Last week I broke one of my cardinal rules: Never try to have a nuanced argument with someone on Twitter.
The inciting incident was a story about Jane Fonda and the comments she made about male abusers who are attempting comebacks after lying low for a while following minor punishments after being accused of sexual harassment or assault. Some are hoping that a year out of the spotlight, in which time they’ve done nothing to publicly improve themselves or make reparations, is enough and they can now reclaim their privilege.
To that, Fonda says they should “Sweep the floor at Starbucks until you learn.”
OK. I get what she’s trying to say and that for someone who was, for instance, the cohost of a nationally-broadcast morning news/entertainment program, sweeping the floor at Starbucks might seem like the most degrading job there is.
The problem with Fonda’s comments is that by saying *some* people should be relegated to that kind of job as a consequence of their misdeeds, it necessarily follows that anyone in that job should feel it’s a form of public shaming, like convicts picking up trash on the side of the road. It’s not fair to anyone who chooses that position because it works for them or who uses it as a lifeline because other positions aren’t available to them.
That same kind of attitude, that a retail job is something to be escaped, is behind the media framing of continued stories about actor Geoffrey Owens, whose appearance bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s set off this whole conversation. Many headlines have labeled this as a “second chance” for Owens, as if he’s being lifted up out of the hell he’s been confined to since falling out of the public eye.
I’ll take the opportunity afforded by these two stories to make a few additional points not covered in my first post.
First, there were times I did actually feel acute embarrassment while working at Starbucks, especially in the first few months. Those moments of almost physical cringing usually came when someone I knew came in the story.
But what could I do? When they asked what I was doing there I explained hey, I’d been laid off recently and hadn’t found other full-time work, so I was doing what I could in the moment. If they had a problem, that was on them. What I was doing was the embodiment of the Judeo-Christian work ethic we supposedly all subscribed to and the alternative was “nothing.” My embarrassment didn’t last long as I became more and more comfortable with my circumstances and the fact I was working hard at the opportunities given to me.
Along those same lines, I’m curious what hiring managers would make of a situation like my own. Would two years of “Starbucks barista” on my resume or LinkedIn experience list read better than “unemployed?” because it shows I’m a self-starter who’s willing to roll up his sleeves and do what’s needed? I haven’t had a great deal of opportunities to ask or find out, so I’m interested in what someone might know on these lines.
Finally, if you want to know what real shame and embarrassment feel like, file for unemployment. There’s not a single part of that process that isn’t humiliating and degrading, from having to briefly explain why you need it to agreeing (at least here in Illinois) to sign up for state-generated job opening alerts, many of which are useless. Plus you have to regularly demonstrate – with specific examples – that you are out there looking for work.
Always remember: These jobs aren’t shameful, but many of the circumstances and requirements society and government have built up around them are. You can’t claim to value hard work but then overlook those in jobs that demonstrate it.