Thursday, July 17, 2014

Making Women Feel Physically Threatened at Work: a Guide

This is going to be a post that’s less about protecting my pictures from being deleted from facebook, or crafty stuff I’ve attempted, or traveling I’ve done.

This is a message to white, straight, cisgendered men over 50 years old out in the world, particularly those who consider themselves a part of countercultural movements—I know, not my usual demographic. (My only demographic is members of my extended family. Love you guys, thanks for clicking these links!)

She doesn't look like she needs help, does she?!
Particularly, if you’re having conflicts in public spaces; if younger women seem to recoil from you and you don’t know why. If you find yourself getting angry while shopping for organic groceries because young women just aren’t listening to you the way you’d like them to. Perhaps you have not considered that you are making them feel unsafe. Let’s begin:

Hello, sirs! If you know me at all, you know me as a manager at a small, alternative retail establishment. (You do not know that I took, and keep, this job for the paycheck. I finished a college degree, you guys, and regularly get fiction and poetry published. I’m also working part-time in the field I want a career in, but I need the extra cash to pay my student loans. I’m, like, kinda nuanced.)

You regularly tell me to smile more. When I ignore your suggestions, you press harder. You tell me it’s part of my job to be pleasant to you, even when you make me uncomfortable. Even when you make me beyond uncomfortable—when you make me feel like I am in physical danger. (The danger is you. Do you get that?)

Sometimes I can see that you are thinking, Why doesn’t she like that I comment on the pattern of her shirt while she is lifting heaving boxes of merchandise? Why does she scowl when I say to her, “Wow, you actually are strong!” Why, oh, why, does she ask me to leave the establishment when I am telling my anecdotes at register (never buying anything) that begin, “Oh I had many erotic adventures in Europe in the 1970s. They women there—they’re up for anything!”

I am here to demystify and explain, once and for all, why I scowl at you, refuse to engage in conversation with you, and lately, why I tell you to leave the building before I call the cops.

Are you doing one or all of these things? If the answer is yes to even one, to one part of one, even one time, I’ve got to tell you: You are very likely making me feel threatened with physical harm.

Here is a Guide To Making Women Feel Physically Threatened At Work!!!!

Demean other women in her presence
Sometimes, I cashier. Sometimes, you approach me with nothing that you are buying—you just want to talk. That’s OK, I guess. But you need to keep it in the front of your mind that I am still on the clock—there is an expectation that I accomplish goals to justify my hourly wage. I am not your therapist. It is not appropriate for you to talk about your ex-wife, or ex-girlfriend, or any other person you are or have been romantically involved with. I don’t want to know who you’ve slept with; I don’t care about your flings.

It is also not appropriate for you to talk about the outfits or bodies of other women in your life, or women you passed on the street. And it is absolutely not OK for you to talk to me about my woman coworkers, or even shoppers in the store, and graphically describe their bodies or clothes.

Trying to engage me in conversations about any of these topics tells me that you do not respect women, and by extension, me. It makes me fearful, because a lack of respect can lead to physical violence. All of these comments make me aware that I am being viewed as an object, not a person, by the speaker. Objects don’t get treated well, especially when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do (respond; smile back; listen attentively).

When I am talking to a man with a clear disrespect for women, I assume that he may threaten or try to hurt me at any time.

… I’m going to let that sink in …

When men make it clear that they see women (including ME!) as objects, I go into fight or flight mode. I assume I may have to defend myself against an attack.

And I don’t want to hear that just because some men are violent toward women, you are personally not, and I need to just assume this. Because this world is violent and scary, I have to assume the worst to protect myself at all times. I honestly don’t care if this offends you because you’re “One of the good guys.” (I understand that the people this message needs to reach may not be the most tech-savvy, but I really feel like I don’t need to go any deeper into this, I just want to say #YesAllWomen)

This also includes you, a straight cis male, making sweeping statements about all women to me, an actual human woman.

Let me not even get into how gender is a performance and that there isn’t a binary. Let me just tell you that this is a bad, bad idea. I don’t care that you are wrapping your message in New Age psychobabble; don’t tell me that you know exactly who I am because All Women Blah Blah Blah.

Some examples, from experience:

All Women Are Nurturing (So I Need You to Stop Doing Your Job and Pay Attention to Me Right Now)

All Women Want to Have Babies (So I am Going to Leer At You and Imagine Making Babies with You, and I Don’t Care if You Know It)

Don’t say things like this to me, or to anyone. There are exceptions to every rule, so don't make silly generalizations about All Women. And also, women can tell when you’re invoking a generalization to sway us in a specific instance. (We have these things called brains, you guys.) Oh, you know, women are sooooo intuitive but not practical, and thus not that good at math, and you’re saying this to me while I’m making your change. I got the message, OK? There’s no actual evidence to back up what you’re saying, but I do understand the point you’re trying to make.

And this all comes back to: When you don’t respect me as a person, I assume that you may at any moment threaten me or attempt to hurt me. You are making me feel unsafe.

Challenge her authority at every opportunity
I understand that the world looked different while you were growing up, and you’ve seen changes in the social order. But no matter who you are, or where you’ve been, NOW it is 2014. Now, I was hired to manage at this location. If this makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to shop elsewhere.

I never dress like this at work. But this is how I feel on the inside.

If you’re going to keep shopping here, here are some general guidelines:

If you see a woman staff person doing physical labor, and she does not ask you for help, do not shove her aside and immediately start doing her task. She was hired to do this task. It’s her job. You may ask if her if she needs help, I guess. But if the person you’re asking is me, the answer is no, because I can do the job I collect the paycheck for, thank you!

If you are challenging a woman manager at a store (and I need you to really reconsider why you are getting into fights at retail establishments. How often does this stuff happen to you? If it’s happening once a week or even once a month, there may be an issue here that is not related to the store) about the price of something, do not undermine her authority by appealing to other men—any man—around. Why would a dude shopper who is just standing in line behind you know more about the sales this month than a woman on staff? Why do you need an audience of men to back you up on this? I can’t answer these questions for you. All I can do is advise you to stop doing this.

(See above point: You are establishing a clear disdain for me as a woman, and this makes me feel like I could be in physical danger at any time.)

Let her know that you know how to pick locks
I think I know where you’re coming from with this one, actually. You’re thinking, Man, Abbie Hoffman would be so proud of me! Eff the system, I will break and enter if I feel like it! I need to tell young people about this skill, so that I can pass on my radical knowledge to the next generation!

Oddly enough, in the last month I have had two older men tell me they know how to pick locks at the place I work. (Neither of them work there.)

Here is an exercise: Imagine you must close a store, in a city, completely alone, every night after dark. Imagine, if you can, that you’re not who you are. No, you’re, I dunno, a 28-year-old woman who isn’t in bad shape but has physical limitations after all. And for the last few hours, while she is on the clock to collect a paycheck to finance the steps to a career she’ll actually enjoy, older, taller, and (sometimes) physically stronger men have:
- relentless hit on her, even after she asks them to stop
- commented on her body and clothing while she was trying to do manual labor at work
- told her they do not respect her authority as a manager, in outright and subtle ways
- and manifold other B.S.

And now, you are breaking in the front door and trying to hand her money for a chocolate bar, even though she insists that all the money is in the safe upstairs and there is no way to ring a transaction.

You insist, though. Can this chick just mellow out?

No. And if you really tried to put yourself in her shoes, if you were honest about how violent the world is for people with less power, you wouldn’t even ask her to.

Thanks for listening, dear readers! This is my promise to call the cops the next time any one of you makes me feel unsafe!

1 comment:

  1. i wish i had the guts to say something when i feel threatened instead of convincing myself it is all in my head.