Come and celebrate our chapbook with us this Thursday at Melville House, 145 Plymouth St. in Brooklyn. 7pm. There will be cake, and Jennifer Pan will ask Melissa Gira Grant and I questions about feelings, work, feminism, and classwar. You can buy the book there, or if you cannot make it, you can still order it here.
I am a fan of Matt Taibbi’s work and look forward to reading his stuff at First Look. In fact, pretty much everyone that’s been announced as part of the First Look team is a reporter I love and respect.
But this line is sitting hard with me this morning, and Twitter’s not really allowing me the space to say what I want to about it in a nuanced fashion.
See, I mostly agree with this line. Gallows humor is part of the gig when you dig up depressing, awful things for a living. You have to be willing to see the dark stuff, not look away, and be able to handle that and not crack. (Mostly.)
But what bothers me, I think, is that I’m watching more and more young(ish) mostly white male journalists be handed new media empires. So many of us are wondering where the women are, and it’s sentences like this that give us a clue as to the answer.
Those characteristics—dark, funny, mean—are rarely attributed to women. Women are supposed to be nice, sweet, caring. We’re not funny, according to major comedy outlets and news outlets alike. Mean? Good luck getting work ever again if, as a woman, you’re accused of being mean. (And even when you just set boundaries of what work you will and will not do, and how much you will and will not take in pay.)
I know lots of women who are brilliant, fierce reporters, who live in the dark and manage to be funny anyway.
A few of those women are even part of these new media endeavors, but they haven’t been the subject of the glowing profiles I’ve read.
This is hard for me to write. I too am a journalist who doesn’t want to burn bridges or anger people who might want to hire me and who’ve unfailingly supported my work.
But I’m writing it because this is a structural issue that goes way beyond whether or not women lean in. It’s an issue of how we perceive people based in gender and race (it is unsurprising too that few men of color get to be “mean”—as we know, even talking back briefly gets young men of color killed), and what that says about who gets to do this work that I’ve dedicated my life to, that I think matters deeply.
"We talk a lot about the need for a politics of pleasure, and once again I’m talking not just sexual pleasure but all sorts of pleasures. To be able to say that not only should people not worry about starving to death but that they should be able to eat healthy, fresh, good food that they like. And I think it’s important to point out that this is not greed, that the myth of the greedy poor person is a distraction from the real greed, the systemic greed that’s embedded in policy. This is our right to live lives that are enjoyable, not just to pursue happiness or whatever the damn cliché is."
Melissa Gira Grant and I spend a lot of time talking to each other about politics, power, sex, labor, money, and love. Now we’ve put that conversation into chapbook form, brought to you by the fabulous Sarah McCarry and Guillotine press.
So I talked a bit on the podcast, with the fabulous Liza Featherstone, about the story of Walmart employees being expected to donate food to their needy colleagues and how this demonstrates something about the corporate culture at Walmart that Bethany Moreton has explained so well.
Well, this is an even more fascinating twist on the whole story.
In To Serve God and Wal-Mart, Moreton lays out the company’s twin narratives—the exploitation of (mostly female) caring labor for low wages, and the growth of Walmart as a political-ideological powerhouse. This latest report twines them both together perfectly.
Walmart asks its employees to donate to its political work (which is not tax-deductible, though few Walmart associates probably make enough for tax deductions to matter, managers might) and will match that donation two-to-one to a charity. So: appealing to the workers’ better natures by offering a big charitable donation in exchange for a small political one.
But the charity has to be the one that Walmart chooses—and it’s the one that Walmart controls, set up to donate to its own employees “facing financial distress.”
Yes, that’s right. Instead of giving the associates a raise, Walmart prefers to donate to a “charity” of its own making, creating a fund to help out a few associates rather than spreading some wealth across the board.
And that charity serves as a way to exploit workers’ feelings of care and support for one another to raise funds for its political lobbying—which focuses on “pro-business” policies that mostly harm those same workers.
"Wal-Mart has been vocal on issues including the minimum wage," the article notes.
And then there’s this:
In 2009, IntercontinentalExchange Group Inc. (ICE), which operates global commodity and financial products marketplaces, asked the FEC for an advisory opinion on starting a double-matching program. The commission split evenly on the matter and issued no opinion. According to an audio recording of the meeting that April, three of six commissioners concluded double-matching would “skew the incentives” and “undercut the voluntariness” of contributions to the PAC. One said a double-match would “smack of buying off the contributor,” noting it could open the door to five-to-one matching or more.
So, while the practice as a whole is legal, the FEC is a little iffy as to whether double-matching “undercuts the voluntariness” of the money employees give to the political network. And “Tying the PAC and the charity could confuse donors,” according to a “former official at the Wal-Mart Foundation and associates charity,” who spoke anonymously.
The article notes that most of the people who contribute are managers rather than hourly associates, possibly because hourly associates don’t make enough money to make donations, charitable or otherwise, and also possibly because as Moreton notes, managers at Walmart are likely to have been picked for ideological reasons, from ideologically-aligned programs that Walmart funds at colleges and universities, and so on.
So they may well agree with the political direction that Walmart is steering them in. But even if they don’t, the company’s come up with yet another way to turn any potential care and solidarity they might have with their fellow workers to its advantage.
I’m reading (and loving) Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, and one of my favorite things about it is how Cowie, a labor historian by trade, deftly dips into cultural criticism and reads the films and music of the 70s as well as the political and labor struggles.
I’m in the midst of his excellent reading of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is a record that I love by an artist that I adore, and in my head I find myself picking a fight with his description of “Thunder Road” (and all of Born to Run) as uncritical depictions of the desire of the working-class man to escape his hometown.
For me, I always read “Thunder Road” as a bit of desperation, as the last hope of a guy who knows this hope too probably won’t work. I’ve been a runner all my life, I think, and this song resonates with me in a way that many more “political” Springsteen songs don’t. I never read that record straight, in other words, but rather as a performance of the bravado of a certain kind of youth that’s staring down the barrel of a hard life of work.
Because lines like “So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore” load “Thunder Road” with equivocation; it’s full of fragile bravado. Even if you read the “not a hero” of the song as a representation of Bruce himself (a thing you’d be unwise to do considering he’s one of the best narrative songwriters ever), the thing that has given Springsteen staying power is that he knows just how fragile his own success is, just how rare, and just how little separates him from the people he left behind.
But I’m realizing too that I’m an 80s baby; that I didn’t hear Born to Run when it came out and didn’t even experience the whole album until sometime in the early 2000s I started to dig into Springsteen along with the Americana/alt-country of Lucero and Cory Branan. My memories of “Thunder Road” begin with a Best of Springsteen album that my mother and I bought on a road trip as something we could agree to listen to, and thus I always heard that song bleeding into “Badlands” and especially “The River” (from the double album of the same name from the year of my birth, 1980).
Because “The River” is the flipside of “Thunder Road,” it’s what happens after the guy and the girl “ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green” and realize that there’s nothing out there waiting for them except more hard work, “a union card and a wedding coat.”
I always read the “heaven waiting down on the tracks” through the lens of the question asked by 1980 Bruce: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?”
(A digression that doesn’t fit with anything else I’m working on, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt inspired to write something purely for the pleasure of it.)
These links will get you more information on many of the subjects mentioned in my talk.
Patricia Williams, The Nation, "Writing as Woman’s Work"
Madeleine Schwartz, Dissent, "Opportunity Costs: The true price of internships"
Blair Hickman and Christie Thompson, ProPublica, "How Unpaid Interns Aren’t Protected from Sexual Harassment"
Josh Sanburn, Time, “The Beginning of the End of the Unpaid Internship As We Know It”
Erin Cunningham, The Daily Beast, Conde Nast Ends Internship Program
Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times, “The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not”
Steven Greenhouse, The New York Times, “Interns, Unpaid by a Studio, File Suit”
Kathryn Anne Edwards and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Economic Policy Institute, "Not-So-Equal Protection—Reforming the Regulation of Student Internships"
Farai Chideya, The Nation, “How to Fix Journalism’s Class and Color Crisis”
Heidi Moore, The Guardian, "Little surprise here: Women expected to do more at home—and at work"
Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “A General Strike”
Silvia Federici, “Wages Against Housework”
Me at Jacobin: “A Day Without Care”
Me at In These Times: “Opting for Free Time”
Me at In These Times: “Overworking Women: How long hours lead to gender-segregated jobs”
Lawrence Mishel, EPI, “The wedges between productivity and median compensation growth”