Corporate Feminism and thankless emotional labour
February 22, 2016 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I talked about how dismal the numbers were, and how the numbers were bad because the experience was bad, and how the numbers wouldn’t change unless the experience changed. And then, I offered a piece of hope that I didn’t at all believe in. One of my friends said, “I thought you were going to end with ‘and then everyone dies’ but you didn’t, how did you do that?” and I didn’t say, “I lied”. It felt a little like a lie, though. It would have felt even more like it had I known that a guy was using that event to pick up girls. A sobering article on one woman who gave up on corporate feminism.
posted by Deathalicious (26 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
At the risk of turning this into another American election thread, this reminds me of the New York Times piece I just read... Why Sexism at the Office Makes Women Love Hillary Clinton. Some very similar themes:
“You realize how many women are left standing as you age, and what happens to your brilliant and talented friends and colleagues from your 20s and 30s,” said Heather Boushey, the executive director and chief economist for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who has provided advice to the Clinton campaign. “These are tough lessons, and ones that you may not think are as pressing until you actually see them happen to your own friends and cohorts.”
[...]
As a young lawyer, one of the first things I noticed about department meetings at my law firm was not just the dearth of female partners, but that one of the few female partners always seemed to be in charge of ordering lunch. I listened as some of my male colleagues opined on the need to marry a woman who would stay home with the children — that wasn’t sexist, they insisted, because it wasn’t that they thought only women should stay home; it was just that somebody had to...
[...]
In jobs that followed, managers would remark that they wanted “more women” and proceed to reject qualified candidates. (Similar dynamics took place with minority candidates.) There were always reasons — not the right cultural fit, not the right experience, a phenomenon of unintentional sexism now well documented in controlled studies. I watched as men with little or irrelevant experience were hired and promoted, because they had such great ideas, or they fit in better.
The thesis is basically "More time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women." This sort of seems like another take on that. Not wanting to participate anymore in the "corporate feminism" system seems like another sort of radicalization.
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2016 [18 favorites]


We've seen so many articles about this kind of "extra work," and so many other kinds of extra work, that no worker, at any company, should "make up" the work later, or do anything resembling extra work that they aren't paid for. We'll probably keep doing it, because we're not that smart, but I guess we'll go on shooting ourselves in the foot.

That having been said, it seemed to me that there were times when my managers legitimately failed to understand that putting in effort on something "extra" meant time away from the the things we were supposed to do. If they did understand, they expected you to work for free. Have fun, women who are already doing > 50% of chores and childcare.

My workplace was extremely hostile to doing "extra" work on company time, because that would detract from the all-important billable hour. I remember hearing them suggest that I should do some things on my own time, and I would sit there and just not respond to that, because my thoughts were saying, "Are you fucking kidding me? I billed 120% hours for the year, meaning my average work week was almost 50 hours. And you're asking me to do extra work, like you can't tell that you're progressively burning me out."

And I'm not even female. I know firsthand that many of the women at my company were basically expected to do more all the time, in addition to planning social things, etc.

Mandatory overtime pay for everybody. It's the only way we'll ever make this work. Not having overtime pay (or at a minimum, straight time!!) is wage theft to benefit the managerial class.

Since whenever people get screwed by the system, women tend to get screwed worse, this is as much a feminist issue as it is an economic issue or class issue. Turns out, as soon as you realize that women will get it worse, everything becomes a feminist issue too.
posted by Strudel at 11:12 AM on February 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


Doubt #2 was how little Corporate Feminism was appreciated. Increased focus on “diversity” had mostly resulted in people asking me to do more stuff, but far from that it being appreciated I was mostly under pressure to say no more, and a nice no (suggesting an alternative person etc) is not zero overhead.

This. My Twittersphere rants a lot about the problem of non-diverse conferences. The solution, however, seems to have become the same diverse voices volunteering over and over again until they burn out. (Add to that the insult that you usually have to pay for the privilege of volunteering.) If you're a woman in a male-dominated field, though, it's so hard to say 'no'!

-You need to bolster your resume with whatever you can get to be competitive
-You want to make sure other people in the field realize that yes, women do exist
-You want other minorities in your field to feel less alone
-You want to advance discussion on topics that otherwise wouldn't be touched

When you say 'no' to these offers to do extra work, it can feel like you are giving into those who would rather your field be less diverse.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


The thesis is basically "More time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women."

I was just talking to a friend who is ten years my junior about feminism. He'd sadly fallen for the "feminism isn't about equality." lie. And he described to me how women in his generation (he's in his 20s) are less likely to embrace feminism because they don't think it's important. My response? "Give it time. Check back with me in 10 years and this will be wildly different."
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


I was just talking to a friend who is ten years my junior about feminism.
I suggest, as a woman in her 20s, that your friend is somewhat misled about how likely women my age are to embrace feminism or to decide how important it is. His perspective does... not exactly square with my own experiences with my peers.

I read that and thought "I'm already burned out on unpaid outreach, and I'm 25. I was burned out enough on it to lose my temper and snap at my classmates about how you need to pay for the outreach work you're asking for in academia instead of heaping it on the people who care without any compensation three years ago at 22. How angry am I going to be when I'm 35?" Because it's true. In my field, there's a lot of that pipeline work, too, and I have invested a lot of work into that. But it hasn't gotten me anything tangible, there's too much competition to see it particularly well rewarded, and... sometimes I think, why bother?
posted by sciatrix at 12:17 PM on February 22, 2016 [20 favorites]


Ooooh.... what she says about support for retention vs pipeline is so on the money in relation to Access schemes in Higher Education.
And this "Is the organisation a “pipeline” organisation? E.g. only discusses the pipeline as a reason for lack of minorities, does not address internal cultural issues?" is such a helpful way of putting things. Thanks for posting - both of these concepts will come in very useful.
posted by melisande at 12:32 PM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, there's a lot of women in their 20's who support feminism. But at least from what I've seen, it's definitely not the sort of thing you bring up unless you know you can trust the people you're talking to. He doesn't sound trustable. "less likely to embrace feminism because they don't think it's important" sounds like a half-baked idea formed without much analysis.
posted by halifix at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a stupid question which I hope will fill in some genuine ignorance on my part: If you're feeling angry and burnt out, why not ask other people to help?

Note: I am not assuming that This Is What You Should Be Doing. The question is not advice-disguised-as-a-question. I assume that there are good reasons that you wouldn't ask others for help - or why asking others for help doesn't reduce anger and burnout - and I'm interested in hearing them, if anyone is willing to tease them out for me.

Also glad to RTFM, if there's a well-known answer to this question.
posted by clawsoon at 1:22 PM on February 22, 2016


...I am also someone who is horrible at asking other people for help, and regularly gets burnt out. But there may be additional reasons that women doing "corporate feminism" have which I'm not familiar with.
posted by clawsoon at 1:26 PM on February 22, 2016


If it was that easy to get people to do the work, there wouldn't be sufficiently few people doing unpaid, uncompensated volunteer work that the people who are doing it burn out. Moreover, if you are one of relatively few people with a minority identity, majority/privileged folk feel really weird doing it and even if you do ask them they tend to look squeamish and confused and make you do all the mental work of organizing anyway if they don't just back out entirely. Asking other rare minority folk to help you is just shifting the burden and impending burnout onto them.

Basically, you have to care a lot to do it in the first place, and the supply of people who care a lot and are placed to do something about it is never terribly high.
posted by sciatrix at 1:33 PM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, there's a lot of women in their 20's who support feminism.

There are a million different ways to support feminism nowadays too. Christina Hoff Sommers, Germaine Greer, bell hooks, and Camille Paglia all self-identify as feminist women. Yet each of these women would also have a great time explaining why their perspective is "authentic" feminism and why alternative approaches are erroneous.

(Which is to be expected of a heterogenous movement - however, just because a person calls herself a feminist doesn't mean that you know anything about her views.)
posted by theorique at 1:53 PM on February 22, 2016


The problem is that the other stuff, the stuff that's not "corporate feminism," is frequently just as time-consuming if not more. Mentoring, side projects, etc. is all stuff you do in your "spare time." As my own career as a woman in tech has advanced, I have less and less of that. You don't get to be a senior employee in most places and get to work less than 50 hours a week. During my "spare time" I spend time with my boyfriend, pets and friends. The last thing I want to do is a "side project" or some Women in Tech meetup. Over time I've effectively become invisible in the tech community because I no longer participate in meetups or conferences. Which kind of sucks. But hey, I like to do things like sleep and cook meals.

The best kind of "corporate feminism" would be if a corporation let me have some time out of work for my own projects. Or to really put their money where their mouth is in terms of work life balance.
posted by melissam at 1:57 PM on February 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


The thesis is basically "More time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women." This sort of seems like another take on that.

I didn't really take that from this piece. At the close, the author said she's decided to redirect her energy from collective actions which are nominally aimed at changing the corporate culture to things which directly advance her self-interest. She started out feminist and stayed feminist; she ceased to believe that the efforts she was participating in could bring about change and therefor found them no longer worthy of her time.

I dunno, I guess it depends on what you mean by radicalism, whether it's just about how big a gap you believe there is between the world as is and the world as it ought to be. Or whether radicalism connotes not only "yeah I think the gap is really big" but also "and I'm willing to bust my ass to shrink it." I suppose they're not necessarily dependant, but I guess I've always thought of the most radical beliefs naturally to the most activist behaviours; passionate beliefs inspiring action.

Of course, part of the authors' whole point was that the stuff she was doing turned out to be PR bullshit, at bottom. Maybe she would be more willing to push for some other kind of change. But she seems to despair of finding that, and to have retreated into self-interest.
posted by Diablevert at 1:57 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you're feeling angry and burnt out, why not ask other people to help?

Because then you are condemned as weak, ineffective, unable to keep up...etc., and that harms your prospects and feeds into pre-existing stereotypes. Corporate environments are often dog-eat-dog.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


sciatrix: majority/privileged folk feel really weird doing it and even if you do ask them they tend to look squeamish and confused

Yes, that would be awkward. If you asked me, I would question my ability - and I think it'd be a legitimate question? - to organize something designed to represent a minority viewpoint. And even if I didn't have those qualms, I'd also worry about blowback: "This event for minorities was organized by a white hetero male? WTF?? How does he have the right to choose who speaks for us??"
posted by clawsoon at 2:10 PM on February 22, 2016


His thoughts were red thoughts: Because then you are condemned as weak, ineffective, unable to keep up...etc., and that harms your prospects and feeds into pre-existing stereotypes. Corporate environments are often dog-eat-dog.

Interesting. From what I've seen, people who tell other people what to do often naturally move into management roles, since that's what they're doing anyway. However, I wouldn't be surprised if that dynamic is not the same for those in the author's position.
posted by clawsoon at 2:13 PM on February 22, 2016


It is a legitimate question. That said, if this work is valuable, well, who's going to pay for it? Is it valuable enough to pay for some of the time of marginalized workers to be dedicated to it? Or is it something you just do when you're not doing anything else? Is it valuable enough to you to do for free? How valuable? How much time can you spare, when there's a great need for it? How much emotional labor can you do? Does your job care enough about this to actually give you some resources, or are they just going to heavily "encourage" you to make it happen so they can look good on diversity brochures?

Combine that with the microaggressions that you navigate as a minority professional just trying to do your goddamn job, the one you trained for, and you've got an awesome recipe for burnout. Oh, excuse me, "leaks in the pipeline."
posted by sciatrix at 2:16 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the root word of "radical" has to do with, well, roots. "Radical" surgeries, as practiced in the 19th and early 20th centuries, were surgeries that not only removed a cancered organ, but all of the tissues connected to it which could possibly be removed and still leave the body somewhat functional. The idea was to make absolutely sure you'd got all the cancer. Otherwise it would just grow back. Like if you pull a weed but leave the roots. "Radical" surgeries get the roots too. (Whether this theory was actually right in the case of cancer is another story. I think a lot of surgeries were a lot more radical than they needed to be.)

I think of political radicalism in those terms. Like if you're a radical, you're not interested in just trimming back the weeds (or the cancer) knowing they'll just re-grow. You want to pull the weeds out by the roots, and if that damages some stuff that happens to be nearby, so be it. It's the only permanent solution.

This is the part that sounds "radical" to me: "Just stop. Do your job. Enjoy your non-work life. Free yourself from the obligation to fix this, nothing will change until the experience changes, and focus on the pipeline is not the way that will happen."

Stop cutting the weeds! They just keep growing back. Nothing will change until we figure out how to tear out the roots.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:17 PM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


That's actually also a thing I agree with her wholeheartedly on: the value of external organizations. If this work is valuable to you, pay someone to do it. Don't put the burden on your poor minority hires; create a job for someone else on that marginalized axis to do, and spread the work around so that your hires can do the jobs they were hired for. If the problem is that there is so much work, create another position--and let people specialize in the careers they actually train to do.
posted by sciatrix at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


So....sit there quietly and think anarchist thoughts until TinkerbellEmma Goldman appears?

Or to use your metaphor, if that's radicalism it appears indistinguishable from dying of cancer.

I dunno, man. I don't mean to suggest that I think the author has a moral obligation to do jack shit. I don't. Just that if the take-away from this is "experiencing oppression makes people more willing to seek change" that didn't seem to jibe with the piece I read, which was more "seeking change at present in these conditions seems exhausting and worthless."
posted by Diablevert at 2:30 PM on February 22, 2016


(Whether this theory was actually right in the case of cancer is another story. I think a lot of surgeries were a lot more radical than they needed to be.)

The theory was completely wrong in the case of cancer. The dangerous cancers are the ones that hop into the bloodstream and hitch a ride to random places in the body. Removing massive amounts of nearby tissue did nothing to stop cancer. The surgeries were usually done on women, of course. But if your cancer analogy is right, maybe what needs to be done is focus on killing the malignant mobile corporate cancer... hmmmm... [/derail]

posted by clawsoon at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just that if the take-away from this is "experiencing oppression makes people more willing to seek change" that didn't seem to jibe with the piece I read, which was more "seeking change at present in these conditions seems exhausting and worthless."
I think it's more "this particular kind of activity benefits employers who want to look like they're seeking change, while they're actually maintaining the status quo. Your energies are better spent elsewhere." Corporate feminism is for the benefit of the corporation, not of women individually or collectively. And I kind of think there's something to that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:55 PM on February 22, 2016 [16 favorites]


That's actually also a thing I agree with her wholeheartedly on: the value of external organizations. If this work is valuable to you, pay someone to do it. Don't put the burden on your poor minority hires; create a job for someone else on that marginalized axis to do, and spread the work around so that your hires can do the jobs they were hired for. If the problem is that there is so much work, create another position--and let people specialize in the careers they actually train to do.

That is a great test for whether or not an organization is serious about their mission statements or other goals: are they putting serious money towards it in terms of positions, external contracts, and so on, or are they not? Things that are important get resources, and conversely looking at where the resources go tells you what is important to that organization.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Interesting. From what I've seen, people who tell other people what to do often naturally move into management roles, since that's what they're doing anyway."

Telling others what to do isn't the same as asking for help. Also, for women in the workplace, telling others what to do frequently gets you called a bitch, regardless of whether it's your job to do the telling.
posted by XtinaS at 3:59 AM on February 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


"From what I've seen, people who tell other people what to do often naturally move into management roles, since that's what they're doing anyway."

Management roles often differ from Leadership roles in many ways, the least of which is a shift in orientation from 'telling people what to do' toward 'asking people what they need' (and listening to the response, then acting accordingly).
posted by iamkimiam at 5:19 AM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


That is a great test for whether or not an organization is serious about their mission statements or other goals: are they putting serious money towards it in terms of positions, external contracts, and so on, or are they not? Things that are important get resources, and conversely looking at where the resources go tells you what is important to that organization.

"This is absolutely a priority for us. It's such a priority that we're going to have our CEO make a speech about how it's a priority for us, and then make sure that there's no money or official resources dedicated to it so that overworked employees have to work on it in their spare time if they want it to actually happen."

(Am I cynical? Nooo...)
posted by theorique at 8:34 AM on February 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


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