Across the Counter

Author: Shelby Varilek

March 13, 2020

Being a barista has given me the great privilege of getting to interact with a variety of women every day. I see the working woman grabbing her morning coffee on her way to the office, the college student preparing to knock out an essay with a warm cup of tea, the mother sharing a smoothie with her little ones. I see friends catching up after a long break, bible studies having their weekly get together, colleagues exchanging business ideas. And although our interactions may be short, I am always delighted to gain a little insight into the life of this woman across the counter.

But I know that there is also a lot that I don’t see. Your coffee order doesn’t necessarily tell me that last night you held your friend’s hand in the hospital while she underwent a sexual assault exam. As you hand me your cash, you don’t mention that your husband might become violent if he finds out you are spending his money. While I pass you your latte, you don’t offer up that you didn’t get the promotion because you refused your boss’s sexual advances.

But you don’t have to tell me. I know these things are happening in our community. Although it might not seem like it at first glance, the women in this little Dutch town are not exempt from widespread gender-related issues in society.

In the U.S., one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, and about one in five employed women in the U.S. report being sexually harassed at work. Additionally, women in rural areas report a higher prevalence of intimate partner violence than those who live in urban areas. And while these numbers are discouraging enough, women in rural areas face a lot more barriers to accessing health and prevention services. A lot of times, either it’s too far, it’s too full, or it doesn’t exist.

The good news is, it is getting better. There are still harmful political systems and negative social norms that condone and normalize violence against women. But a lot is being done to eliminate the shame and silence that keep issues like these hidden. Women are speaking out publicly against their perpetrators despite inevitable backlash. Men are being held responsible for their abuse of power and privilege. The zeitgeist of this progressive generation is an intolerance for victim-blaming and instead empowering the voiceless.

But there is always more we can do.

Let’s create more room for women at the table. Like, a lot more. Elect women into positions of leadership, especially women of color. Push for policies that protect women’s rights and provide funding for more accessible and comprehensive services. Call out behavior that perpetuates a culture where violence and bigotry is accepted. Hold each other accountable. Lift up female voices: survivors, writers, politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, etc.

But if you’re not sure where to start, begin by listening well.

We may not always see the reality of what occurs behind closed doors, especially in this community. But to us at Town Square, the women on the other side of the counter matter.

Iowa Victim Service Call Center: 1-800-382-5603

Centers Against Abuse and Sexual Assault: 877-362-4612