Work Place Entrapment

Not asking for it

“I did work at a mall in college- I think working retail/customer service is one of the most hideous jobs in the world.” – Jayma Mays (Actress/Singer)

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. I have in worked in retail since high school, in almost every capacity. While I made some great connections while working at those places, the job of putting on a happy face and trying to help everyone is exhausting. And what made it worse? Even after I was at my job for two years and was trained as a manager, no one believed I, a young woman, knew anything.

They would ask to speak with the department managers, or in a few cases, ask if there was a man they could speak to. Both men and women have done this and are probably doing it somewhere right now, much to my chagrin. Most of us are familiar with this narrative, but unless you’ve worked a service job or talked intimately with someone who has faced these issues, you can’t imagine how retail employees feel trapped. I think it’s high time to shed a little light on this.

Every retailer store I’ve worked at uses the classic model “the customer is always right”. That’s not a bad way to treat people who have gotten a bum product or have questions, but it is very seldom true. The customer is not always right.

Correcting customers in the wrong is like herding cats. They could just go with it, they might realize what you’re trying to do, but most of them will go their own way or may snap at you. This creates fear of the customer, especially when they change very quickly.

You’re probably thinking, but wait, isn’t the company supposed to protect employees? Can’t management handle these situations?

Companies, say they can and managers can only handle so much and most of them aren’t even prepared to handle situations. Training videos might describe and demonstrate how to handle a grumpy customer or when to get a manager, but every situation is unique and management just can’t always be there. This creates both a feeling of independence and one of isolation.

Now for the most part there is hope—grumpy customers usually just vent or go to Customer Service or can be handed off to a department. The problem I have faced as a woman is when primarily male customers start to get to friendly, flirt, ask out, or in a few cases make blatantly sexual advancements. In my case, I’m lucky none of them have gotten physical, but that is not always the case.

I worked with a girl, we’ll call her Gene. Gene worked in a clothing store, and she was helping a man find some pants. Management was in a meeting and while we all had our radios on, we all had different projects in a fairly large store. Gene helped the man even though she could “feel his eyes wandering.” They talked for a while, because in the world of retail you want to get to know your customers to help them. He started making comments, trying to flirt. Gene felt uncomfortable but was polite, trying to keep things professional. He took this politeness as an invitation to ask her out. She declined. He got very mad and started yelling all sorts of obscenities which I heard, and I rushed over to ask the man as politely as possible to leave. He called me and the other mostly female workers other obscenities, and then management escorted him out of the building.

Now if you’re wondering why Gene didn’t radio for back-up initially, let me remind you. In retail/customer service positions, politeness is key. Presentation is key. You cannot be rude to a customer unless it is a last resort, because bad behavior on your part reflects poorly on the store, and in many places can get you into trouble. We had a good management team but it’s hard to call for back-up when your customer is standing right there watching your every move. In some cases, it’s genuinely terrifying. So radioing for back-up vaguely usually results in “What do you need?” “Is it a question I can answer?”, and when you don’t have a radio, you can’t just hand a customer off to someone else in the same way at all.

I can tell you that after this, we developed phrases, we had signals, and for a while we tried to help customers in pairs because it was so scary. There is no one you protect more than your friends at work, because they really do become your family.

The worst thing is though, while not to this extreme those little microaggressions that have made me as a woman uncomfortable happen every day, and retail workers have to put up with them. Eyes will look everywhere they shouldn’t, people will get asked if they have significant others, what they’re doing later, when they get off, etc. Certain regulars will pick you and go only through your line and say “See you later” in an all-too-familiar tone. The worst things that happened to me were verbal, but I refused to interact with those customers again, and I told my management so. Did I still have to interact with them if there was no one else around? Yes. Did I plan my quickest escape route as soon as I registered they were in the store? Yes. Did I smile and do my job despite my skin crawling? Yes.

Is politeness while someone working a reason to flirt with that person?

No, it is not. It never is. They’re doing their jobs and their job should not include compromising themselves so that you leave happy.

Or at least that’s what every retail handbook says.

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What I Would’ve Told Myself When I was 17

Graduate
A graduate listens during the commencement at Yale Law School on May 23, 2011.

By Delaney Hopen

I graduated from high school in 2016 at the age of 17, and I was so excited to start fresh in Moscow Idaho. When I first got here, I didn’t realize how much I would be changing in just a short period of time.

When you look forward at what you believe and hope is a long life for yourself, 4 years is like “4 pages” in your 80 or so page “life” book. I find it’s easy to feel like these pages could last forever, and when it’s over it feels like they barely happened. But, these 4 years are for you. They aren’t for your parents, your boss, your future or present husband, wife, or kids. Entering at 17 means I will be exiting at 21, and I can only imagine who I will be, by then.

There are things I wish I had known when I arrived at this stage of my life, but there are some things one cannot explain. I wanted to write this post to initially help the future young women attending U of I, or any other university, because although there are lessons that must be learned, some can at least come with a warning.

Continue reading “What I Would’ve Told Myself When I was 17”

How I Can Help (And Not Hinder)

By Dave Eubank 

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A picture of a learning curve

I have learned a lot since beginning my stint this semester as Editor of the Women’s Center Blog. This position has put me in contact with many strong, intelligent, kind, and patient, Feminist women.

I place extra emphasis on patient.

Why?

Because, I have been on a learning curve, so to speak. I have been getting an education about Feminism and how to interact and exist in this world. I have also been proven wrong. A bunch. Consequently, I have done and said things that were offensive to my feminine colleagues and friends. Patience, on their part, has been valuable to me as I stumbled along.

I spent some time trying to muddle through things on my own. Eventually, I decided to reach out and ask some of these women for their opinions/input regarding two areas:

  1. “What does a Feminist need from a male ally?”
  2. “How can males help in the struggle against Rape Culture?”

  

Here is what I found out…

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Survivors’ Hope

 

A white sign with the text, "we believe you"
A sign from a rape survivor rally

By Chloe Rigg

“Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’”

(To strike the woman is to strike the rock.)

These are words from a South African protest song written in the 1950’s. Throughout history individuals have been struck physically and emotionally, but society never focuses on the strength it takes these survivors to get back on their feet and become “the rock.” Survivors of sexual assault (women or men) have plenty of horror stories to tell. But, they also have a lot of inspiring, hopeful stories highlighting how one copes and comes through to the other side of these events. I am here to share some of their stories.

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A Mother Really Does Know Best

By Jolie Day

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A portrait of my mom

My mom is one of my biggest heroes. For my sisters and I, she has been one of the most amazing women to emulate growing up. She is courageous, warm hearted, intelligent, and has a presence that can brighten any room. She has one of those souls that you feel lucky to know. Our relationship has changed a lot over the years, but one thing has always held true: she has given me the support and advice that has made me into who I am today. My mom is the reason why I am a feminist, and her support is what helped me navigate womanhood.

The morning after the election, I called my mom knowing that she would know just what to say to comfort my fears for what lies ahead. Having four daughters, she knew the weight that her words would carry. She spoke calmly as she reassured me that our future is not as bleak as it seems. My mother comforted me with her promises to keep hope and to fight for what is right. She reasoned that the pendulum swings both ways, and that we may go through a period of feeling helpless, but that we will get back to working together to help protect people who are threatened. She helped me see the platform that this can be to engage in the deepest changes we need to make in our nation. My mom has always given me valuable advice on how to get by in this world. That morning she told me something that I don’t think women and girls hear enough: that I am strong.

Continue reading “A Mother Really Does Know Best”