Written by Lindsay Seldera.
There is an older lady who I work with who sometimes attempts to lighten the mood of a grouchy customer with some kind of joke. It almost never works, but she shoots her shot anyway. She’s just one of those Boomer types who has optimism the way most Gen Y folks have depression. Customers might get more annoyed by her jokes, but the jokes themselves are never offensive. “Balmy day out there,” she will say in the dead of a Cather-esque Nebraska winter. “I think that person definitely needed some coffee,” she will quip to the next person in line after a customer is rude to her. “Don’t you just hate when someone comes in and is just committed to being rude? Sorry, I have no filter.”
“Sorry, I have no filter.” As in, I realize this may be outside of my corporate script, but I said it anyway because I, too, am just trying to get through the day. Because this stupid joke is my way of trying to reconnect with my faith in the general goodness or at least okay-ness of humanity.
I heard her say this line to a regular, a man in his late fifties who comes in twice a day and usually comments on my hair or lack of a smile… and refuses to order using the terms that are actually on the menu so that you have to ask a bunch of questions to make sure he’s getting what he wants and then gets mad that you don’t already know. He also gives my manager lots of unsolicited advice on how she should better manage her very happy and functional staff. I didn’t catch the initial comment over the sound of my steaming wand in some eggnog.
“I always speak my mind. I get in trouble for it at work every day.”
“Sorry, I have no filter,” my coworker shook her head dismissively as she turned to get his coffee. “Oh, I don’t either.” He assured her. “I always speak my mind. I get in trouble for it at work every day.”
As he said this, all of my professional interactions with this customer went through my head.
Creepy Customer: I’ll have a doppio, a croissant, and a smile.
Me: That’ll be $3.75.
Him: And a smile.
Me: I’ll go throw that croissant in.
Him: I don’t see a smile. Did you not hear me?
Me: I heard you and I chose to ignore you. Would you like your receipt
Him: scoffs, rolls his eyes, glares, turns on his heel, and doesn’t tell me whether he wants a receipt.
Me: What can I get started for you?
Him: I have to ask, why did you do that to your hair?
Me: shrugs. What can I get started for you?
Me: I have always had it like this.
“Sorry, I have no filter. *looks at me* “Now I’m in trouble again.”
This is not “Sorry I have no filter.” This is “I acknowledge that I chose to sexually harass you at work and will laugh off any attempt at holding me accountable.”
After years of experience in different workplaces, if a man tells me he has no filter I run the opposite direction.
It is even more. It is an act of self-infantilization. It is an attack on the concept of women working at all, and an attempt to force them back into a mothering role and a degradation of their value as professionals. It’s not “I have no filter,” in the sense that my coworker sometimes makes a joke about a customer’s rudeness or about someone ordering an iced drink on a cold day. It’s “I will never think of you as capable of anything besides mothering me, even if I am thirty years older than you. How dare you not have time for it.”
He is making a desperate attempt to cling to the notion that he is above accountability, and simultaneously childishly incapable of self-control.
If you are “getting in trouble” for comments at work, I guarantee you are actually getting reprimanded for abusive and unprofessional behavior, and that most of your coworkers are talking about you as soon as you leave the room, and not in a good way. If what you said was bad enough that someone talked to you about it, and you are now making light of it to employees at a coffee shop, you have no understanding of the gravity of the situation you have gotten yourself into. If a man tells you he “gets in trouble” at work regularly, he is making a desperate attempt to cling to the notion that he is above accountability, and simultaneously childishly incapable of self-control.
In the context of workplace harassment this is dangerous enough. It is even more troubling when you think of the other areas of life to which this freedom from accountability extends in his mind. If he has no problem leading his life systematically hurting the women who have to interact with him in order to do their jobs, making their lives worse, how badly does he hurt the women who deal with him on a personal level?
After years of experience in different workplaces, if a man tells me he has no filter I run the opposite direction. A “filter” in the form of scripting 8 hours of conversation on a cash register can feel like more of a muzzle, but having a “filter” in many cases means having a sense of respect for those around you. “I have no filter” often translates to “perform the unpaid labor of filtering me.” I no longer spend my time doing men the favor of filtering their sexism. I don’t laugh it off. I don’t pretend I didn’t hear it.
Like the bitch I am, I go straight to HR.
About the Author
Lindsay Seldera is a writer and martial artist based in Omaha Nebraska. Follow them on Patreon (Patreon.com/lindsayseldera) to read their book, Life is a Fucking Nightmare, and more work on sexism and mental health.