Wednesday, July 07, 2010

In Which My Mom Reveals Herself to Be a Balls-Out Feminist

Ok, so my mom.

She has a high school diploma. She thinks of herself as a "traditional" woman, and she is in no way some sort of radical. But Crazy did get her sense of righteous indignation from somewhere, and it probably was from her (or from her mom, my grandma, filtered through her).

So my mom is an insurance agent. She works for a small company. Last week, the "Office Cheerleader" held an ice cream social, on a day when my mom was the only one working in her three-person department. (Her boss and her peer were both on vacation, screwing my mother over, as they like to do.) The social was ultimately a ruse used to get the workers in front of the "Office Cheerleader" (from this point OC) so that she could roll out a Whole New Awesome Plan for kitchen-cleaning duties.

In the past, there was a rotation, wherein somebody would be "Kitchen Queen" or "Kitchen King" for the week. Apparently, this didn't go so well, because people kept getting pissed off when they would get chastised for not doing things as the OC wanted, and so they'd drop out. Some people around the office (not my mom) would refer to the person on Kitchen Duty as the Kitchen Wench, and that hurt the OC's feelings. She wanted people to "respect" the person who did kitchen clean-up. Anyhoodle.

So last week they have this social, and my mom throws herself into the "volunteer" hat (although she felt totally coerced into volunteering) and then left the "social" early because she was the only person in her department in the office that day. Time passes, and the OC shows up at my mother's desk, and dumps on top of her work the following: an apron, rubber gloves, a rolling pin. My mom is apparently the "Kitchen Diva." My mom, well, she was none too pleased. She was trying to do the job that she was hired to do, and this person dumped the paraphernalia of a freaking cliche of a housewife on her desk, on top of the work my mom was doing. My mom was all, "Um, this is totally offensive. What are you doing?" And OC was all, "I'm a dummy and I think I'm totally charming!" And then my mom repeated that she was offended about a million times, with the woman refusing to acknowledge that she was totally offensive, and then my mom said, "Um, I work here! What are you trying to do? Put women back in the 1950s?" At which point the OC was chastised and backed away.

In the meantime, men in the office were joking with one another "Hey, Joe, where's your apron?" or, "Hey, you going to be the diva, dude?"

My mom called me after this all happened, and I was, as you might imagine, appalled. Needless to say, no men had "volunteered" for the "Kitchen Diva" role, because clearly this whole bullshit enterprise is gendered and fucked up. (And, if we want to go further, the only dudes who are "divas" are clearly gay as the day is long, so this is not only gender harassment but harassment based on sexuality. Though perhaps I am a humorless bitch.) I suggested that my mom should contact HR (not located in Hometown - located in the HQ of the company) so that she would get her side of it out on the table first. I said that she should be as objective as possible, but that she should use the phrase "hostile work environment" at some point. My mom hesitated, and thought she should just let it blow over. I said, hey, it's up to you, but maybe write it all out just in case. She did write out the facts of her version of events - without tangents or emotions but with the phrase "hostile work environment" - just in case. Because she listens to her legalistic daughter :)

So, yesterday. Everybody's back after the holiday. The OC sends this fucked up email to my mother (ostensibly) which explains herself and the apron business (though in a way that would get a freshmen comp student a D, complete with circular logic and a definition of "wench" - a word my mother never used - and in a way that totally revealed the utter and total gender inequity of the whole thing to anybody with even half of a brain). But here's the thing. My mom's boss is still out on vacation, and when she's out on vacation, she has my mom read her email. OC bcc'd my mom's boss on that fucked up email. And so my mom saw that had happened. So my mom called me, and I advised her in this way:

Look, mom, this woman is trying to get out in front of you and to discredit you. You MUST contact HR, and you must apprise them both of the email that she sent to you (and to who knows else) as well as of what actually happened. You MUST be as objective as possible - no tangents, no axes to grind - and you MUST stand up for yourself. You are already fucked, here. The best you can do for yourself now is damage control and to make them question this woman. If you wait, you will be totally screwed.

(And I did also advise her that she should start looking in earnest for another job, because clearly things are not cool in this place.)

SO. She did what I said! Huzzah! And at 10AM she got a call from the HR person at the main office, and the first thing he said was, "Are you OK, Crazy's Mom?" My mom was confused by this, and she thought he was thinking her feelings were hurt. I explained that what that really meant was, "Um, you haven't contacted a lawyer, right?" My mom doesn't understand the power of the phrase "hostile work environment."

Anyhoodle, so they had a conversation, and it was fine, and she said not much more than what she wrote, and as the conversation ended when he asked her if she had anything else to add and she said no, he said, "Well, you only fight the battles you can win."

She asked me what I thought of that. What I think is that he was saying, "um, yeah. That was fucked up."

And he said she'd get an answer on the situation by week's end.

In the meantime, OC apparently was crying in her office today because Crazy's Mom is a Mean Lady! Waaaah!

1) My mom would never call herself a feminst.
2) My mom would never say that she could do a good job of advocating for herself in writing. She thinks she's "average."

Here's the thing. My mom is so a feminist. And my mom is so a good writer - is totally where I get my good writing from. And my mom made me SO PROUD in this situation. Though now she needs to look for another job along with keeping her head down so that she doesn't blow up and do something stupid, because, dude, my mom can be a hot-head. Clearly she needs to get out of this company, and the longer she stays the greater the risk that they'll fire her ass.

All of that said? I've never been prouder of my mom. She fucking rules. Apron and rubber gloves, my ASS!


Belle said...

Make sure your mom knows you are proud of her. It will mean a lot, even when she dismisses what she's done. It will mean a lot. Do it. Please.

Dr. Crazy said...

Belle, I told her that about 4 times on the phone tonight. She was so cute about it, and tried to be bashful, but she for sure got it.

Ann said...

I like your mom, and I'm rooting for her here.

I think it's significant that the apron and "kitchen diva" title was dumped on your mother during a week in which she was alone in the office. While I'd never advise anyone NOT to look for other options, I wonder if it's possible that the OC perceived that your mother was vulnerable because her boss was out and couldn't walk out of her office to tell the OC to piss off because your mother has real work to do.

The question HR should pursue is the workload of the OC. Is it really her job to coordinate kitchen duty? Does she have so little to do that she has time to worry about this? Who died and made her OC anyway?

(This is the kind of crap that makes you think you never graduate from high school. Srsly.)

Anonymous said...

Anyhoodle is a fabuloso word. I am totally using that.

Arbitrista said...

That is a great story. I'm proud of your mom too - we all should be. It's constantly amazing to me that you have these strong older women who shy away from being called a feminist but then feel so much better about themselves when they act like one. My mother raised 2 kids and built a career for herself while never taking crap from anybody at work - and she wouldn't call herself a feminist in a million years.

Bardiac said...

Yay for your Mom! Feminist indeed :)

AvenSarah said...

Hurrah for your mom, boo for the OC. Also -- apron and rubber gloves, yeah, stupid -- but ROLLING PIN! Not even remotely functional! If that doesn't signal "gender cliche" right there... holy crap.

Susan said...

Hooray for Crazy's Mom! She is awesome. And I think Ann is right about it being significant that this happened when her boss was out. So when her boss comes back, she'll have to make sure her boss has her back....

Kitchen Diva indeed. Our department office rule is that all food is thrown out on Friday afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Your Mom is AWESOME.

Doctor Pion said...

Clearly you learned some great skills and attitudes from your mom - and she learned something from you during this incident.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

My mind is still boggling at the rolling pin, and admiring your mom for, among many other things, having the restraint not to use it as a weapon.

butterflywings said...

Sorry to hear that happened to your mum, and you go for the ass-kicking advice.
I hope she's OK, whatever happens with the job. Good luck to her.
It's sad how women of our mothers' generation are invested in traditional gender roles - my mum frustrates me like that too - but like you, my own mum is SO a feminist, even if she wouldn't use the word to describe herself.