The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: The Key to Being “Flexible”

Sexual harassment, Sexual harassment at work, waitressing and sexual harassment, harassment, UK news, British news, United Kingdom news, Europe news, European news, world news

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December 14, 2017 09:20 EDT

The tip of the iceberg can get unbearably hot for people in flexible jobs.

The BBC reports on a very serious study of sexual harassment in the “flexible” workplace, and in particular for women working in restaurants.

“Two in five women in the UK say they have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour at work and only a quarter of them reported it, a BBC survey has found. The poll … one of the largest ever conducted into sexual harassment in the workplace, suggested those who work flexibly are more likely to encounter this type of behaviour.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


When describing professional situations, easy to be taken advantage of by both one’s hierarchy and one’s customers. This is especially true when the employee is a woman.  

Contextual note

The idea of “flexible” applies to the type of work contract, but some people seem to extend it to apply to the employees themselves. Whereas flexible should mean “adaptable to changing circumstances,” some take it to mean “ready to bend to my will” or “powerless to respond to my outrageous behavior.”

One of the witnesses cited in the article, a young lady named Nilufer Guler offered this explanation: “It’s so disrespectful but I couldn’t complain. It’s a very precarious industry.” The notion of flexible becomes synonymous with precarious. Both the company and the customers believe they have a coercive power over the employee. The bosses see themselves as trickle-down benefactors of the desperate (because flexible) employee. The customers see themselves as belonging to a superior class, who have acquired a kind of executive privilege by virtue of possessing the means to initiate the flow that will eventually trickle down to the employee, in the form of a salary, once they have paid for their meal, complemented by the additional privilege acquired through their power to tip.

Historical note

Tipping in restaurants and other service industries can sometimes appear to be indistinguishable from a certain form of begging. But it is also a highly logical “arrangement” for earning a living in a culture in which the acquisition of money is the unique universal motivational force for labor. In continental Europe, tipping is considered a non-obligatory minor gesture of appreciation because the service staff is expected to be equitably remunerated by their employers. In countries where it’s the customers’ generosity that makes it possible for service staff to have a living wage, some customers feel empowered to become minor league Harvey Weinsteins.

When economists cite it, the term homo economicus sounds like a very neutral concept, since, according to free market ideology, everyone is expected to defend his (and possibly her) self-interest. Both men and women earn, spend and may even invest money. But men more than women tend to see money as conferring more than just purchasing power on them. In the minds of some men, money gives them the additional right to psychologically manipulate those with less money, and in particular women.

Although the necessarily ironic term femina economica is sometimes used seriously, it may unfortunately remind us of the logic of what is euphemistically referred to as the world’s oldest profession. Unlike economic man, which automatically conveys the image of autonomous choice and self-realization, the economic woman not only has fewer rewards and less respect, but especially has less freedom to choose or indeed to struggle against potential injustice.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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