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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Advertising? Or Objectification?

Advertisement for "Van Gogh of Wheat Fields and Clouded Skies" with one of Gogh's landscapes as the background
Advertisement for “Van Gogh of Wheat Fields and Clouded Skies”

By Chloe Rigg

A picture speaks a thousand words.

 A Van Gogh piece might suggest, “warmth, radiance, summer.” While a piece by Salvador Dali could conjure up, “surreal, strange, unimaginable.” Now, what thousand words are recalled by this:

An advertisement for Skyy Vodka depicting a man standing over a woman on a beach
An advertisement for Skyy Vodka

For one, it takes a couple of looks to even tell what product is being advertised. And second, I think more than a thousand words could go along with this picture. And they aren’t as radiant as a Van Gogh painting.

Continue reading “Advertising? Or Objectification?”

Choosing Not to Report

By Makayla Sundquist

Trigger Warning: This post discusses multiple survivors’ sexual assault experiences and may be triggering for others who have also experienced sexual assault. 

A woman holds a sign that depicts the words "#MeToo"
The #MeToo movement created more awareness about the presence of sexual assault. Photo from Poynter.com

If you have been keeping up with the University of Idaho news lately, you will notice the attention a 2013 sexual assault case is getting. The Idaho Statesman recently discovered a survivor’s testimony on a blog site, and ran a story that covered the investigation. (Read here). Long story short, the survivors did not receive the help from the athletic department they needed. Both people involved were athletes at UI, but the athletic department only protected the assaulter. The survivors then went to the Women’s Center, and the staff there took the case to the Dean of Students for an investigation. The assaulter was no longer allowed to play football at UI. However,  he is now playing for a team in New York (which I do not agree with, but that is a conversation for another day).

Throughout all of this buzz, I have heard some comments questioning why the survivor did not go directly to the Dean of Students. Some of these comments were in poor taste. Others were genuinely curious. Even though the two women who were sexually assaulted at UI chose to report their assault to the police and the athletic department, it is common for survivors to never report. But why?

Continue reading “Choosing Not to Report”

Has it Gotten Any Better?

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Measuring tape on a womans waist

By Delaney Hopen

In America’s fashion industry,  the “plus-size” identity has always been a prominent component. This “size” range is considered sizes 8 and above, and isn’t carried in every store. From my perspective, I never noticed any sort of shaming or disrespect towards women that don’t weigh 100 pounds in the media, but of course how could I? I was only a young teen in the grocery stores looking at the covers, I couldn’t possibly notice all the praise of major weight losses that are just subtle conditioning set in our societies to convince us losing weight is a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, adjusting your life in order to be a healthy you is a great thing. Me being an exercise freak, I think it feels amazing to set a body goal and achieve it but I’ve never been told I had to change like a lot of women have in the fashion world. There are all types of trends today in the beauty and health industry that I’m sure the older generations might not legitimately believe are popular because advancements in makeup, skinny teas and dieting techniques, and online weight loss plans have become so accessible.

Continue reading “Has it Gotten Any Better?”

Athletes Stand United Against Larry Nassar

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A photo of Simone Biles, USA Olympic Gymnast

By Delaney Hopen

This past year has been an incredible one in finally exposing and receiving justice in the largest sexual abuse story known in sports history. I am sure you are all familiar with Jerry Sandusky, the convicted child molester, and rapist who was the assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University but truly Sandusky has now been out done. Larry Nassar, age 54 of Michigan has been an active physician for about 30 years. He was the Michigan State University Team doctor for athletics, (specifically gymnastics) and the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor from 1996-2014.

What initially sparked my deep interest about this arrest was when Chrissy Teigan, supermodel and wife of singer John Legend tweets this at Mckayla Maroney, a previous Olympic gymnast:

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 11.03.13 AM
A Tweet from Chrissy Teigen

Continue reading “Athletes Stand United Against Larry Nassar”

A is for Anxiety B is for Bold

Kali Nelson

A metal arch that was lit up with pink lights for breast cancer awareness.
An Arch light up pink for Breast Cancer Awareness

 

Disclaimer! I am not a scientist, I am not a biology major. What I report in this post is what I have found on my own. I am learning about this along with you, so if you see something wrong let me know. Thank you.

Since October is breast cancer awareness month, I am going to continue with the breast cancer theme. According to breastcancer.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer, one in eight women in the USA will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It also states that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women; in 2017 it was estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be in the breast. Another fact on their website states that in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African- American women than white women, while in Asian, Hispanic, and Native women the risk of developing and dying of breast cancer is lower than African American women.

There is not much of a focus on the women that breast cancer effects in the media, the media that comes out in October is pink ribbons emblazed on everything. There are two main examples that I want to talk about. The first one is The Bold Type, specifically the episode titled “The Breast Issue” and a book I found called A Breast Cancer Alphabet.

The Bold Type is a tv show on Freeform in its first season. There are currently only six episodes, but the one that I want to discuss in more detail is the episode titled, “The Breast Issue.” The main characters are friends named Jane, Kat, and Sutton who work at Scarlet magazine, which is much like Cosmo in our world. Jane is the journalist one of the group who aspires to be the finest feminist writer. Kat is the social media coordinator and is a very big feminist. And finally, there is Sutton. She works in fashion but her story in this episode is not relevant to my post so I will be excluding it. We start with the girls going to what I think is a #freethenipple rally.

Jane, the journalist of the three friends, faces her past in this episode when the editor of the magazine wants her to write about the BRCA test and why women in their 20’s should or should not get the test. This may seem like a run of the mill article to write considering this is a women’s magazine, but for Jane, this is personal because her mother died of breast cancer. Jane does not believe that women in their 20’s should get this test.

But what exactly is this test?

The BRCA gene test uses a blood sample to look for harmful changes to a person’s DNA (that’s the stuff that makes you, you). It can be used for both breast and ovarian cancer. It looks for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes are the breast cancer susceptible These proteins help repair damaged DNA, but if there is something wrong (aka a mutation) then the protein cannot do their job right, and cells can develop more alterations as a result. The harmful versions of these genes can be inherited by a person by either their mother or father. For specifics on your risk of getting breast cancer, please see a professional.

This test is recommended to anyone who is likely to have an inherited mutation, and is based on your family history or a specific kind of breast cancer. Even if a person receives a positive result, that does not mean that they will develop breast cancer. Your doctor can help you understand your risk.

The free the nipple hashtag is the story arc for Kat, the social media coordinator. She is a forward thinking, go-getting feminist who decides that since she can’t post women’s nipples on Scarlet’s Instagram, she will go around taking photos of men’s nipples and post them instead to challenge the Instagram rule that men can show their nipples but women cannot. She does this because she is getting ready for Scarlet’s breast health issue. Although she doesn’t use the free the nipple hashtag, I think it is important to talk about this because women’s breast are sexualized in today’s society and then women get breast cancer and their breast which women are taught are a private part of body, are everyone’s business. Society tells women that they need to cover their breast, that the breast is a sexual organ, not secondary sex characteristic. This is exemplified in the debate over women breast feeding in public. People say that women’s breasts are for male pleasure and therefore cannot be shown in public. Shame is placed upon women who dare to breast feed in public or show more of their breast than society has deemed appropriate. So basically anything above the areola (the circle around your nipple) or below it is A-Okay. Just don’t show your nipple.  But once there is a cancer diagnosis, your breast become public property. People ask you questions, doctors take photos, nurses examine. They invade the privacy that society used to force on you.

A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka talks a little bit about what it felt like to have her breast go from a private part of her body to something that everyone discusses when she dedicates a chapter to breasts (B is for Breast). After a cancer diagnosis, a woman’s personal space is invaded in the name of her health. Sikka talks about reconstruction, and how that affected her. I thought it was a nice reprieve to read this book because Sikka did not give me facts and figures. I saw next to no numbers and that is what I wanted. Sikka said her reasoning behind this book was because she wanted something that was easy to read and wasn’t too scientific or self-indulgent and I feel that that is what she wrote. Reading this book is like reading a letter from my mother, comforting and not too shallow. A Breast Cancer Alphabet covers topics that might not be found in the literature, like what it feels like to shave your head and lose your hair, what it feels like to have a mastectomy and how cancer can affect your sex life.  Sikka even has a tumblr where anyone can submit a sentence or photo to create your own breast cancer alphabet.

Calling all Buzzfeed Fans: Anne Helen Petersen is Coming to UI

Photo of Anne Helen Petersen with blonde hair, smiling with mouth closed, wearing a denim jacket.

By Alexandria Arritt

A wonderful opportunity is coming to a University of Idaho campus near you! Anne Helen Petersen, senior Buzzfeed writer, author of Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women is coming to the university. October 13th from 8:30-10am, all English-majors are invited to attend a breakfast with Anne.

 

The multimedia company Anne writes for has become extremely prominent the past few years. Buzzfeed churns out videos, news, opinion and multimedia pieces, quizzes and much more. Typically, the multimedia company focuses on inclusive feminist views. The voice that Buzzfeed brings to mass media is one of empowerment, hilarity, and vulnerability.

 

These things and more can be found within Senior Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen’s book, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women. Anne Helen Petersen has a PhD from University of Texas in media studies and she focuses on celebrity culture within her writing. After years of studying classic Hollywood stars and gossip, Petersen has a strong idea of how studying celebrities can illuminate how women are perceived by the public. The book focuses on 10 female celebrities that have been criticized for their actions as women. For example, Serena Williams, Madonna, and Hillary Clinton. Peterson uses examples like these to show what celebrity gossip says about those who read it and participate.

 

The opportunity to sit with Anne is, most likely, not one that will come around again. Anne Helen Petersen taught media studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington from 2012-2014, and more famously wrote for The Hairpin from 2011-2014. The Hairpin is a well-known “general-interest site aimed at women.” Anne was interviewed by The Hairpin about her life success and about her thoughts on Audrey Hepburn. The Hairpin allows us to get an in-depth look in the head of Anne Petersen. During the interview, Anne speaks about her first class in graduate school where she realized what she really wanted to study. She took a class called “Female Stardom” and that class led her to her dissertation on celebrity gossip.

Anne has always been interested in celebrity scandals and how the public perceived the women that were involved. After writing columns for The Hairpin, Anne went on to write her first book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema. This book is well connected to her columns for The Hairpin, and she analyzes the scandals in a similar fashion, although Anne does say that the research that went into the book was far more expansive. The main point that the book shows the readers is how white, straight males tend to get away with scandals, whereas women do not. Surprisingly though Anne lets us in on an interesting opinion, she hates Audrey Hepburn! Anne believes that Audrey is “the same trope(s) over and over again.” When Anne did her research for Scandals of Classic Hollywood she wanted to stray from the overarching attitude the public had towards the stars. Anne focused on the star themselves to really gain an accurate understanding of the scandal.

 

After her time with The Hairpin Anne was offered a job from Buzzfeed. Anne Helen Petersen has posted over 200 articles to Buzzfeed in the past few years! As a writer for Buzzfeed Anne has creative freedom to write about what truly interests her. And in a time like this where scandals and celebrity gossip, even within our presidency, have no end, there is a lot to write about. Anne’s most recent post on Buzzfeed from two weeks ago is titled, “Top Of The Lake” Is The Anti-SVU. Top of the Lake focuses on a detective that specializes in sexual abuse crime. Top of the Lake’s second season began on Sept. 10. A common criticism for the new season, according to Anne, is that the future for the show is unclear. There is not enough coherence. Disregarding the struggles the show is facing regarding structure, Anne notes that this is the first piece of fiction that has made her emotional within the past few months. Top of the Lake explores the facets of motherhood, rape culture, sex and misogyny. These things portrayed on screen are what make the show watchable. In this article, Anne dives into the idea of watching your own troubles on a screen. It’s relatable and the problems within are fought by tough women that become survivors of their own tragedy.

 

Anne writes incredible articles about women in pop culture. She is an experienced and talented writer and it will be a pleasure to have her here at the University of Idaho. On October 13th, the Lewiston native will be here for breakfast and questions. If you’re an English-major remember to take a little time out of your day to speak with one of the great female writers of our generation.