Sometimes, women working in customer service are cornered by men who misinterpret their politeness (i.e. doing their jobs) as flirting.
The situation can often escalate to dangerous levels, leaving women afraid for their lives. I've encountered this several times.
I coordinated events at the bookstore for years, and I worked with many authors in the process. Some were friendlier than others, and it was my job to show them hospitality at the bookstore and make them feel comfortable working with us. I once had an author who was aggressively friendly to me. He would stay at the bookstore for way too long talking to me, asking me personal questions, and bogarting my time to the point where it made me extremely uncomfortable. Eventually, every time he would come into the store, I would run and hide in the back.
Then, one Saturday when it was busy and I couldn’t leave the floor, he saw me standing at the register and bolted in, cornering me there. My coworker was in the back of the store, totally unaware of what was happening. He asked me how I was doing, why he hadn’t seen me in a while, and if I was busy that week. The entire time I didn’t make eye contact with him and tried to be short with my answers to signify I was not interested in talking and the store was so, so busy. He grabbed me by my arm and forced me to make eye contact with him. And that’s when he asked me out on a date. In front of his 11-year-old daughter.
I was so horrified at the gesture and so full of anger (don’t put your hands on me ever??? Especially when I’m at work???) and terror (your sense of entitlement is astounding) and confusion (the store is so busy; are you manipulating me to get what you want because I’m under pressure right now from you and from customers and your daughter???). I could barely stammer out a “no.” And when I did, he pushed me on it! So I had to give that gross, “I monogamously live with my boyfriend” excuse to move on and escape.
Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention: this author is a just a handful of years younger than my father.
I told my coworker about this exchange (she is in her 60s) and she auto-responded with, “You can’t help that you’re pretty!”, which is essentially a “boys will be boys” response. That sent me into an internal rage because there is no excuse for this, guys.
Cornering a woman at work is manipulative and predatory. We cannot say the things to you that we want to say when you treat us like less than human, and our politeness is a result of an American customer service set of standards that forces us to interact with you this way. It’s not “misleading” to do our jobs and try to get by, whether you’re a customer or a coworker. Do not corner is, do not prey on us, do not comment on our appearances, and do not ask us out. We just. want. to do. our. jobs.