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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Internalized pink collar oppression

One of the few print magazines I still order and read...faithfully... is Christian Century.

I found the following in the "Century Marks" section, summarized from an article in the February 1 issue of Christian Science Monitor:
When Pastor Alois Bell's group was hit with a mandatory 18 percent service charge in an Applebee's restaurant in St. Louis, she wrote a biting note on the receipt: "I give God 10%. Why do you get 18%?"

When the waitress posted the receipt online it went viral. Bell later said that writing the note showed a lapse in judgment, but she complained to the restaurant about the unwanted publicity given to her and her church. Applebee's fired the waitress. Shocked by her dismissal, the waitress said, 'I come home exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered on a good day. And after all that, I can be fired for 'embarrassing' someone who directly insults their server on religious grounds."
I'm not sure of the moral of this story. 

Clearly, both women were wrong: The pastor for being understandably outraged but expressing it in  way that, ultimately, embarrassed the restaurant. And, of course, the waitress was wrong for being understandably frustrated but expressing it in a public forum, without disguising the identity of the customer, clearly intending to embarrass her.

Applebee's - like many restaurants - charges an 18% gratuity for large groups because, as I understand it, it's more work for the kitchen, wait and bus staff to serve more than six or eight people at a time and get the various meals served all together and on time. So, the waitress does benefit - I'm using the term generously here - from that company policy.

What I'm wondering is why Applebee's thought to fire the employee. I mean, I certainly don't know all the details, but it seems to me that there might have been a few things Applebee's might have done before firing the employee.

Of course, they "want to send a message" - to their employees as well as the public that they will not tolerate public embarrassment of their customers.

And, you know, waitresses are a dime a dozen. Haven't you heard? Unemployment is sky high. Lots of people are standing in line for the chance to have a job as a waitress.

Except, did you read what the waitress wrote. You know, the stuff about "exhausted, sore, burnt, dirty, and blistered" - and that's on a good day. Most wait staff make less than minimum wage and increase that meager sum by the tips they make.

I'm not certain - and, I'm sure some reader out there will correct me - but I'm betting 18% of my next paycheck that the waitress didn't get 18% of that gratuity - and I'm not talking about what she has to share with the kitchen staff and the guys who buss the tables. I'm thinking that Applebee's is making a cut of that gratuity, too.

As I said, I'm not sure of the moral of this story but I think there's a message. It's not about the abuse of public media. And, it's not about a pastor's outrage at the 18% gratuity. 

It's about the way these two women were set up by corporate greed.

In firing the waitress, Applebee's - or any company in that situation - looks positively virtuous and the two women look foolish.

And, they were, for targeting their outrage at each other. 

It was misdirected.

The problem is that many of us don't know - or, once knew but have forgotten - about "pink collar oppression".  We don't know - or, once knew but have forgotten - how hard it is to be part of the wait  staff in a restaurant - especially in a chain restaurant.

It's been a long time for me, but I remember. And, I remember when our kids were working as part of the wait staff to help pay for their college education.

Sometimes, tips are good. Sometimes, not so much. But the salary is always the same: below minimum wage. And, health insurance? Don't make me laugh.  Or, cry. There is none, along with no pension. No vacation days. No sick days.

The underlying assumption is that no one would ever be choose to be a waitress. It's just something you do until you find something "better". A "career".  You know. With a decent salary. And, benefits. Like vacation and sick time and health insurance and pension.

Or, a husband. Who can "provide" for you. 

Otherwise, well, you "deserve" your lot in life.  Tough luck. Destiny and all that.

Like so many in the service industry, wait staff are pretty much invisible. Which is why I always go out of my way to remember the waitresses name and address her by it. And, I always leave 20%. Breakfast or Lunch. Depending on the restaurant, I'll leave 25% for dinner.

Obviously, I don't go out to eat often.  My big splurge is going out for a late breakfast at a local diner after church on Sunday. My bill is usually $12. I always leave a $5 tip.

That's my protest against the Sequester.

My plea in this post is to take your gaze away from the two women. And, please, don't get caught up in the  the whole "insult the server on religious grounds" argument.

Besides, most people don't give God 10%. Well, not in my experience with most people in The Episcopal Church, anyway. They may "pledge" to the Church, but certainly not 10% of their income. If anything, wait staff get better "tips" than God. Indeed, I'm willing to bet that more Christians spend more money in restaurants than they spend in a "pledge" to the church.

That's not the point.

Instead of getting caught up in this "cat fight", keep your focus on the corporation and the "industry standards" that keep women at the lower end of the pay scale. 

It's a set up for misdirected anger - mainly, at each other.

It's an old trick. Don't fall for it.  It's called "bartering". It's a strategy to have the oppressed argue over crumbs of 1% while the corporation keeps 99% of the pie.

That's really the strategy of the Sequester. Budget for Meals On Wheels vs. Food Stamps and WIC (Women, Infants and Children). Budget for Head Start vs. Budget for Medicare. All over and against the Budget for Defense vs. Homeland Security. Tax cuts vs. closing tax loop holes for the wealthy.

Bartering also leads to internalized oppression - which is exactly what we're seeing in this situation as described in the Christian Science Monitor.

I hope Applebee's will be convinced to rehire the waitress. Indeed, I'm hoping that Pastor Bell will advocate for that action.

It's the only way to reverse the effects of bartering and internalized oppression.

The other, of course, is to be as generous as you can be with wait - and hotel - staff.

And, advocate with your local businesses and local, state and federal government officials for a living wage vs a minimum wage.

Or, as Mother Jones said, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

It's really the only way out of oppression - internalized or imposed.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I tip well, too, knowing waiting tables is hard work with low pay. Perhaps some people don't know; perhaps others don't care. You've helped get the word out. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think most wait staff are simply invisible to most people. Like many in the service industry, they are often ignored, undervalued and underpaid.

What grieves me most about the story is the way the two women were set up against each other. That became the story. That's NOT the story. I tried to get that word out, as well.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Yes, it's too bad that the story was about the two women. If I were the judge who had to decide the preponderance of blame(and I'm not), I'd lay it on the stingy pastor. Come on. 10%? The waitress is not God. And shame on Applebee's for firing the waitress.

Having said that, the waitress made a mistake to post the receipt online, but not a mistake that deserved firing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My feelings exactly, Mimi. I think the firing said more about Applebees than about either of the two women.

Ann said...

I am outraged that the waitress got fired but good for her outing the cheapskate pastor. Maybe people will think next time they try to cheat the waitstaff. I hope we go to the system in France where staff is paid an there is no tipping.

Marthe said...

It's not just wait staff that are invisible (until someone wants to vent all the bad of their day onto them, because they can, kick the person perceived to be one rung down from them), it's cashiers and shelf stockers and doormen and cleaning crews ... all considered "beneath" and therefor fair game for all manner of abuse. Just being a reasonably considerate human being doesn't appear to be a value any more. Sad.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann - On the face of it, it IS outrageous. I don't have any more information that might change my reaction. Until then, it's outrageous. I think, if you work, you get paid for the work you do, not have to depend on "handouts".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - I probably should have made a larger point of that. All service people are invisible - except when they're needed to dump on.

It is sad. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg have brought this same cat fight into the C suite.

nancmcp said...

Really good piece. Thank you. I also tip 20%. My mom was a waitress.

I think the current economy has made corporations a lot braver in running over folks while reminding them they're lucky to have a job. I just experienced it myself as a nurse.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Excellent point. Please leave your name next time.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Nancmcp - You are so right. I just learned that one of the local hospitals has made it a policy that no patient will get a bed bath. It was deemed unnecessary. If they can't do it themselves, they obviously don't need it, and if they can, they obviously don't belong in the hospital.

When one of the nurses protested, she was fired.

You can't make this stuff up.

Matthew said...

I spent a summer in Denmark and one of the things that struck me initially was how expensive things were, especially eating out, grocerties, not so much. Then I found out that Denmark has a high minimum wage law, something like $20 an hour and applies to all jobs including restaurants which explained why eating out was so expensive. Then it didn't bother me and in fact I wished we had a law like that in this country. It was nice being in a country without extreme poverty, or the super rich either because of high taxes and very progressive high taxes. The wealthy pay something like 2/3rds of their income in taxes. Republicans always counter by saying that it will destroy the economy, ruin the private sector, job losses, etc. But, the Scandinavian countries are doing pretty well in terms of standard of living, low unemployment, etc. so it can be done. The established church was also progressive but that is a story for another day.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth,

You know that I love you, but I also love dearly that you write this blog. You say things that many people are unwilling to say. And I know that you are willing to hear things that many people are unwilling to hear. I wish there were more people with your veracity and spirit.

This is why I've nominated you for the Liebster Award. You can read more about what that means here:

I do hope you choose to participate. I would love to hear what you have to say in response. In any case, know that this nomination acknowledges your commitment to truth, love, and knowledge. Blessed be.

Love, Meg

Sextant said...

I worked as a gas station attendant (I am revealing my age am I not) when I was in college. I was amazed at both the kindness and cruelty of people--obviously not the same person. We were a community station so we had an established clientele. Many of these people were almost like personal friends, they would chat with you and ask how school was going. Then we had a few who would cheat and swindle some kid and think they were clever. "Give me 5." When gas was 30 cents a gallon and we made a buck an hour, there was a hell of difference between 5 gallons and 5 dollars. Some smart ass got 11 some gallons free, and some kid had to work three and half hours for nothing. Happened to me once, and I prevented from happening again every chance I got. These guys would see a new kid and try to pull that. I would yell at the top of my lungs thats gallons not dollars.

My days in the gas station taught me a little humility. Everyone should have to work with the public for a few years.

Great post as always.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that post. The pastor was nasty and it seems like divine justice that her abuse of a person who would see her as as representing the Christ and the Body of Christ would be exposed for all to see. Seems like she abused God, too. (would you be even less sympathetic if the pastor were a man, especially a conservative white man? Maybe I would be, too since I am one.)

My mom was a waitress, my wife was a waitress, my little sister is a waitress, two nieces who are now RNs worked as waitresses and another will probably be a life long waitress like her mom. If this pastor or any other pastor pulled this stunt on them that pastor would richly deserve embarrassment and more.

I worked as a waiter at what I called the Spaghetti Feedlot during seminary and I had my share of folks who were nasty. At my best I saw that as indication that the abuser was hurting and just taking it out on me; I just forgave them even as I internalized that abuse. I couldn't see it that way when my coworkers who busted their asses to stay in school, pay the rent, and feed and clothe their kids were treated like s**t. All in all it was good training for some of the abuse clergy get. Who knows, maybe I'll wait tables again someday. Maybe the pastor should give it a try, too.

I'm no fan of big chain restaurants, but they are likely to be honest about passing on the tips to waiters/waitresses/servers/wait-trons/servers because "corporate" doesn't want to deal with the potential liability. Tipping out the bar/bussers/cooks is another matter and the waitress/waiter needs to observe the local custom- or face the natural consequences.

Thanks for tipping well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your note, Anonymous. next time, leave your name, please.