The Gresham’s Billie-Jean Bray talks feminism behind the bar

Billie-Jean Bray. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Story by Billie-Jean Bray

The ‘F’ word… Feminism. What is it about the word that makes men want to shrivel up inside themselves? I don’t like the word. Yes, I believe in the feminist movement. What I have a problem with is that the word feminist brings up negative feelings for some men, and can sometimes make them feel attacked. Let’s not forget that the movement encourages equality… This is not a battle of the sexes type scenario, women just want to be treated equally, and have equal opportunity. So I won’t be burning my bra today, it was expensive and I like it.

What I do want to discuss is the fact that we’re still bloody discussing it. Every time a female wins a competition; “oh she won AND she’s female.” SHOCK! Nobody reading this article is under the impression that a women can’t be strong, intelligent, talented and even good looking all at the same time, so then why are we still treated as a minority?

It makes theoretical sense that if an individual works as hard, has as much experience, is as talented and has good character, that said individual will be treated with respect and will be presented with opportunities to progress within the business. I have been lucky in my time at The Gresham, having started as a glassy for the opening of the venue and working my way up to management. I worked hard, kept my head down, studied and showed enthusiasm for growth. I have however taken management roles in the past where I was offered the job before even producing my resume; it had become quite obvious that I had been given the job based on looks. My hard work went unnoticed and when I wasn’t performing in the fun and flirtatious manner the owner had expected, I was replaced by someone hotter and less experienced. Little surprise there.

How many women venue managers do you know? Truth is there aren’t many. Why is that?

The Gresham's Billie-Jean Bray.
The Gresham’s Billie-Jean Bray. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Is it because women are less likely to stay in hospitality because they need a more stable lifestyle? Is it because women are perceived as being less capable? More emotional, not as strong, too flippant? Every female manager will at one stage of their career be accused of being a bitch. How do we as women maintain our image as a strong, natural born leader if when managing staff we are called out for being ‘bitchy’, and how can we work together to eliminate this issue? The answer to that question in my opinion is Respect.

We will never progress if every time there is a woman in a dominant and prominent position in our industry that they are quick to be discounted for their success by disgruntled men that complain, ‘oh, she only got that position because she was banging this guy, or she was probably giving out BJ’s to such and such.’ Do you honestly believe these management jobs, sales rep and BA roles are being rewarded to sexually adventurous women willing to give themselves to big bad men of our industry? No, you don’t. Then why talk about us in that way? Is it because you’re jealous? Threatened maybe? That a women has got the job that you thought was designed for only the most reputable men like yourself?

It’s no surprise that we as women are still wearing a groove into our place behind the bar. Women weren’t even permitted to drink in a public bar in Australia until 1963. The evolution from local pub to downtown cocktail bar has only really come about in recent times and most people haven’t been exposed to bars of that calibre. I have in the past been offended by men that request to be served by other men over the bar, or that will deliberately bypass me to order a whisky. It’s not their fault. Old John is used to going up to the pub on the corner near his house and loves having a yarn to Ben the manager about what kind of whisky he likes, as far as John knows, whisky is men’s business and he’s never even met a woman that drinks whisky before. John is an asshole, but an oblivious and ignorant asshole. All we can do is approach the situation with patience, give them a great customer experience by helping them find the drink that they are after, and hopefully that will change their way of thinking and educate them on the progress we are making in the bar scene.

I love and respect the guys that I work with. When I’m at work i’m just a bartender. I’m not a female bartender. I embrace equality in all its beautiful forms; I get treated with respect, I am trusted as a manager on duty, I take the bins out, I clean up vomit. I don’t expect chivalry in the workplace. I don’t let my tits get in the way of me being a good bartender.. Well, most of the time. I aim to be as good or better as my co-workers. I’m competitive like that. I’ve always been held at a high standard and I wouldn’t expect anything less.

I’ve heard some horror stories from girls in the industry. What seems to be a common complaint is that people just aren’t taking us girls seriously. A woman will have to work hard to prove herself before she is acknowledged as a good bartender or good manager, when the guys are respected more easy and freely. The women I know are smart, organised, punctual, switched on, have thick skin and can handle their piss better than most dudes. The kind of women that don’t expect a pat on the back just for bearing a vagina, and put up with a whole heap of bullshit and still keep some sort of sanity. Respect to that.

Maybe the problem is we have an abundance of assholes in our industry. So we throw around words like feminist, misogyny and misandry. How’s about, don’t be a c*#t.