Southern Voice: Liza Graves
May 2018

We’ve recently had some readers ask for more attention on the #metoo movement outside of Hollywood and politics to show that this is an everywhere issue. With this encouragement, our Cofounder Liza Graves decided to share a personal story here on the StyleBlueprint Southern Voices platform. She shared this on Facebook in 2016, before the #metoo movement had taken off with the intensity it has today. 

Liza Graves says, “I’ve enjoyed a great life and am generally a happy person, not liking to dwell on the negative. But, this is an important topic and as uncomfortable as I am sharing it, I know that ultimately this is not about me. It’s about continuing the dialog to make a better tomorrow.” Image: Grannis Photography

I remember working as a server for the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Resort in Hilton Head, SC, the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I was just 20 and I did a fine job. I’m actually a very good server, enjoy it immensely, and quickly was promoted to their fine dining restaurant, which was a four-course, white tablecloth establishment.

My first night on the job, a line cook bear-hugged me from behind as I placed dirty dishes on the conveyor belt that comes with commercial dishwashers. As he bear-hugged me, he dry-humped me — just enough times to be funny. You know, haha. He whispered into my ear, “I am so glad you are working here.” My response? Wiggled my way out and made sure never to linger in that spot again. But, his actions opened up the gates for every line cook to pinch my butt, undo my server apron (tied in a bow on my back), rub up against me and tell me all the things they would like to do to me.

And I still enjoyed my job. I really like waiting tables, and the organization of a large restaurant and hotel fascinated me. In-room servers, pool grill servers, fine dining, Holiday Inn executives constantly trying to refine how it’s done. And, oh my, the theft that took place. I was stolen from, my fellow servers were constantly adding more glasses of wine to large parties (everyone, always check your bill and you may want to count those wine orders … It’s astounding as I’ve seen $300 in wine added to a large party just to get the automatic tip higher). But, back to pinches and inappropriate behavior …

In this environment, one of my fellow servers says, “Hey, when Eddie (an in-room dining server) comes by, pat him on the side and ask him if he’s having a good day. He thinks you are nice, and he’s having a bad day, so it would be a nice thing to do.” I should have realized something was up, but sure, whatever. A few minutes later, I’m in the kitchen and Eddie walks in. I tap him on the side (think waist .. think perfectly normal) and say, “Hey, how’s it going Eddie?” He looks at me and slugs me. He punches me so hard across the face that I go flying across a stainless steel prep table and end up on the other side on the floor. He starts screaming, “Baby girl, you don’t touch me there! Baby girl, if I had a steak knife, I would gut you!” I’m not downplaying what I did. I tapped him on his side, nothing more. But, you see, the other server who asked me to do this knew that Eddie had some sort of issue and couldn’t handle being touched on the side (or at least that is what I was told later). He had set me up. Funny. Haha.

So, an hour later, no one had checked on my tables, all my tip money had been stolen from my leather server book, and I sat in the employee-only hallway with ice on my swollen cheek. I had called my parents on the pay phone, but they were 600 miles away. I was called into the office of the General Manager of the entire Crowne Plaza Resort (not just the restaurant GM) along with three other men. The regional guy also happened to be in town, so he was in there, too. It was all the bigwigs, all dressed in full suits of the same color grey. They all sat cross-legged staring at me with their arms folded across their chests. I remember thinking that one of them needed taller socks as I could see his shin with the way he was sitting. They asked me to tell them what happened. I did. Their response? “What made you think you could touch him on his side?”

WHAT? That’s what their first thought to say was? This was 1993. I was quiet for a few seconds, and I looked these men and said, stopping a few times to catch my breath, “My first day on the job, one of your cooks dry humped me in front of the entire kitchen staff, in effect saying that I was fair game. Your sous chef continues to ask for kisses, at the very least, daily. The line cooks leer at me and hold my plates back unless I “throw them a kiss,” and my butt is pinched by whoknowswho on each shift. My direct manager has invited me to his house, and when I was stupid enough to go, he thought I was there to sleep with him. I was not. He was offended that I wouldn’t even kiss him. So, when I tap someone on the side and ask him how it’s going, I can’t help but be surprised that I’m the one being asked what was I thinking? Why did I tap HIM on the side? I was just hit so hard that I flew across a table, and I’m asked what was I thinking by touching him? He tells me, as I’m laying on the floor, that if he had had a knife he would have gutted me, and I’m being asked what I was thinking?” I stared at them. “When are you going to understand that all I have to do is call a lawyer, and I’m the one staying at Holiday Inn free for the rest of my life?” Sometimes when I’m terribly upset, I can’t find my words. On this occasion, I did find my words.

Their response? After about a minute of shocked silence, “We certainly don’t think you need to call a lawyer, and your behavior in this will be highly called into question if you do.” Amazingly enough, I went back to work, and amazingly enough, Eddie still had a job. I think he was suspended for a day. Then, my sense got the best of me, and I quit and went back to my senior year at Vanderbilt.

This job paid me pretty well, and there was plenty about the job that I really did enjoy. When I read these stories about women being groped and still staying at their jobs … you know what? I get it. In the midst of these situations, it’s easy to concentrate on all the things you like about the job and ignore the things you don’t, even if those things are sexual misconduct. And, most importantly, you need a place to flee TO before you can flee FROM somewhere. Money matters. You find ways to move forward and navigate the field, the field of employment. I had a place to flee to and my life’s ambition was not tied up in this job.

Twenty-five years later, I can still feel that punch; I can still feel those men pinching me. But you know what still makes my blood boil the most? It’s not the punch. It’s not the pinches. It’s those four men in their suits looking down at me, with ice on my face, asking me what made me think I could tap Eddie on his side. Them making ME question if I had done something wrong. I did nothing wrong, but they made me question my own actions.

After this incident, the butt pinching, dry-humping and insistence on an air-kiss to get the food for my customers did not stop … but I had just told the four top executives at the resort and one regional guy what was going on. They never followed up with me about my allegations. I don’t remember anything ever being written down, and no one from human resources ever contacted me.

I have plenty of other stories, but this one hits home the most as I know my privilege here. I got to go back to college; I was able to leave. Please don’t think these stories women tell are made up or are just whining. Do I believe 100% of them? No. Do I know that the vast majority are true? In the depths of my soul, yes. For people who question why it takes so long to speak up, well, life is life and we move forward, and then sometimes the moment comes and we speak up. Some of us, like I did, speak up and aren’t heard. But, we still remember even though we’ve often been trying to forget, to just move on. It’s what many (most?) of us women have gone through and we’re learning that each time we speak up, that we’re paving the way for a better tomorrow. I have two daughters and a son. I need to make sure the world is changing for the better for them and for all the daughters and sons in the world.

My story is a teeny one in a sea of stories that are far worse. But, my story gave me the empathy to relate and a lesson at a young age about how the world works. Or at least how it did work. I do believe it’s starting to change.

And, in case you’re wondering, to this day I never stay at Holiday Inn.

Today’s Southern Voice, Liza Graves, is a Cofounder of StyleBlueprint. Southern Voices was started in 2018 as a place for people across the South to opine on events and give voice to what is going on around them or contribute a short story.

See past contributions to Southern Voices HERE.

We’d love to share your story as well. See more about contributing to Southern Voices HERE.