Thursday, September 25, 2014

One of the things said to me during the September 5th phone call with the owner of Harrison's was that maybe his employees didn't want to work with another "strong woman". This was in response to my asking why I was fired.  At the time this statement slid right past me, something I now realize was a bit of internalized misogyny on my part. I've become so used to this sort of rhetoric in the workplace that it didn't even register. All I focused on was the word "maybe" and I moved on because I was looking for a definitive answer, not a maybe.

In the weeks since then I have, of course, mulled over the entire situation on a near daily basis, questioning myself, questioning the future, and wondering if I've done any good at all by coming forward with my story. Like a bubble slowly rising to the surface, his "strong woman" statement has risen to the surface of my mind and I can't help but feel that this sentiment may play a very important and unfortunate part in the professional environs of his business, as well as being something that many women the world over struggle with and face every day.

In order to unpack this properly I feel I need to go over some details.

When he said "another strong woman" he was specifically referencing his former manager who had recently quit, and was also specifically referencing that at the time the Salem store was comprised entirely of male staff save one female employee. He cited his staff as having been uncomfortable with the former manager's strong personality and expressed that they may have been concerned about having to work with another strong woman. He also cited my initiative as an example of coming across as "strong".

At the time, this was not something that had occurred to me. I had not thought of my presence there, and my working style, as something that might be interpreted in terms of gender, and certainly not in terms of any kind of gender competition. At most, I thought my presence as a woman might make some female customers feel more comfortable shopping there which to me seemed like a good thing. Now, looking back, I realize that I may have been an unwitting participant in something much more insidious, something I did not even realize was happening.

As I have also mentioned previously, this was not my first time working at Harrison's. I worked there once before, in the 1990's, without incident. At the time the business was much smaller and as such only had a handful of employees. If my memory serves me correctly, there were five of us in total including the owner and of which I was the only woman. Back then I thought nothing of it but now I can't help but wonder. Were no other women interested in working there? Or was this a subconscious (or even conscious) gender based decision on the part of the owner?

Fast forward to now, over a decade later, and only using the Salem location as I have never stepped foot in the other locations. As a frequent customer I only ever saw two women working there, the one who quit, and another who is still there to the best of my knowledge. During my two days working there this time around I was introduced to six male employees (and told about a seventh), not including the owner, so that would be eight male employees altogether in the Salem store and one female employee. I am not including the new hires (male or female) in this because new hires don't set up any sort of precedent nor do they have any impact on the store in terms of statistics (other than statistics related to hiring which I am not privy to) due to the fact that it was clearly stated that most of them would be weeded out and I have no idea who ended up staying.

I feel it is important to note, though unfortunate, that during my short time there I was warned repeatedly about the one female employee. This should have been a red flag but at the time I took it at face value. I was new and I was learning and I assumed the men training me were merely trying to look out for me. Her name was spoken with obvious trepidation. I was warned that she had very specific ways of doing things and that it was best to stay out of her way and that if I messed up something that was "hers" there would be some kind of repercussion meted out by her. From the way they spoke I took this to mean either verbal repercussions or ones displayed through attitude. It is maybe also important to note that I received no such warnings about any of the male employees.

So now, when we combine these things, the former "strong woman" manager and the current female employee who appears to be disliked by her coworkers, I feel like we start to get a picture of something larger at work. We can see when we try to step back from this a landscape in which "strong" is actually code for difficult, or perhaps even threatening; in this case threatening to the very male centric dynamic of his business. And it's perplexing to me, to be honest, because from what I have seen of these women they are hardworking individuals. They take initiative, they are dedicated, innovative, intelligent, and independent, all qualities you would think would be rewarded. But sadly, in business, these sorts of traits are still often frowned upon by men. We are labeled as b*tchy or cold or aggressive while these same traits in men are often praised and help them rise within companies.

It's funny to me that in this case the word strong was used as a negative because when I think of strong women I think of positives. I think of women like Aung San Suu Kyi, Harriet Tubman, and Malala Yousafzai. But strength isn't just reserved for those who make history. Every woman is strong every day. From juggling family to careers to personal enrichment, and continuously navigating a world in which we are still considered lesser, we each show strength every day, whether it's by simply getting out of bed in the morning or if it's by choosing to be a voice and to speak out as I and many others have done.

So my point? My point is the same as it has been since the beginning of all this: to shed light on sexism and to create dialogue about the issues women face in the workplace and in the world. Yes, I am using this store as an example but not because I have a vendetta against it. Rather, because it is a recent page from a time in my life where I feel comfortable speaking out due to our current climate. There's a change in the air, a sort of uprising if you will. Between the #heforshe campaign, the Gamer Gate situation, and recent revelations in regards to certain Youtube stars, more and more women are being brave and coming forward with their own personal stories of sexism, misogyny and abuse.

It is my hope, as it has been all along, to see a day where these things are no longer an issue. I want to live in a world where women are safe, where men don't think rape is funny, and where being a strong woman is something that's lauded instead of feared. I don't want any woman, ever, to be fired for doing her job with the same energy and enthusiasm as her male counterparts. We deserve equality, we deserve safe spaces, we deserve to live free from harassment and gender driven violence. If you're reading this I hope you'll do your part. Speak out. Create change. You have the power. We all do.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Just got off the phone with Larry, the owner. He called me. I wanted to relay some of what was said. He continues to maintain that he did not know I was fired ry, the owner. He called me. I wanted to relay some of what was said. He continues to maintain thatand I'm inclined to believe him though I did express to him that he should be more involved in the goings on in his own store. He is claiming that the reason I was fired was because supposedly my coworkers said they did not want to work with me but fully admitted that he considers me a good employee and that he personally did not receive any complaints about me. I very specifically and pointedly asked him if during the two days I was there anyone, customer or employee, had said anything negative about me or expressed any concerns about me and he said that there were none. I pointed out to him the fact that Julian had told me on Sunday day that I was one of the people being kept on and that the schedule had been adjusted to reflect that and he said he didn't know what to say to that, that he could only speak to what was said to him after I was fired.

I still find it extremely suspect that the person who took it upon himself to fire me is the very same person who made the rape joke and that I subsequently complained about to Larry Sunday night after my shift. Larry swears that he did not tell Julian about my complaint. Maybe he's telling the truth. Maybe he's not. If he is telling the truth there is still another possibility. The conversation I had with Larry on Sunday night took place out on the sales floor within ear shot of another employee so it is also possible this employee relayed my complaint to Julian. I do not believe for one second that my complaint and my being fired are unrelated. I again offer the evidence that prior to my complaint I was told I was being kept on, was praised by Julian and Mark, was given money to buy a lock for the employee lockers, and was given the green light for various things around the store such as implementing recycling and helping with the social media. Why would all of these things happen if there were complaints about me? As I said on Twitter this seems like very simple math to me. I was told I was doing a good job. I lodged a complaint about inappropriate behavior. I was fired.

Larry continued to defend Julian. Apparently Julian is claiming that it was someone standing behind me that made the rape comment but I was standing right in front of Julian. My hearing and eyesight are not so bad that I cannot tell when a person is speaking in front of me. Larry admits that he told me I should have taken my concerns to Julian myself. I "played back" what he was suggesting and he admitted it was not sound advice. I said, "So, you told me, as a female employee who was made to feel uncomfortable, that I should confront the person who made me uncomfortable who is also in a position of power over me. Does that make sense?" and he admitted it didn't. He says that he has now spoken to Julian and that's fine and dandy but too bad he wasn't willing to speak to him before the media got hold of this.

In a roundabout way he apologized but he made a lot of excuses too. He just kept repeating that he didn't know what happened, that he thought everything was fine, and that he wished I had gotten in touch with him. I feel I should note that no apology was made in regards to the rape room comments or the touching. It was only in regards to how everything went down in terms of Julian blocking my entrance to the store and not being able to contact Larry. Basically, he is standing by Julian and standing by the belief that his other employees don't want me there. Maybe that last part is true. Maybe it's not. I have no idea. I can only go by what I witnessed which was people telling me I was doing a good job.

So basically we're at a stalemate. He says a press release is going out tomorrow but I have a feeling it will not be a satisfactory one. He seems to be focusing more on the fact that I was fired and not on the inappropriate things that happened in his store. I tried several times to shift the conversation back to those specific issues but he kept steering back to saying he didn't know what was going on and he's not always there and that supposedly employees are now saying they didn't want to work with me so he has to go by what they say despite him praising me over the weekend and no complaints being lodged about me till after I was fired. He did this weird kind of see-sawing between saying that he doesn't think any of his current employees would ever lie to him but that he believes all the former employees coming forward with complaints are lying. That seems odd to me. People are truthful while they work for you and liars once they no longer work for you?

I expressed to him that I felt hurt considering he continued to insist throughout the phone call that he thinks of me as a friend. I told him he should do some serious objective thinking in regards to Julian as an employee. I advised him not to gloss over the issue of the rape jokes and unwanted touching. I told him this whole thing is putting me in dire financial straits that could have been avoided with clearer communication and fair treatment.

That's the gist of the phone call. I want to make it clear that I am glad that he called. I now have his phone number should I need/want to contact him again. I appreciate that he made an effort to communicate but it is unfortunate that it was so long after and it still did not really adequately address the situation. Perhaps the forthcoming statement online will.

Someone asked me what I want to come of all this. It's a difficult question to answer partly because I've never been in this situation before so I am not wholly aware of all my options and partly because I've been very busy trying to keep up with everyone's questions and messages. It hasn't left a lot of time for reflection. That being said, there are a couple of things that come to mind but let me stress that these are not demands in any way, shape, or form, nor are they things I actually expect to happen. Think of it more as wishful thinking?

I do not think that Julian should be working there. I feel he is a detriment to the store. This statement is based solely on the little experience I had with him which includes him attempting to follow me on Twitter after firing me and presumably after learning I was uncomfortable with his jokes and touching. I was very unnerved when I saw that he followed me and it seemed to me common sense that he should not be doing it.

I think that myself and the general public are owed a sincere apology in regards to the rape jokes and unwanted touching and I actually did tell Larry that so I guess we'll see what the statement says.

I think the employees there, including Larry and Julian, should undergo sensitivity training in regards to sex, gender, and homophobia. Another thing I witnessed in my short time there was an employee using a homophobic slur right in front of customers.

And in a perfect world, I would love to receive compensation in the form of lost wages as I was expecting to be working there through the end of December and arranged my finances accordingly. But I realize this last one falls more in the realm of fantasy.

These are the things that come to mind at this point in time. On a grander scale, it is my hope that by shedding light on these events it will continue to shed a light on the misogyny prevalent within geek culture and open and honest dialog about these subjects. All people of all genders deserve to have safe spaces for the things that they love. One of the things I was most excited about in working at Harrison's was being a female employee that would hopefully encourage more women to shop there and to read comics and to feel safe and comfortable within that little corner of geek culture. It is truly unfortunate I was not able to do that and I am sorry for any failings on my part.

I also want to say a quick thank you to the few customers I did wait on. A number of you have contacted me and told me how happy you were with my service. I am so glad I was able to help even if it was just a little bit and I am truly sorry that I will not be there to assist you in the future.

Thank you.

EDIT: I forgot to mention another odd thing. One of the employees that was cited as having complained about me is someone I never actually worked with. This individual was not in the store when I was. Seems a little strange that someone I never worked with would complain about me.

EDIT #2: I apologize for the edits but I keep thinking of stuff to add. Another thing maybe worth mentioning is that I worked for Larry in the 1990's. During that time no complaints were lodged against me either by employees or customers. I left the store on amicable terms solely because I needed a better paying job. So again, just interesting, that during my initial employment the first time around there were no issues with me as an employee but this time, after lodging a complaint against Julian, I am supposedly suddenly disliked by the staff. Interesting.