Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Feminism and Capitalism

Some workplace news:
“Integrating feminism into our marketing is not a ploy, and it’s not exploitative; it’s a reclamation of how brands treat and speak to women,” proclaimed Miki Agrawal, a founder of Thinx, in a Medium post last year.

But last week, Thinx, the “period-proof” underwear and feminine hygiene company based in New York, entered the growing canon of employers that have been accused of failing to live up to their socially conscious branding. Former Thinx employees, many of them women in their 20s and 30s, allege some very un-feminist practices, including substandard pay, verbal abuse and sexual harassment. Thinx has denied the harassment allegations, made by a former employee in a legal complaint, and says other allegations about the company’s culture are inaccurate. Still, the story of Thinx has broader implications for all workers.

Some former employees saw their experiences at Thinx as personal betrayals, given the company’s ethos of female empowerment, Racked reported. The initial maternity leave policy — just two weeks at full pay plus one week at half — seemed unconscionably meager for a company promoting its feminist, body-positive bona fides. . . .

It appears that some of Thinx’s workers tolerated what they saw as the low pay and high demands of their jobs because they believed that the company was dedicated to a just cause. Even after leaving the company, several said they wanted Thinx to succeed. Their belief in the company’s public feminist message helped them to tolerate, at least for a time, what they felt were disrespectful treatment and unfair remuneration.
To Americans, "feminism" means a lot of different things, two of which are in conflict at Thinx. To some people feminism means the world goes on as it has, but with women on top. To others, feminism is supposed to mean a different kind of world, less hierarchical, less exploitative, more friendly to women who don't happen to be maniacally ambitious strivers.

In our world, the first is much more likely than the second.

This story also touches on another question: how to react to people who seem to be doing public good but are monsters in private. Miki Agrawal seems from this story to be an awful person – a liar, a cad, a bully, who uses a feminist message to excuse her own sins. (Lyndon Johnson comes to mind as a parallel.) Should her public face – her feminism, her donations to charity, her message of female empowerment – be allowed to cover abuse of her employees? Should she, say, be invited to speak at feminist meetings and so on? Or should people look first at how she treats those close to her and refuse to recognize her as a progressive leader until she starts treating her employees with respect?


Stuart B said...

John, coming from a different country, I haven't the slightest idea of who Thinx is or even the reputability of Racked - no ax to grind or preformed view. But the whole of your post carries a feeling of condemnation before any real proof. Two or three aggrieved employees, mean maternity pay, and a director can be labelled as a cad, bully, etc. Is this even-handed, balanced journalism? Am I missing something? The curse of our times is the way internet and social media can promulgate rumours and damage to reputation on the slimmest of charges. After a broadcast smack at someone's good name, what chance have they of fair judgement?

John said...

I did say that Agrawal "seems" to be a cad and a bully, and I am not prejudging that question. I wrote about the caddishness because even if it isn't true about her, is it true about many other bullies who have tried to be progressive leaders.

I think the low-pay, high-stress environment at Thinx is pretty well documented by the Times story; they interviewed multiple former employees.

StuartB said...

Sorry, I seem to have touched a nerve. But you sure hung a lot of your last paragraph on one use of 'seems'. And your generalisation seems to have sprung very specifically from her individual case.
I repeat, I haven't the slightest idea who or what this person is - I was merely making a stylistic point, and then generalising about the ease with which seeming attacks can become actual. It appears to us outsiders that a lot of US public discourse is currently based on a form of praeteritio - voice the fears, allegations, sogans as if they are hard fact (make th impact) then grudgingly allow them to be debunked very very slowly (repetition reinforces acquired perception). We saw quite a lot of it here last year, and still have swathes of people believing half-truths and outright lies.
PS the opening 'Sorry' was sincere.