Tag Archives: work

On Being a Badass

A young woman biker zipping up her leather jacket.   (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)
Photo: Keystone Features/Getty Images

“Mac McClelland is used to being called a badass. “I’m always very flattered, always very honored that they say that,” she told Mother Jonesrecently. It makes sense: She’s a journalist who made her namehanging out with refugees of Burmese genocide, chasing a warlord in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and interviewing sexual-assault survivors in post-earthquake Haiti — in other words, doing a really tough job. “At the same time,” she continued, “it sort of depends on your definition of badass. I think that the normal definition is that you don’t have any feelings, right? So it’s like you don’t care, you’re not really comfortable, and you’re not touched by things, and you can do whatever you want.”

This isn’t always the connotation of badass. Sometimes the term is applied to people with palpable confidence and an uncompromising attitude whodo feel comfortable shedding a few tears and displaying nurturing characteristics. But McClelland is right that, as it’s most commonly used, badass implies both toughness and disaffectedness. It’s rare to look at someone whose chief qualities are measured thoughtfulness and open emotionality and declare her a total badass. As women carve out careers and comfortably adopt traits that were once considered “masculine,” there’s strong social pressure on them to mimic the stoicism that men have traditionally been expected to maintain in the face of hardship. By now, we know the drill: Lean In if we want to succeed, and Go Outside if we have to cry.

As one of the people who has referred to McClelland publicly as a badass — as well as her friend and former editor — I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read her new book, Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story. It’s an incredibly personal memoir about her experience with trauma and falling in love while trying to heal. Much of McClelland’s PTSD struggle is acknowledging that she had the right to be traumatized even though she was merely threatened and witnessed horrible things, not physically harmed, in the line of duty. During her panicked breakdowns, she tells herself things like, “These are the sorts of bullshit excuses you make for yourself when in fact You. Are. THE WORST.

It’s almost scary to realize how deeply many women — especially those who are pushing the boundaries of what’s traditionally been considered feminine — have internalized the message that toughness and feelings don’t go together. There is something very appealing about adopting this no-feelings badass approach when you’re a woman who’s outnumbered professionally or who’s chosen a line of work that, historically, women have been shut out of. There’s pressure to prove that you’re just as capable as men are, which can turn into pressure to ignore your emotional responses and downplay the tendencies you have that are traditionally considered “feminine.” I’ve internalized this myself: When I was a boss, Istruggled to downplay my emotions, even in extremely difficult moments. More recently, when an editor I respect tweeted about crying during her workday, I felt a pang of disgust. Keep it together, I thought.

Nothing throws a wrench in this desire to downplay the feminine quite like a pregnancy. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario also recently published a memoir that is, in part, about her decision to keep up her grueling and dangerous work while she was pregnant. “With the exception of military embeds, I took on all my regular assignments, hiding my growing belly beneath loosefitting shirts, cargo pants and sometimes, fortunately, a hijab,” she wrote in an excerpt for the New York Times. She pushes aside her growing fears about jeopardizing the safety of her child and her guilt about making her husband worry. She certainly doesn’t talk about it at work. “I adamantly didn’t want any of my editors or colleagues to know that I was pregnant until I could no longer hide it. I worried about being denied work or treated differently.” The fear is understandable. Most of her colleagues covering foreign conflicts were men. And once she told her story, exposing her competing concerns for her job and for her child, the backlash was swift. “I found Lynsey Addario’s behavior absolutely reprehensible!” wrote one commenter. “How a mother could put her own ambitions and ego above that of her child is beyond belief.” Wrote another, “I feel so sorry for the baby.”

The particular pressure to be a certain type of badass woman is not unrelated to the “cool girl” phenomenon — you know, how sexist stereotypes about “most women” pressure certain girls to be the womanwho puts away burgers and beers, laughs at sexist jokes, and sets herself up as an exception to the rule that women are soft and gentle and high-maintenance. The cool girl is just as hot but with far fewer feelings. While I’m sure McClelland and Addario would be the last to refer to feelings as a sign of weakness, both of their memoirs reveal how tempting it is to fall into gendered, old-school definitions of toughness. Badasses don’t worry about being assaulted! Badasses don’t get PTSD! Badasses don’t let pregnancy stop them from venturing into a war zone! If they have to cry, badasses go outside!

Although McClelland and Addario are journalists, this phenomenon is much broader than women war reporters. It’s tempting to think that a certain level of thick-skinned posturing will solve women’s problems. We advise women who are harassed online to simply toughen up, shake off their haters, and get on with their lives. In a more extreme example, conservative politicians are recommending women arm themselves in order to prevent sexual assault. “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head,” said Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. Anyone who knows anything about sexual assault knows that guns won’t solve it because most assaults happen between acquaintances, not as a result of brute-force attacks. Anyone who’s been the victim of hate-filled online attacks knows that the “block” button is not enough. The answer doesn’t lie in removing or ignoring all perceived vulnerabilities. It lies in recognizing those vulnerabilities exist — mostly owing to deep-seated cultural factors. And women are no less badass for feeling traumatized by them.

It strikes me that as women continue to break into traditionally masculine professions and defend their right to exist in unsafe spaces, the rest of us have a responsibility to do more than cheer them from the sidelines. We should also make clear that we understand this work is hard, that it often takes an emotional toll, that there are no easy answers, and that, when they acknowledge their feelings and admit their struggles, they’re all the more badass for it. This wouldn’t just help women with challenging jobs or in dangerous situations. It would also benefit men who have long been expected to bury their emotional responses and carry on as if they are unaffected by trauma. It’s not “badass” to survive a horrible situation without shedding a single tear. The real badass move, as women like McClelland and Addario show, is to fearlessly acknowledge how something has affected you and make space for others to do the same.”

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Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“…They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life…”

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25% of American Workers Are Getting Screwed Out of an Important Benefit

25% of American Workers Are Getting Screwed Out of an Important Benefit

“…In the 1990s, 82% of private sector workers had some form of paid vacation, compared to just 77% now. Counting state and local government workers (at a dismal 59% rate), the total percentage of civilians who receive at least one paid vacation day is just 74%. Under half of the lowest quarter of earners get paid time off…”

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How to Pitch Yourself: A Lesson from Young Eudora Welty’s Impossibly Charming Job Application to The New Yorker

How to Pitch Yourself: A Lesson from Young Eudora Welty’s Impossibly Charming Job Application to The New Yorker

“March 15, 1933

 

Gentlemen,

 

I suppose you’d be more interested in even a sleight-o’-hand trick than you’d be in an application for a position with your magazine, but as usual you can’t have the thing you want most.

 

I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930–31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A.(’29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.

 

As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.

 

Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.

 

There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase you, but consider my other alternative: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay’s Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.

 

Truly yours,

Eudora Welty”

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“Since 1988, members of Congress have had their pay…”

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Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

By Alice Speri

July 30, 2014 | 10:55 am

“More than 1,300 workers from all over the US traveled to the outskirts of Chicago over the weekend for what organizers said was the first nationwide fast food workers convention. This gathering in Elmhurst, Illinois was held on the heels of a snowballing movement that has quickly grown from a spontaneous New York City walkout in November 2012 to one of the most significant American labor organizing efforts in recent years.

They came from California and Connecticut, from Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 50 cities across the country. Most arrived after long, grueling road journeys, some on yellow school buses, and many brought their children along.

Most of the workers were young, but others were in their 40s and 50s, “career” fast food workers, who have spent decades in the industry. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, but not only. Some were part-time students, a few had college degrees, and many held two or three different fast food jobs at the same time.

All photos by Alice Speri.

They came carrying banners from regional chapters and wearing shirts saying “Can’t survive on $7.25” and “We are worth more.” And they brought two demands: pay of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“Look around,” Mya Hill, an organizer from Detroit, told a roaring room packed with fired-up workers on Friday night, as the two-day event kicked off. “This is what a union looks like.”

First Victories
With most of them making the $7.25 federal minimum wage or just a few dimes more, fast food employees have become one of the most outspoken groups of low-wage workers in the country. While some politicians — including President Obama — have begun debating raising the minimum wage across the board to $10.10, the fast food workers’ bolder demand for $15 has quickly become the rallying cry for a movement that is promising to spread across industries.

“It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it. We can’t live like this, it’s time for a change,” Shantel Walker, 32, a Brooklyn fast food worker for more than 15 years, told VICE News. “We work for multibillion dollar people. A little dollar, two, three, is nothing to them. They throw away money every day. When someone doesn’t eat their food, they throw it away. That’s basically our money in the garbage can.”

Shantel Walker, a fast food worker from Brooklyn said: ‘It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it.’

Critics have slammed the $15 an hour demand as utopian, entitled, and economically senseless. But as Americans have started to awaken to the widening inequality in the country, the call for a fair wage has begun to gather traction. “We’re all people,” Walker added. “We have rights.”

Representatives for several fast food chains, including Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s, did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News on the convention and the workers’ demands.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s did not respond to interview requests or address questions on the impact of the fast food movement and whether its executives are taking the workers’ calls into consideration, but did release a statement.

“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on small and medium business owners is manageable,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said.

“Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of ‘full time’ employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.”

But despite some skepticism, the fast food workers’ movement has already reaped some important victories.

In June, Seattle’s city council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 — a move that is also being debated in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So far, more than 6.7 million workers have seen their wages increase since the fast food workers’ movement started.

And in a decision with potentially massive consequences, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is the “joint employer” for workers at its franchised stores — meaning the corporation will no longer be able to brush off workers’ complaints (and lawsuits) by putting all the blame on its franchisees. It could also be held responsible for unfair labor practices at its thousands of restaurants, including threatening to or firing workers for organizing.

“Like other fast-food franchisors, McDonald’s is trying to have it both ways when it comes to its relationship with employees working in stores bearing its name,” labor law scholar Michael Fischl said in a statement following the decision. “On the one hand, in order to protect its ‘brand,’ the Mother Ship micromanages virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations, from food preparation to customer service, and everything in between. On the other hand, in order to circumvent the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, it proclaims that it is ‘shocked, shocked’ that anyone would think it actually exerts such extensive control over its franchised stores,” Fischl continued.

“The General Counsel’s determination to treat McDonald’s as a ‘joint employer’ suggests that going forward the NLRB will be paying more attention to what franchisors are doing than to what they are saying they do.”

Predictably, the ruling outraged critics of organized labor, with Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, telling the New York Times that the decision “overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States.”

Tuesday’s ruling came after the Chicago convention, but workers there were already celebrating their first big successes.

“What you are doing right now is the most important workers’ movement in America today,” congressman Keith Ellison — and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — told workers on Saturday. “Millions of people across the country are looking at what you’re doing here in Chicago.”

Mary Kay Henry

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, also praised the workers. The union, which represents its members from a variety of service sectors, backed the convention and offered financial and organizational support — leading some critics to dismiss the event as an attempt to boost union membership.

“The people in this room tonight have changed our country,” Henry told Friday’s boisterous crowd. “When this movement started 21 months ago with the first strike in New York, people thought $15 an hour was a fantasy. They laughed at you. But now, because of your courage and your hard work, it will become a reality.”

Yet despite the wins, fast food employees face an uphill battle.

“It’s going to take a long time. You’re going back to your workplace after this and it’s not gonna happen overnight,” Justin Jones, a 23-year-old organizer from Orlando, told a group of workers in a breakout session. “This is gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be hard.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna make it as tough on us as they can,” he told VICE News later, adding that he has already been turned away from many restaurants — including the world’s largest McDonald’s, in Orlando — for speaking with staff.

But the convention, Jones hopes, will boost workers’ morale and show them they are not in the fight alone.

“We wanted workers to come together and be motivated so when they go back to their cities they can share stories and be like, ‘Hey, this is a real big thing, they’re not playing,'” he said. “It’s a movement and it’s not going anywhere. These guys are serious, they’re for real.”

Birth of a Union
Just 21 months ago, most of the workers who packed into the convention center had no idea they could even protest cuts to their hours and late paychecks without getting fired.

Darrell Roper, 51, who works at a Burger King on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, did some research of his own after an organizer approached him outside the store two years ago. He was surprised to learn that he had a right to organize with other workers, as long as it was not on the clock.

“Most people don’t know that, that’s what it is. They’re weary because they don’t have any information,” he told VICE News, adding that he now talks to other workers — and has come under scrutiny from his managers for doing so. “What I learned gave me the heart and the audacity to want to participate, knowing that my employer can’t hold that against me.”

Darrell Roper

That sense of newly discovered empowerment was palpable across the convention hall, where many said they would have never dreamed to find themselves just months ago.

“When I first heard about it, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of skeptical. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna lose my job, I’m gonna get in trouble,’” Douglesha Nicholson, a 23-year-old Pizza Hut worker from Kansas City, told VICE News. But after the first strike, she was sold.

“It was a big rush of adrenaline, going out and being able to yell without the risk of being fired. Just to let you know ‘Hey, I’m here, this is what I’m demanding, this is what I want,’” Nicholsonsaid. “We’re here to educate other fast food workers who may be skeptical about it, to let them know that we have their back.”

Sitting at a table with workers from Detroit, Brooklyn, and Wisconsin, Nicholson and her partner Marcus Stove, 24, who works at Wendy’s and whatever other odd jobs he is able to find, they compared wages and managers. Nicholson and Stove have four children together — “four and a half,” he joked, as they are expecting their fifth in September — and have long searched for but have never been able to find anything better than their fast food jobs.

“I can’t feed five kids on $7.25,” Stove said. “I’m here for the $15. I’m here to get that money.”

“We all have children,” Nicholson, whose oldest son is seven and wants to be a Pizza Hut driver when he grows up, told the other workers at the table. “I’m here because we are human beings.”

Douglesha Nicholson and Marcus Stove

At other tables, workers from different cities also compared paychecks and traded stories of payments that came weeks late, frying burns, and customers throwing shakes at them through drive-through windows. For the workers, including many leaving their hometowns for the first time, it was a powerful experience.

“Especially in the South, a lot of people are not used to this, they don’t really have knowledge of what a union is, there aren’t a lot of strikes going on,” said Jones, the Orlando organizer. “Here, you are seeing strangers, from other states, races, and belief systems, who have the same issues as you, and it gives you common ground. It’s not just you, it’s other states that all have the same issues. It’s unifying. It’s pretty awesome.”

That was precisely the point of the convention, workers and organizers said: To unite workers and capitalize on the momentum of a movement that has already staged some of the most widespread strikes in recent history, turning the “Fight for $15” chant from a utopian slogan into a reality for some.

But the workers who gathered here also adopted a resolution at the end of the convention that pledged further action — including more strikes, sit-ins, and even soup kitchens outside their stores — “to make sure everyone knows their employees don’t make enough to eat,” one worker suggested.

And many of these employees want a union as much as a raise.

“Right now, people who are working in fast food, their rights are being trampled. The union is not just for job security, it’s to protect your rights,” Roper said. “Without a union, I can’t negotiate with management. It’s their way or no way.”

History of the Movement
The sometimes rowdy convention was heavy on hope and civil rights rhetoric, as workers discussed civil disobedience and watched videos of early workers’ movements. Speaker after speaker reminded those in the room that they were “making history.”

“I’m inspired by what you are doing,” Reverend William Barber II, head of the North CarolinaNAACP, told the workers at the beginning of a long sermon. “You are in a fight to change America and you need to stay in that fight.” At its national convention, last week, the civil rights group voted unanimously to endorse the Fight for $15 campaign.

In fact, this movement has already made history.

It was born almost by accident in New York City, when a couple of hundred workers — “overworked and underpaid” as some of them said — walked off their jobs in November 2012. After that, dozens of people gathered at a Brooklyn Wendy’s to support a young woman who had been fired for protesting. In a domino effect, the strikes started to follow across the country — with a massive, 150-city walk-out in May this year.

Also in May, 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested at a rally outside the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Many of them were at the Chicago convention, where they got a standing ovation, pledged to do it again, and asked for others to follow.

“I tell you, if every one of us in this room goes to jail for civil disobedience, these corporations are gonna have to listen to us,” one of them told the crowd.

“They’re afraid of this movement, they want to keep their workers subjected,” said Roper. “They don’t want the whole store walking out, but there’s gonna come a time when corporate is gonna have to deal with us, they’re gonna have to give in.”

The workers plan to directly take on the executives of the corporations they work for — an effort that will likely be boosted by Tuesday’s ruling.

“If a CEO gets paid 1,000 more times than the average worker, I believe they can pay you a living wage. If the industry can make billions and billions and billions, I believe they can pay you a living wage,” said Barber.

In her speech, Henry listed the total compensation of fast food CEOs — coming to around 1,200 times the minimum wage that workers make.

“I think these CEOs should come into the store, to see how the stores are actually run,” Kristina Bradley, 25, told VICE News. Bradley was fired from a Pittsburgh Chick-fil-A after joining protests, she said.

“My paycheck says $300. My monthly bus pass costs $146. My rent is $450. If I’m making $300, where is my money?” she asked. “They say there’s welfare out there, you should go get food stamps. You think we want to live off the government? Are you serious? We are working.”

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

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22 Terribly Sexist Comments Women Have Heard At Work

22 Terribly Sexist Comments Women Have Heard At Work

So true, it hurts.

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