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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White Privilege

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Poster of White Privilege

 

By Beatrice Santiago

Privilege… It exists.

What is it?

Where does it come from?

When I think about defining “White Privilege,” I think about how it has affected me in my life. So many moments that I can’t seem to name a specific one. When searching for “white privilege” definitions, it was hard to find some examples. Here is what I found:

Cambridge English Dictionary:

“White Privilege: the fact of people with white skin having advantages in society that other people do not have. The concept of white privilege explains why white people have greater access to society’s legal and political institutions.”

Continue reading “White Privilege”

Being Mexican-American

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A movie still from Selena

By Beatrice Santiago

 

                                                       “You’re from Mexico, right?”

(A question I get asked all too often.)

Yes and no. I mean my parents are Mexican, yes. But I have never been to Mexico.

So, yes, I am from Mexican descent. I speak the language and love my culture, the music (I jam to it every time), and oh gosh! our food is the best. The tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and mmmm posole. So good. However, I am also American. I was born in the United States. I have lived here my whole life. I grew up in a small town in Southern Idaho–Homedale. Out in the country, I was surrounded by endless fields of corn and many farm animals. Horses were in the backyard.

I also love hamburgers and pizza and enjoy watching American football. Don’t get me wrong, I love both cultures very much, because they are a part of who I am. My Identity. However, it is not easy in the United States. Somehow, I always find myself explaining to people why I am just as American as they are. And, just as Mexican. There is a scene in the movie Selena that explains just what I am saying. Here is the link to that scene.  Continue reading “Being Mexican-American”

Dolores Huerta

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A picture of Dolores Huerta.

By Beatrice Santiago

Few people know about this amazing woman. Although, many know Cesar Chavez. He, along with Dolores, worked to fight for the basic rights of farm workers in the fields of California. They fought for better work wages and portable restrooms for the workers, as well as fighting for the rights of Farm workers. But Dolores has not been given the credit she deserves. She did as much work as Cesar did. She is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association. This is an organization that fights for the rights of farm workers. Before we get to the work she deserves credit for, let’s talk about some history.

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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…

Continue reading “How I Can Help (And Not Hinder)”

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. 

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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?

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Gender and Role Play in Kids

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Graphic illustrating different genders

By Beatrice Santiago 

Do you remember when you were 9 years old?

I vaguely remember what I was doing at that age. And I remember experiences in which I felt inferior to men, thinking as a young girl that I was not capable of certain tasks just because I was a girl. Society’s ideals can be cruel. Especially when you are told that if you do something a man does, you are not “acting like a lady.”

I recently read an article, “I AM 9 YEARS OLD: Children Across the World Tell Us How Gender Affects Their Lives.”  As the title implies, children were asked questions like:

“What is the best thing about being a girl?”

“What is the worst thing about being a girl?”

“How might your life be different if you were a boy (or a boy instead of a girl)?”

Their responses were shocking. However, they were answers I was expecting. Although many were positive, some were really sad to read. These children were interviewed from all different parts of the world by National Geographic.

Continue reading “Gender and Role Play in Kids”