A great, short article by Liberté Locke demonstrating the differing experiences one can have at work, based on issues of identity.
The toughest skin - Liberté Locke
Being a woman means knowing mostly women will actually read this column.
As a woman who works in retail, I am making next-to-nothing for serving everyone.
I have always worked with my hands. I have used them to care of other people’s children. I have used them to clean bachelor pads while men I don’t know watch television and occasionally look me up and down when I know that this will not be a reoccurring gig. When men stay home to watch the housekeeper they hired from Craigslist for next-to-nothing, they were hoping to get more than their money’s worth to watch a disenfranchised broke woman clean for them. I’ve been asked why I was wearing so much, asked how much I weigh, asked why anyone would hire me “looking like that.”
I’ve been called every insult, been “offered” paid and unpaid sex work from complete strangers while selling them cups of coffee for barely over the minimum wage. And I have considered it.
I know touching a man’s hand while giving him change makes for a 75 percent chance I’ll get a tip. I know laughing when he asks if I’m on the menu means not being called “bitch.” I’m called “bitch” often.
Being a large woman means that thin rich New York white ladies will almost always change their drink orders after looking me up and down to non-fat, nowhip, and sugar-free.
Being an injured woman worker wearing wrist braces on both hands while making drinks at neck-breaking speeds means undoubtedly that the few people that feign concern mostly want to waste my time telling me how I don’t take care of myself, how losing weight will help my arms. They will make every assumption about me, my class, my life, and assume I somehow did this to myself and not capitalism.
Being a big, injured, openly-queer woman, exhausted, overworked, underpaid, almost bottom-rung worker at a major corporate chain means that I’m on display constantly—for every judgment and every critique. Being confident means customers go out of their way to break me down because shit rolls downhill and their jobs suck too, but differently. Very differently.
I know being a woman organizer is breaking down from all the misogyny I experience daily, the ableism, the homophobia, the transphobia (from openly supporting and loving trans people, and admitting to being a bit fagboi myself), being truly working class—born and bred—that male organizers will hear all that as counter-revolutionary complaining or “identity politics” for those with the time to be all academic about my reality. One such even said I wasted his time with it. Same such said I needed “tougher skin” for this work, meaning unionizing.
Being an injured queer fast food working woman who has always made her money through physical labor and knows homelessness, and knows need, and feels compassion for others’ struggles...I know that means that I embody toughness; even through my tears, and even through my breakdowns. Even through my struggle with daily misogyny, fatphobia, homophobia and ableism, I keep on keeping on. I realize that I can defend my emotional state until I’ve lost my voice and broken my own heart but that true allies, true comrades, true Wobblies would never ask me to do such a thing.
I’m still fighting, I’m still breathing, and that’s in spite of the haters and people who misunderstand me. This life ain’t easy, and it ain’t over. And I’m not giving up.
“Marginalized Workers’ Voices” is a new column for women, gender minorities, and any LGBTQ+ Fellow Worker. It’s for Wobblies of color, workers with disabilities, and any other marginalized voice of the One Big Union. If you’d like to contribute, please send your article to iw[at]iww.org with the subject line “Marginalized Workers’ Voices.”
Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2015)