Walmart’s Low Prices: Do They Come From Cheating Women?

Walmart is facing potentially the largest class action suit ever brought against a company. Estimates run as high as one million employees involved although Walmart has stated that it thinks it is “only” half a million. 

Walmart is now in the process of trying to get its case tossed out of court. In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court it stated that each store is its own entity and therefore Walmart as an overall company can’t be sued. It also argued that there are too many potential plaintiffs and that the size of the suit renders it unmanageable.

This suit is significant not just because of its size. It will mark the first time a major company has been required to defend its pay and promotion policies in terms of sex discrimination. The original suit, which was brought in 2001 by seven women, alleged that female employees are consistently paid less than male employees, are promoted less often than men, and wait longer for chances for promotion.

It was subsequently decided that the suit qualified as a class action suit, and that it covers every woman employed at Walmart from 1998 to the present.

A class action suit makes it impossible for an individual woman to sue on her own behalf, but the sheer numbers in this suit would doubtless make a bigger impact on Walmart’s (and other companies’) pay and promotion policies in the future. If Walmart loses, it would take a financial hit of billions of dollars. Individual women suing Walmart would barely be noticed unless they won multimillion dollar settlements (which is not likely).

By rights, this suit, and Walmart’s attempts to wiggle out of it, should be headline news all through the fall, when the Supreme Court will probably rule on it. And it may well be, but I doubt it will be because it is about women. Its main significance is probably going to be seen as its impact on future class action suits instead of on how women employees are treated at Walmart. It’s only the sheer size of the suit that’s putting it in the headlines at all.

Some people will defend Walmart because they know women who are happy working there. But that doesn’t mean that Walmart isn’t guilty of the charges against it. (After all, slavery wasn’t right, even though some slave owners were humane and some slaves seemed to be happy with their lot.) I’m sure there are individual women who have done well at Walmart, at least in their eyes. But do they really know how much better off they could have done if Walmart didn’t have a discriminatory policy?

Others will defend Walmart because they simply don’t believe that there is any discimination against women in this day and age. These are the same people who declare that there is no longer any use for feminism, because its battles have all been won.

But if this suit has any merits, it would seem that they haven’t all been won. Those who would treat women inequitably are still our enemies.

 [Note: It’s interesting that whenever feminists talk in terms of a war against inequality, they are labeled as man-haters. That’s a misconception. Feminists are aware that some women are traitors to their own sex, even if unwittingly. And some men are our greatest champions. I’m sure that there are men and women at Walmart who discriminate against women. So I’m not just talking about men when I mention enemies. I’m talking about anyone who has adopted the “party line,” who goes along with those who think it’s fair to pay and promote men more than women.]

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Who You Are

Things have been fairly quiet on the feminist front lately—at least on my feminist front. I haven’t written a post for Femagination for a week.  But that’s partly because there hasn’t been much to inspire me. And frankly I’ve been more focused on my journey as a new Muslim. (If you’re curious about that, check out I, Muslimah.)

The Burqa Controversy

That doesn’t mean that my being a Muslim has nothing to do with feminism. On the contrary. As a Muslim woman, I’ve been very aware of the controversy about the recent ban in France on the burqa. I don’t wear the burqa and can’t imagine ever wearing one, but I’m solidly on the side of a woman’s right to wear one. I think those who claim that it is a sign of oppression (and that includes some feminists) need to talk to the women who wear them, especially in the West. If they’re so worried about Muslim women’s welfare, shouldn’t they be asking the women what they need and want?

People who are concerned about terrorism are somehow reassured that they will be safer if Muslim women’s faces are clearly visible. What does showing one’s face prove? And what are they going to ban next? If they start banning the abaya (a long over-dress) or the jilbab (a long overcoat), shouldn’t they also ban all long coats, dresses and skirts? But of course they won’t do that, because it’s only Muslim clothing that is threatening. Is it just me, or does anyone else see that as profiling?

Racial Profiling

That’s what is surely going to happen in Arizona when its new immigration laws take effect. Hispanics will be targeted as “suspicious” and more likely to be illegal. No matter that they may have lived in Arizona longer than most of the white population. It will be interesting to see the statistics after these laws have been in place for awhile. Anyone who is “foreign-looking” (meaning not white) is either a terrorist or an alien (hence the name “alien”?).

I’m sick of the white people in this country acting as if they’re the only ones who belong here. That’s just ludicrous. With the exception of Native Americans, we’re all immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants. That’s hardly a new observation, but some people can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls. You’re an American if a) you were born here, or b) you live here. (Technically you’re not an “official” American unless you have American citizenship, but I’d argue that you can live here long enough without becoming a citizen that you start identifying as American.)

I’m in a somewhat unique position of not looking like a “typical” Muslim. I’m fair and have blonde hair and blue eyes (plus I don’t have an accent). Even when I’m wearing a hijab (head scarf), I’ve had people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, ask if I’m a Muslim. They’re profiling, too. But the Muslims who find out that I’m one of them are delighted, while non-Muslims are mostly just surprised. I suppose one reason why I wear the hijab is that it is harder for me to be recognized as a Muslim without it.

Continue reading “Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Who You Are”

Sarah Palin Is NOT a Feminist!

Let’s get something straight: a feminist is not someone who dictates what others should do with their lives. Sarah Palin and her ilk insist that they are feminists even though they would take away all women’s right to determine whether or not they will have children. The irony here is that these pseudo-feminists are also against the federal government sticking its nose into anyone’s business—unless of course that “anyone” is a woman who wants to have an abortion. Apparently it’s all right for government, state or federal, to decide categorically that some citizens do not have the same rights as others.

To make the distinction clear, we ought to change the terminology used by both sides of the abortion debate. Just because you’re against abortion doesn’t mean that you are the only ones who value life. (In fact, it’s amazing how often anti-abortionists are also for capital punishment and complacent about killing in war.)  And alternatively, just because you’re for choice doesn’t mean that you like abortion. It merely means that you uphold a woman’s right to make a choice about her own body.

I consider myself pro-choice and pro-life. I am not pro-abortion in the sense that I think abortion is the only answer for an unwanted pregnancy. But I am anti-force. People like Palin are pro-force.  They want to force women to have babies they can’t afford to have, whether the cost is financial, emotional or physical.

I have four daughters. When they asked, I told them about my own abortion. And then I told them that they should never get themselves in the position where they would have to make that decision. Because abortion is regrettable. It’s morally and ethically complicated. Whether a woman makes the decision lightly or anguishes over it for the rest of her life is something we can’t anticipate or regulate. Every woman had different reasons and reactions. It’s not for any one of us to say what they should believe or how they should act on their beliefs.

A woman who insists that you cannot ever have an abortion is no more a real feminist than one who insists that you have to get married or stay home with your children. And if we allow such women to call themselves feminists, real feminists will forfeit their right to represent all women.

Sarah Palin does not represent me or my beliefs. I don’t represent hers. But if she had her way, my views would be irrelevant. They would be sacrificed on the altar of arrogance and insensitivity.

Is Being a Woman All That It’s Cracked Up to Be?

On April 16, 2010, Vexing wrote at Feministing that she’s frustrated with the transgendered females she’s met who don’t acknowledge that becoming female has caused them to lose privilege. (For a discussion of privilege, see yesterday’s post.) She wants to know how to convince them that when they were gender-normative males (meaning their gender identity matched their genitalia), they had male privilege and that once they transitioned to female, they lost it.

Vexing’s frustration comes from the reactions she’s received from these transgendered females. They don’t see a problem at all. She hypothesizes that they are so thrilled with being female that they’re willing to put up with the sexism and discrimination that comes with it. Some even appear to welcome it, as a kind of proof that they are indeed being accepted as women.

It’s not just transgendered females who feel this way. Plenty of gender-normative women seem willing to accept what society dishes out because “after all, it goes with the territory.” These women usually insist that the benefits of being women—being sought after sexually, protected and supported, able to have children, and not having to work—far outweigh the possible deficits—being abused sexually, controlled and mistreated, left high and dry when they become pregnant, and not being able to find meaningful work that pays well.

A woman who refuses to call herself a feminist is one divorce or beating away from becoming one. Everything’s fine as long as she gets to be the star of her perfect little life. But when reality sets in, when she experiences the negative side of being female, when she wakes up and realizes that men get a larger share of the pie than women do, then she may begin to wonder if being a woman is all that it’s cracked up to be.

Continue reading “Is Being a Woman All That It’s Cracked Up to Be?”

Thursday Thoughts: On Being a Young Feminist

Ah, to be a young feminist today! Wait, what would that look like? The 2010 National Young Feminist Leadership Conference that was held last weekend in Washington, D.C. provides us with one picture: 390 young feminist leaders came from 122 colleges in 30 states plus D.C. and Canada to learn more about what they can do as feminists to support abortion and reproductive rights, international family planning, the LGBTQ community, climate change, organizing on campuses, and feminist issues in general. (For a schedule of all events, see here.)

How does this kind of event compare with what was going on when I was a young feminist?

For one thing, there were no leadership conferences in Washington, D.C.  Instead, there were protest marches and consciousness-raising groups. Oh, the National Organization for Women (NOW) had just been formed, but its founders were older than women in my age group. I went to college in 1970, before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was illegal in every state except for a handful that allowed it in cases of rape, incest or the physical disability of the mother. New York became the first state to allow abortion for any reason up to the 24th week of pregnancy just a few months before I had my abortion in 1971. I was lucky, not because I was able to have an abortion (or because I needed one), but because I didn’t have to resort to an illegal abortion which might have jeopardized my health and future fertility.

Countless young women came to feminism via the same route I did. Finding ourselves pregnant and unable to obtain a legal abortion made us angry. Or if we had had abortions, it made us angry that we had to go through legal and medical hoops to get them (if we were able to get legal ones at all). The anti-abortion movement had not yet found its impetus; that would come with Roe v. Wade.  The mood was ripe in the country for a woman to have a right to privacy as to what she did with her own body. And that had a lot to do with the feminist movement.

Continue reading “Thursday Thoughts: On Being a Young Feminist”

The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?

On this day in 1972, the United States Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment by a vote of 84-8.  Good news, right? Not really, because an amendment to the Constitution has to be ratified by two-thirds (or 38) of the states before it can take effect and when the ratification period was up, it had only garnered the support of 35. Close, but no cigar.

Alice Paul, author of the ERA, 1921

Many people today don’t even know what the ERA is, let alone know that it was authored by the suffragist Alice Paul and originally introduced in Congress in 1923. In 1946 it was narrowly defeated by a Senate vote of 38-35. In 1950, the ERA is passed by the Senate with a rider that nullifies its equal protection aspects. (So, you may ask, what’s the point?) When it finally is passed in 1972, an arbitrary time limit of seven years was set for ratification.

Five years before, the new National Organization for Women (NOW) vowed to fight tirelessly for passage of the ERA and as the clock ticked, it threw itself into the campaign to get enough votes for ratification. At the same time, so did the opposition, headed chiefly by Phyllis Schafly‘s National Committee to Stop ERA.

I remember all the hoopla at the time: seven short and hectic years in which both sides made crazy assertions about what the effects of an ERA would be. Its opponents insisted that it would take away the protections that women traditionally enjoy, from almost always getting custody of the children in the case of a divorce to exemption from the draft. They also contended that there were already plenty of laws in effect that protected women’s rights.

Its proponents, on the other hand, contended that women needed such an amendment so that the protection of their rights would be consistent at all levels of jurisdiction, federal, state and local. They were concerned that the age of majority was different for women than it was for men and that women were routinely discriminated against when it came to gaining employment, establishing credit, buying or selling property or conducting a business.

As it has turned out, the opposition was right on many points. Over the years, many laws have been challenged in the courts and been changed to prevent discrimination against women. Joint custody is the norm. Either sex may be required to pay alimony to the other. Federally-funded schools and programs are required to have the same standards and facilities for women as for men. Women’s participation is up in politics, academia and traditionally male professions. (Not only that, but jobs are no longer allowed to be classified as specifically for men or women.)

But things are not that neat. Women still make only 77 cents to the dollar compared to men. They are often relegated to “pink ghettos”–jobs that are considered to be women’s work and which have fewer benefits and lower pay than traditionally “male” occupations. (A parking lot attendant who is a man, for instance, makes more than a child care attendant who is a woman–showing that we value our cars more than our children.) Laws that have been changed can be changed back. Crimes against women (sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence) are not prosecuted as vigorously as they should be. And a lot of laws on the books still discriminate against women.

The ERA, or the CEA (Constitutional Equality Amendment), has been presented to Congress every year since 1982. But it is apparently no longer even newsworthy. Is it a dead issue? Consider this: Even Afghan women have an Equal Rights Amendment. Why shouldn’t we?

Sources: Interview with Gloria Steinem in the Los Angeles Times, NOW’s Chronology of the ERA,  March 22, 1972 news story in the New York Times.

For more information, check out the University of North Carolina’s “Equal Rights Amendment Pathfinder.”