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23 January 2017

When is being a mom an accomplishment?

Image by Erik Kastner on Flickr
When Yvonne Brill died in 2013, her New York Times obituary famously led with her culinary skills. Her beef Stroganoff masked her innovative work on a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits. The feminist internet clapped back until the NYTimes edited the dish out.

Last week Brenda Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee, died. The Chicago Sun-Times framed her professional accomplishments along with her title of "Perfect Mom." Fortune called her a hero to working moms.     

I remember reading about her stepping down to attend to her children during their teen years and then later her ramping back up. For a bit, I quite obsessed about Barnes. Why wouldn't I be? In Barnes returned to full-time employment in 2004 I was still a rookie mom with big career aspirations. Anytime I have big dreams, I scour the world for role models to study as if to find clues as to how I can replicate their success. I was still operating under the adage that under no circumstances does a working woman take more than a year off from work if she wanted to stay at the top of her field. I was still healing from being burned by being pushed out of an org after taking family leave from feminist organizing. What magic did she have?

I feel like I saw her speak once. Most likely at some women's professional conference here in Chicago. Or maybe I just read about her enough that I feel like I saw her speak. The two lessons I took away from her was 1) never truly stop working. Fortune mentions this, but belittles her board work while as a "stay at home mom":
she stayed on the sidelines serving as a director on numerous Fortune 500 boards.
This ignores the time and commitment necessary for such board work and the pay. Sure she wasn't a CEO or President of a company, but she was working. Fast Company outlines her "stay at home mom" duties as:
Unlike some women executives who have famously dropped out, Barnes did not go home to write her memoirs or devote herself to charity and her children's soccer schedules. She just chose what is, for her, a less demanding path: She serves on the board of six major companies, among them Sears, Avon, and The New York Times; she's taught at the Kellogg School of Management, and stepped in as interim president of Starwood Hotels and Resorts in early 2000.
The Wall Street Journal similarly noted her work when she was hired at Sara Lee in May 2004.  Never stop working is advice often told to women who want to take extended time off for caregiving. Stay connected to your workplace via committee work, mentoring younger coworkers, etc.

The second lesson I think learned is that Barnes downshifted her career during her eldest kids' teen years. She said something about how the time when they least want you around is actually when they need you the most. As my daughter is now in her teens, I think about that a lot. I  have heard it said by other moms too. I repeat it to others.

Every piece written about her since her death remarks about her role in the never-ending juggle that working moms contend with. Few note that she never really did stop working, she just downshifted. None truly acknowledge the privilege she had to downshift in the first place or how easy it was for her to on-ramp back to the top.

I do think she will always be important to the story of working moms, as I have said, I learned a lot from her. But other women have helped me see the holes in her story, the holes that leave too many mothers without much choice to downshift or even go back to work when they want. I would hope she would want us to notice those wrinkles too.

Thanks, Brenda. Goddess bless you and your family.

02 January 2017

Starbucks Not Serving Up Their Baristas


I've been mentally obsessing over the story of a teenage woman being hit on at a Spokane Starbucks since it went viral a few days ago. The virality of the story seems simple enough - a 34-year-old guy thinks it is ok to ask out a supposed 16-year-old - the internet seems to think otherwise. He gets labeled gross old dude and we feel better about ourselves for being outraged.

I also think the outrage is amplified because many of us are on edge because Donald Trump, a man with a long list of sexual assault accusations, will become the next President of the USA. While his actions clearly did not offend the large group of women who did vote for Trump, the majority of women who did not vote for him ARE PISSED. And if we cannot keep a man who likes to brag about grabbing women by the genitals out of the White House, we can at least be pissed as hell when we see men acting as if women, of any age, are available just because men want them to be.

But what many people, including some women, do not understand is that this type of situation happens every day for women in the food and service industry. 

Last summer UNITE HERE Local 1 released a report, Hands Off Pants On, about the epidemic of harassment and assault in the service sector. They cited a 2015 national survey of "2,235 full-time and part-time female employees and found that 42% of women surveyed in the food service and hospitality industry reported sexual harassment, the highest of any field." UNITE HERE Local 1 went on to drill down into the situation here in Chicago with shocking results.




  • Among the hotel workers surveyed who had been harassed by a guest, over half (56%) of women said they did not feel safe returning to work after the incident.
  • 77% of casino workers surveyed had been sexually harassed by a guest.
  • 78% of women surveyed who serve guests in food and beverage outlets at casinos have had a guest make an unwelcome sexual comment, joke or question to or about them.  

ROC United found that "90% of tipped workers report experiencing unwanted sexual comments or behaviors in the workplace."

Yet we do not hear stories of other service sector workers being harassed or assaulted on a daily basis. Why? I believe it is because 1) these women do not report for fear of retaliation or as the report states, they feel nothing can be done and 2) the age difference in this Starbucks incident set off people's outrage mode quicker than if the guy in question had written a creepy note to a woman of his own age. UNITE HERE Local 1 also points out that "[j]ust 19% of hospitality workers surveyed said they had received training from their employer on how to deal with sexual harassment by guests."

Reporting sexual harassment in the service sector can often be confusing though. With the existence of restaurants like Hooters and their copycats that make their women servers wear revealing outfits more suitable for Vegas, it is no wonder that men can think that a teenager laughing at their stupid joke is flirting. Women flirting to get through to their job is part of what is called emotional labor.

Emotional labor is all the smiling, the "yes, sirs", and the giggles that women must do to fulfill their duty as customer service. The customer is always right, even if he is a skeezy old dude hitting on a barista who is just trying to remember which mocha gets soy and which gets whole milk.

What happened with this teenager at the Starbucks is not a new occurrence. It happens all too often and we fail to recognize it. Some of it is friendly emotional labor, it is still labor. It is not just being polite when I go into my local coffee shop and the barista I see almost every day knows not just my order, but every regular's order. Let's keep that in mind as we head out for our morning coffee, panini at lunch, or quick stop dinner. This issue is a women's issue and a feminist issue. Not just for the skeezy dude hitting on a teenager, but for every worker who has to put up with unwanted touches, looks, and comments.

01 January 2017

New Year, New(ish) Book, New Hashtag


Don't get too excited now...I am certainly not going to attempt to blog every day this year. But I felt the need to get blogging right away today. So who knows!

 2017 eh? We survived the great 2016 purge and we should be grateful for that. A lot of has been written about our public grieving over lost idols and pop culture icons. What I will say is this...1) I truly feel like we are finally at some tipping point of pop culture where we have a critical mass of such idols that when they start to die, it feels like a reaping. We're still just about 100 years since the mass consumption of radio, television, and films. Add to that the explosion of pop culture from those who create art (Bowie) to those who simply do stupid shit, and we have a whole lot more people to watch out for on our dead pools. 2) Many of us learn stuff from our idols. Some good, some bad. But behind the tears are some really strong reasons for mourning. I am still a bit ashamed to say I got up early to watch Princess Diana's funeral and cried through it. But ya know what? I think I was sad that this woman whom I grew up watching through photo shoots, tabloids, and rumors seemed to have finally gotten her life together was robbed of that life. So yeah, cry over Carrie Fisher, Prince, and George Michael. For some reason they imprinted themselves on your heart and that is why you cry.


I finished my last book (Rollergirl) a few days ago and wanted to wait until today to start a new book. I got a copy of Daniel D. Arreola's Postcards from the Sonora Border in the mail a few days ago and thought it appropriate to start the new year with a book written by someone who shares my last name. Alas, I feel it most appropriate to start the new year, a year which brings much challenge to us all in the form of the Trump administration and good challenge to me professionally as I just started a new job. I saw that Florinda is doing First Book of the Year so that pushed me to decide yes, I am going to restart and finish Brené Brown's I Thought It Was Just Me. My primo will have to wait for a little introspection before I tackle his book.


The new New Year's question of my life...What is happening with #365FeministSelfie? Well as I often say, while I launched that hashtag a few years ago, there is little way to truly own & control a hashtag. Last year's leap year produced a new hashtag out of necessity. Others have made the hashtag their own by adding kids, pets, or simply day to day life. But going back to using the hashtag to build community and looking out into the new year to create something powerful, I suggest we start to use #365FeministsResist. This does not mean #365FeministSelfie is over. Rather this is an addition to the #365Feminist family because this year will be our year of resisting, of being the resistance.Use the #365FeministsResist hash tag to challenge yourself to resist something every day. Are you speaking out when someone teases boy about showing emotion? Why are you standing silent when a racist goes on a tirade in front of you? Do you offer a sign of support to your neighbor who does not look like you? This new administration is mean and if we are truly going to trump it with love, we need to act radically in love. Be careful out there, but do not be afraid.

ONWARD...

Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces


Veronica's favorite books »
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