Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The things you'll never understand.

This got too long to post on facebook. It was a response to this post: "Today I had to explain to a 60 year old man why he was banned from the pub."

I wish the managers at my workplace "Got it" like this guy does. Last time I was harassed to tears by a pair of men, called a bitch and told that I, a four-year veteran of this place and smarter than 3/4 of the men here, didn't know how to do my job, the manager on duty waved it off and served them unquestioningly and with a friendliness that hurt me more deeply than the name-calling. Like I didn't matter. Like I wasn't worthy of respect. Like saving our company's reputation for "great customer service" was worth more than my humanity.

(they were stealing, too, which made it worse.)

He waved off my upset as if I were being oversensitive. He made their anger worth more than mine. And I don't think it ever crossed his mind that he was doing something harmful; he was just "solving the problem" by appeasing the customer. The fact that the customer had just verbally attacked one of his employees never seemed to matter. The fact that their sexist remarks and the hundreds of others I have endured are among the reasons I think about walking out every day doesn't impact daily store operations. Harassment isn't seen as an issue in our store even after one of our female employees was literally stalked and threatened by a customer. He showed up at her home after being told his advances were unwelcome. He touched other women inappropriately and repeatedly. He never opened his mouth without an off-color remark coming out and the men in our store laughed and joked with him and greeted him with smiles every time he came in even as his sustained harassment was discussed openly by the women they work with. They offered lame excuses for his behavior and discounted the stories when it came out that he had prior convictions for assault. And it took months, a sustained campaign by several women, and a police report for our store to ban the offending contractor "because he brings a lot of business in and we don't want to act rashly".

Women in the service industry allow people to attack us verbally, touch us in unwelcome ways, leer and make suggestive comments on a daily basis. We do this because the other option is to defend ourselves and lose our jobs, to become unemployable over something so small as our claim to self-respect. We ask our managers to watch and listen and stop this behavior and most of them refuse. Some declare that it's "corporate policy" not to remove customers for such "minor" behavioral issues. Some claim the company will lose much-needed business if we stand up for ourselves. Some tell us that they are just not comfortable with that fight. Many tell us we are not allowed to defend ourselves, lest we offend somebody or put ourselves in physical danger. But it's okay to be harassed constantly, because that's not physically dangerous - just dangerous to our sense of well-being and self-respect and obviously those don't matter.

So many managers (both male and female) aren't comfortable standing up for their employees, but I'm not comfortable with men putting their hands on my arms, shoulders, and back in ways that imply ownership, leaning too far into my space, or whispering "You have very pretty skin" while their wife browses just out of hearing distance. I do not welcome the stares when I bend to pick up a box or pallet, or the disrespectful "chivalry" of men who won't let me lift it because I'm "just a girl".

It would be nice if I didn't have to tell the men in my life all of this. It'd be nice if the harassment (which is mild in comparison to others' experiences) never happened because little boys were raised to respect everybody, not just to see women as foreign objects. But this kind of sexism and harassment is deeply embedded. Most guys don't even realize it, and if they do their first response is "I'm not like that!" even as they continue to defend the awful behavior of their friends and coworkers.

I have a sense of humor and a little self-worth. I know some of my own strengths and don't have to hear from someone else that I am a good worker or smart or pretty. I laugh at jokes about female drivers even as I run heavy equipment. I don't flinch when people jokingly tell me to stand aside and "let the men do it" (Why would I? You want to do my job? Sure, I'll get paid to stand around and watch you!). I am also struggling daily with the kind of depression and anxiety that leads so many people to suicide, and harassment doesn't help. So yes, I can function around sexism every day. But it's not good for me. It's not good for anybody.

And because it's such a damn tiring fight and I'm not out to hate all men or make the entire world a "safe space", I let a lot slide. I know most of the time, you guys don't mean anything by jokes about my driving and that if I fire one back you won't think anything of it, either. My personal line in the sand is drawn at disrespect, especially the kind of casual disrespect that damages women professionally - the offhand comments about "that time of the month" and the discounting of women's experiences and stories. The kind that says "You need work on conflict resolution" to me when I nervously stand my ground in front of an angry customer but pats my male manager on the back when he folds like wet paper in front of that same customer and calls it "making the customer happy". That attitude hurts more than all the harassment, because it's that casual discounting of my existence as a human being with the same goals, dreams, and rich inner life as you that leads to the kind of harassment that so many women
deal with.

We are not foreign creatures. We are not sex objects. We are people. We deserve respect.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sexism and Criticism

I've been link-hopping through the article that a friend thoughtfully provided for a little writing group I'm in, on sexism in Young Adult publishing, and finally hit this thoughtful article about critiques -  specifically critiques for/by female reviewers:

"The idea is, apparently, that women are so exhausted by the intellectual labor required to produce the text in question that we are unable to withstand any subsequent critique, and ought instead to fall back on some kind of rosy-cheeked sorority of lady writers, exchanging stain-removal tips and sob stories."

*sighs and reclines onto fainting couch*

The article makes some good points.

I think this goes further than just a fear of publishing criticism in YA. Across a hundred subjects and disciplines, from literature to food blogging to college classes, people have backed off strict criticism in favor of hedged, softened words of gentle advice or worse, silence. I'm guessing this change is due to a misguided sense that communities striving to be "diverse", "inclusive", and "welcoming" can not under any circumstances allow criticism - even constructive kinds.

But let's get this straight: Constructive criticism is not mean, it is not intentionally harmful to minorities (although unintentional harm should be part of the larger discussion) or non-inclusive or unwelcoming and it is the responsibility of the author when putting their work out into the world to accept the possibility that not everybody is going to love it and further that it is an author's responsibility to duly consider all reviews, both positive and negative and not to take them as personal attacks but as what they are - reader opinion which may or may not figure into the writer's personal growth.

Critical reviews are an integral part of growing and improving as a writer. Ignoring the negatives because they make us feel uncomfortable should not be an option, and expecting that women (or men, or teens, or authors of color, or anybody else) can't handle the discomfort of a critical review is just plain insulting. We should at least read our reviews before we discard them as useless to us; we might find that a reader has pointed out a flaw we didn't see, or a habit we have fallen into without noticing. We might also find that our style or voice is better understood by certain kinds of readers. What we do with that information is our choice but I think the information should be available, which means encouraging reviews that are not all "I LOVED IT!".

This does not excuse the sorts of people who use the umbrella of constructive criticism to fire harsh words at authors they do not like. So we need to be talking openly about what constitutes _good_ critiques vs. attacks, and how we can educate ourselves as readers and reviewers so that when we read something that doesn't sit well with us, we can address it honestly and kindly.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Happy birthday to me.

Today I turned 30.

I am definitively no longer a "young adult". I'm supposed to have my shit together. Everybody else I know who is in my age group tells me they don't have their shit together either, but that doesn't help because all of them LOOK like their shit is together, at least.

I just got braces. I'm still working retail (although thankfully not still a cashier). I'm still "working on that novel". Ha, ha, ha. My shit is so disordered I can't even find half of it, let alone get it together.

All the things I wanted to do with my life seem to have slipped through my fingers like water through a sieve.

And sure, it's not too late to turn things around and do what I want to do. I have a friend who moved to Thailand and is thriving, for fuck's sake. But I'm not even sure what it is that I want any more, and I'm so tired of fighting for every tiny little accomplishment. Getting out of bed is a chore some days. Washing the dishes requires superhuman acts of strength and focus. Being at work all day drains me emotionally and often physically and I come home completely unwilling to deal with my house, my husband or my pets. Some days, my depression and anxiety play nice and I go out and feel good about myself. Most days, I do this: spend the day on the couch hating myself and feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to do and frozen into doing nothing at all, so I can stay up late hating myself some more, go to bed alone because husband's already asleep, oversleep, start the day off poorly and do it all over again.

Last week at work I was asked out of the blue to help staff a convention center booth for our local home and garden show. I made it there on Friday, lasted 6 hours, and barely managed to get myself home on the correct bus. Afterward I was cold, anxious, and exhausted. My throat felt sore and my mouth was raw (new braces and talking do not play nice together). I've developed a cough since then. Stress-related illness sucks.

So does being 30.