from the glaring sexist divides of restaurants and become a stealth climber. I don’t break the Glass Ceiling as I climb, I work around it to smash it from above, and encourage the men (women) around me join in.
Currently, Lisa LeFevre is one of the Business Owner & Partner of T&L Environmental Inspection Services. She is also a Certified Licensed Risk Assessor. To connect with Lisa, email her at email@example.com or Office: (419) 725-0999