Archive | March, 2011

Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination: Let’s Sue the Patriarchy Too!

29 Mar

The Supreme Court heard opening arguments on behalf (and against) up to a million women today to determine the class action status of a Wal-Mart employment discrimination case. Those of us who’ve been following the case know what’s at stake if the court finds in favor of Wal-Mart: Not only would the corporate juggernaut responsible for filling your house with cheap plastic crap be more or less let off the hook for systematized sex discrimination, it would become harder for victims of job bias to secure class-action status, forcing low-wage workers to try their cases individually – virtually ensuring no future employee litigation case ever reaches viability, ever.

Dire, no? First, a brief history of the arguments for and against (more or less) from the magazine Corporate Counsel:

In certifying the class, the lower court said it found that there was significant evidence of centralized corporate-wide practices involving sexual stereotyping and excessive subjectivity in personnel decisions, as well as statistical evidence of gender disparities, and anecdotal evidence of gender bias. The court said it saw a “common pattern” of Wal-Mart’s discriminating against women workers nationwide.

In its brief to the Court, Wal-Mart argues that millions of discretionary personnel decisions on pay and promotions by thousands of individual managers defy any common pattern of treatment.

Let’s entertain Wal-Mart’s counterargument, shall we? From a purely feminist theory perspective, this argument actually holds some water. Why? Because those “millions of discretionary personnel decisions on pay and promotions by thousands of individual managers” were surely not solely influenced by the Long Arm of Corporate America (although surely that played a not-insignificant part), they were also influenced by the sexism that runs rampant through every fiber of society’s fabric.

So instead of suing Wal-Mart*, let’s certify every victim of the existing gender wage gap (read: all women worldwide) as members of a giant class action against the patriarchy. Since millions of discretionary personnel decisions are made every single day by managers who really ARE independent and not affiliated with Wal-Mart, but they’re made to consistently favor men in terms of power, prestige, and money, it’s clear that there is significant evidence of centralized worldwide practices involving sexual stereotyping, gender disparities, and gender bias.

Let’s sue the patriarchy! Who’s with me?

*Actually, not instead of, in addition to. Wal-Mart deserves to get sued, a lot. And so does every company that filed an Amicus Brief in support of Wal-Mart’s Evil Anti-Largesse.

Passing for the Ruling Class

28 Mar
Via Patrick Martinez

The grocery store nearest to my house resides on a street of ill repute. The building is run-down and ugly, the produce is always wilted and overpriced, and the beers in 40-ounce bottles outnumber other beverages 5 to 1. Their shoplifting problem is so bad that they keep the baby formula under lock and key. Were it not within walking distance, I’d probably avoid the whole place and its often smelly, drunk patrons altogether.

All this is to say that I don’t really fit in there. Not to say I necessarily fit in with the pretending-to-care-about-organics crowd over at Whole Paycheck (har har), but still – I don’t have a pimp or any crackbabies so there’s not much to talk about with the other denizens at the grocery mart.

I was surprised when, as I carefully picked my way past seven or eight screaming toddlers on my way to the ice cream aisle, I was accosted by a wayward checkout clerk. Her tap on my shoulder startled me in the way I am always startled when a stranger talks to me in a public place, so I was careful to put on my patent-pending city face before turning around to face my molester, wherein I was presented with the following perplexing question:

“Ma’am, do you use food stamps?”

Taken aback, I dumbly shook my head. This lady sure was nosy!

“Well I just need to let you know that the EBT machine is down today. So if you need to pay with food stamps, you can’t do that here.”

“OK, thanks. I think I’m good.”

She squinted at me suspiciously as if to say, “Yyyyeaaah right. I know you. I know all about you and your baby-formula stealing ways. You’ve got a secret Oregon Trail card tucked away in that greasy little mitt of yours, and after you’re done loading up your cart with Pampers and tallboys, you’ll saunter through my aisle and try to swipe that welfare-queen card of yours, and when it’s declined you’ll make a run for it. I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES!”

After a few minutes of this squinty standoff, we turned in opposite directions, suspicious gazes last. All this left me wondering: “Am I not doing a good enough job of passing as a member of the Gin-U-Wine middle class?” Sure, I have been known to run a few errands in my pajamas, but who hasn’t? I shower regularly, I speak with a newscaster accent, I recently got a real, actual haircut, and goshdarnit, I was brought up quite well! 

Then, of course, I immediately started waffling about my feelings. Why should I care that the checker thought I might use food stamps? It’s ingrained thinking for most people that poor = bad, and clearly I’m not exempt. And this has come up before – I’ll be wearing a J. Crew sweater and someone at work will make a joke about me shopping at Goodwill. I don’t get it, it bugs me, and it bugs me that it bugs me. Looking rich, or at least not destitute, seems to be a mysterious club into which Mr T. and I are both barred entry.

Feminists and Upper Body Strength

23 Mar
Speaking of feminist friends, did you know that once upon a time, my own feminism was called into question? It’s true! A former lover once quipped, “You? Oh, I never thought you were a feminist. I mean, you always said things when we were moving like, ‘Let’s get a bunch of menfolk to help with the heavy stuff.’ ”
It’ true – I have the upper body strength of a gnat, and (now) a bad back to boot, so moving heavy objects isn’t my strong suit. I also reside in an income bracket where professional moving help is mostly out of the question, so it’s to the friend-and-family bank I go when it’s time to uproot house and home. Once I even had to relocate a piano twice in a matter of a few months, and you bet I activated my strapping-young-man phone tree for that odious task.
Aforementioned former flame took me to task not for my twig-like arms, but for my choice of genders to help. “Let’s get a bunch of menfolk to help,” not “Let’s get a bunch of nonspecifically-gendered suckers to help.” Clearly, I was in the wrong.

But still. I often find myself turning to the Y chromosome for help lifting heavy things, or for walks home in unfamiliar and/or dark/shadowy nabes. It’s ingrained behavior that’s reinforced and rewarded – even among my progressive peer group. But does it negate my feminism bona fides more than the makeup I wear most days? The makeup is a concession to the patriarchy – one that helps me to fit in at work, among other things – and so is the moving help. They’re comparable concessions, certainly. And like a nudist that puts on pants to avoid arrest, putting on makeup to avoid ostracism is hardly a punishable offense. But asking for moving help from men only? Definitely wrong. So ladies, next time I move, you’ll be getting a call.

Educational Elite

21 Mar
Graduate-bot says what?

I’ve been thinking a lot about school lately. In fact, I’ve been thinking about higher education, Ivy-league and otherwise, since before I finished undergrad. I’m not talking academics, here, because I’ve been thinking academics since forever. My official membership in the Nerd Herd was granted in high school, and I keep the flame burning in my adult life by making grammar jokes and geeking out about fonts on the regular.

No, I’m talking about something far more insidious, something which I’ll call “Schooling.” I started thinking about this before the end of high school, when I was applying to colleges. Even though I had a 4.0, high SAT scores and seven million extracurricular feathers in my hat, I knew my family couldn’t afford Wellesley or Harvard, so I didn’t bother applying. I picked the closest, cheapest public university. I held steadfastly to the idea that “good” schools don’t equal “smart” people. And I still believe that’s true with all my heart.

But a couple years out of college, I started reading a bunch of junk about class (Snobbery: The American Version, and Class: A Guide through the American Status System, among others) that adjusted my perspective. Sure, going to a “good” college doesn’t make you a “good” person. But having credentials from a “better” school WILL make people perceive you as “better” – better at your job, better at thinking/living/succeeding – and you will therefore be the recipient of preferential treatment, likely advancing farther and faster than your averagely-schooled countrymen. Thus, the perception that people who went to good schools are better/smarter/faster becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In true Baader-Meinhof style, my new perspective was reinforced wherever I went. My current workplace is above-average in its obsession with Schooling. My immediate supervisor not only gleefully puts down my alma mater, but includes my hometown(s), parental occupations and the part of Portland where I live as dry tinder for the fires of devaluation. Introductions to new people are prefaced with long strings of alma maters, followed by names as inessential afterthoughts.

Not me, I swear.

A recent article from The Cronicle of Higher Education took educational elitism to a whole new level, reinforcing my suspicions that it’s not what you accomplish or how smart you are, but where you’ve been and who you know that matters in certain (powerful, rich) circles.

“Why all this prognostication?” you may ask. Outside of discourse for discourse’s sake, some of you know that I’ve been mulling pursuing my masters for oh, say, ever. I applied to a few schools, and got into all of them. I’ve narrowed my choices down to two: One is close to home and dirt-cheap. The other is far away and Ivy league. So research into educational elitism is not only interesting, but personally a propos. If the coursework is the same – and I believe it is – which one do I choose? Do I follow the proletariat’s path and attend the former, or “sell out” and attend the latter? Dear readers, weigh in in the comments. Do it now, lest I royally screw up my future, my credibility, or both!

*By the by, linking to these books don’t equate to authorial laudability – both authors are a tad douchey, and exhibit little humanity in belittling those-of-lesser-means, which ought to be a cardinal sin in the writing world. If you can’t empathize, you shouldn’t storytell.

I want a trust fund

18 Mar

When I grow up, I want to be blessed with a chip on my shoulder, imbued with a sense of entitlement I’ve never questioned or lived without. I want a trust fund so I can look down my nose at people who desire money. I want to show my scorn for a poor man’s desire by wearing thrift-store clothing ironically. I’ll call myself a socialist, a populist. All my friends will be just like me. I want to assume that I am more intelligent than Steve the janitor by virtue of the sort of work I do, nevermind that his mind, unlike mine, is free to think truly original thoughts while he does his work; whereas my mind is occupied trying to figure out new ways to sell the same old shit, office politics, and the bottom line. I’ll invent dumpster-diving, train-hopping, international travel, and be the first person in history to discover poetry and nature. I’ll buy cases of expensive wine, refuse to cross rivers and train tracks, never leave my neighborhood, call myself a philanthropist, consider graduate school, complain about how hard it is to find good help these days.

Workplace discrimination in vignette

7 Mar

Me: “Hey guys, check out this timely piece of information that critically changes the way we do our jobs.”
Coworkers: “…”
Me: “Guys?”
Coworkers: *…*
Me: “Sooo…. Anything I can do to make this information easier to digest for you, just let me know.”
Coworkers: *sound of crickets*
…………..ONE HOUR LATER…………..
Male (junior) coworker: “Hey guys, check out this timely piece of information that critically changes the way we do our jobs.”
Coworkers: “Wow, great information! Thanks for finding this – you must scour news sources all DAY for this kind of thing! You certainly did not rip it from an email sent earlier in the day by your underpaid colleague! What would we do without you and your Great White Penis?”
Male (junior) coworker:  “I know, I’m pretty great. I can tell you value my Great White Penis more than the original source of this information because I have six months of work experience, but I’m paid about 50 percent more than that one chick in the corner, who’s been doing this for ten years! You know the one, always mouthing off about ‘timely information,’ whatever the hell that means.”
Coworkers: “Chuckle! Chuckle! Backslaps all around!”
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