Thursday, January 16, 2014

Some People Have a Funny Definition of Happy Badgers

I am a happy badger.

About a year and a half ago, I got a very strange e-mail, demanding I take the sender "off all the e-mail lists."  I maintain not a few lists for a variety of reasons, but this person didn't show up on any of them.  When I asked, I got a terse, "Is this the happy badger cafe in bowling green?  Can't you just take me off your lists?"

I explained that no, I'm a private happy badger, not a dining establishment, and found (via a quick web search) the Happy Badger Cafe in Bowling Green, Ohio.  I pulled an e-mail link off their website, and sent it back to the person, suggesting he try that instead.

Over the last year and a half, I've been getting a lot of their e-mail.  Most of it has been spam, but some of it has been real people trying to get in touch with the cafe.  Because I believe in small business, and because I believe in being nice, I reply to these e-mails by saying, "Hello.  You've reached the wrong happy badger.  I am an individual living in Austin, TX.  Here is the e-mail I think is correct for the cafe," and cc'ing it to what I think is the cafe e-mail.  They've included a couple of school field trips, several catering requests, and even someone wanting to rent the entire restaurant twice for political functions.  Each time, the person would reply and thank me, but I never heard from the cafe.  I eventually looked up their direct line and started telling the mistaken e-mailers, "You should probably call them at (number) because I don't know if they get their e-mail."  I amused myself by thinking that if I was ever in Bowling Green, I might introduce myself and we could have a laugh over the e-mail mixup, because they really look like a place I would *love* to stop in and eat.

Finally, earlier this week I thought, "I wonder if they are even getting the messages I am forwarding?"  So I decided to call them, and ask, since it was after the usual lunch rush.  I asked the man who answered if I might speak to a manager, please.  He asked my name and business, and the following conversation ensued.

Me:  So this is odd, but I live in Austin and I'm getting your e-mail, and I have been for over a year now, and I just wanted to confirm that you're getting it when I forward it to you, because I've never heard back from y'all. Today I got one from Yelp talking about your advertising plan.

Him:  Well, that's a coincidence, because someone from Yelp just contacted me trying to sell me advertising.  Listen, I don't want any.

Me:  I'm not from Yelp.  I just got your e-mail from them.  I'm getting your e-mail.

Him:  What? (off the phone "there's someone I think from Yelp who says she's getting our email" answered by a female "what does she want us to do about it?")  What do you want us to do about it?

Me:  Well, I've been trying to reply to the ones that look important and give them your correct contact information, and cc'ing those replies to you so you have them, but I'm not sure I've been giving them the right e-mail address.

Him:  It's (gmail address).

Me:  No, no it's not.

Him:  Yes, it is.  What do you mean, no it's not?

Me:  That's my e-mail address.  The one I got from your website is  (address) is my personal e-mail.

Him:  No, that address hasn't been current for two years.  Why are you giving it out?  Are you a business? (I'm still not sure why it was relevant whether or not I am a business)  How long do you think you've had that gmail address?

Me:  No, I'm a private individual, and that gmail has been my e-mail address for more than eight years.  Now I know why I'm getting your e-mail.  I got the one I've been giving out from your website about a year ago.

Him:  (off the phone:  "She says her e-mail address is (address) and she got something off the website," answered by the female again, "But what does she want us to do about it?")  Listen, I can't help you.  You're just going to have to cancel your Yelp account if you're getting our messages.

Me:  This isn't about Yelp.  I'm getting your cafe's e-mails, not your Yelp messages.  Listen, I'm just trying to help people get in touch with your business.  I want to be helpful.

Him:  (off the phone, "you know what?  You just talk to her.")

Woman:  It's not our fault.  We can't help it if you're getting our Yelp messages.  That's Yelp's problem.  Just cancel your account with them.  We don't want to talk about advertising, OK?

Me:  No, it's not Yelp, it's e-mail.

Her:  Well, that's just spam.  Ignore it if it bothers you.

Me:  It's not spam.  That's what I've been saying.  It's people wanting catering and to reserve the restaurant, and I was just worried that they weren't getting to you and you were losing out on the business.  Did someone reserve your restaurant twice last fall for city council election events?

Her:  (*suspicious pause*)  Yeah, so?

Me:  That's one of the e-mails I replied to, and he said he'd call you instead because he was on a deadline.

Her:  Well, what do you expect me to do about it?

Me:  (finally just frustrated and done)  You know what, nothing.  I just wanted to see if I could help you guys, and make sure you get people who want to contact you.

Her:  Well, our e-mail address is right on the website, and if they can't find it, then that's bad research on their part, and it's their problem.

Me:  Is the e-mail on the website (my address)?

Her:  No, where did you even get that?  Don't give that to people, it's not our e-mail.  Our e-mail is (other address).  Anyway, I can't waste any more time on this.

Me:  You have a pleasant day, ma'am.

Her:  *click*

Those?  Those are NOT happy badgers.  They are grumpy, angry, rude badgers who give badgerdom a bad name.  My mother used to tell me, "Some people just will not let you be nice to them, no matter how much you'd like to.  This is not something wrong with you."

(What did I expect them to do, you ask?  Perhaps something involving the words "thank you" and a confirmation of the correct e-mail address for when it inevitably happens again, was really what I was hoping for.  As to why I'm writing this?  Because I considered putting it as a Yelp review, but since it has nothing to do with the actual food or service at their business, just a poor experience with people who may or may not have been owners/managers, I thought that my own space was a better place to vent)

At least now I have a correctly updated e-mail address to use the next time I forward their business information.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Am Not A Feminist, and I Am Certainly Not Your Feminist

It's been a full ten years, at least, since I felt I had to set aside the term 'feminist'.  This has caused me no end of arguments with feminist friends, and it's resulted in a tremendous number of people assuming I hate women, don't support their equality, or 'just do not understand feminism'.

Initially, I left the word because I kept having this conversation in which I'd try to explain my concerns with the simplistic approach of American feminism, and the other person would become progressively more aggressive towards me for resisting the label.  I've been told that as a woman if I wasn't a feminist I was a traitor to my gender and a tool of the patriarchy, and had no self-respect.  Ultimately, it almost always resolved in the same way, with another woman shouting into my face "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people!  Why don't you think you're a person?"

And so, wearily, I would say, "OK, fine, then, I'm a feminist."  And she would sit smugly back, and congratulate herself on enlightening me, and never once stop to consider that maybe, possibly, it's worth considering that the nuanced complexities of privilege and equality don't resolve that easily into a binary, gendered dynamic.  Some time later, I'd start talking about an opinion, and the same friend would ask me, "How can you possibly think that, and still call yourself a feminist?"

Finally, I settled upon the word 'egalitarian' to describe myself.  I know the word has a bad reputation, because it's been embraced by the "but men/whites/heterosexuals have it JUST AS BAD" crowd, but it really is the best description for me.  What it means is this:

Everyone is not automatically and automagically equal.  Everyone cannot be *made* to be equal.  That way lies Harrison Bergeron.  My vision of equality is equal opportunity.  What we are entitled to is equal rights, equal protection under the law, equal pay for equal work, equal educational options, equal treatment by the system of institutional structures.  I believe that the only limiting factors on a human being's potential should be luck and will, not any function of demographics (and that you cannot handwave 'I was born into a white middle-class family that sent me to good schools' as 'I was just lucky', sorry, thanks for playing, have a version of the home game).  And I will work, on every front I can find, to promote and ensure that equality of opportunity and experience.

And people keep telling me, that yes, of course, that's what feminism is.  It really means 'equality for everyone' and 'a rising tide lifts all boats' and 'if we eliminate patriarchy, everything else will follow because patriarchy hurts men too'.

But it isn't.  Feminism, at least as it exists in my country, is deeply incongruous with equality.  Many feminists supported, for example, Z Budapest's exclusion of transwomen at Pantheacon.  I've found deeply-rooted ableism and body-shaming in self-proclamed safe feminist spaces.  The very fact that a Twitter hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen even exists at its current level of popularity suggests deep divisions in feminism.  The more I read and learn about the growing frustrations with white feminism, how willing we are to overlook the objectification of women of color right inside our own alleged movement for equality, how frequently we appropriate the struggles of women of color to give our own perspectives 'more emotional impact', the less I am comfortable sharing a label with feminism.

I had hoped, that after time had passed, I could be a feminist again.  That the movement would progress, and grow, and fully embrace the nuanced and complicated implications of privilege.  Yes, women are oppressed, I will never dispute that in the current culture.  But we're not The Oppressed.  Oppression is a hydra, a vicious, insidious, ugly beast woven into our social structure, and a vanishingly small number of people never experience it in any form.  I cannot claim to 'own' oppression because of my gender, and I cannot pretend that my experience as a woman is a one-stop ticket to Getting What It Is Like for any other group.

So, with a heavy heart, I begin to accept that while I support feminist ideals, and I support the advancement of women and the protection of our rights and freedoms, it is fully possible that I will never, with a clear conscience, be able to embrace the label 'feminist' again.