By Jess Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Last week in the UK, a pregnant woman ordered a caramel macchiato at Starbucks.
The man behind the counter refused to make her drink unless it was decaf, and argued with her when she insisted on her order. This barista doesn’t also moonlight as an obstetrician, he was just being paternalistic to a woman he didn’t know. A few days ago at a MoveOn forum in San Francisco, a white dude bum-rushed the show and grabbed Kamala Harris’ microphone when she was about to answer a question about the gender pay gap. Yesterday, a friend told me she was visiting someone in the hospital. Her friend, whose concerns about persistent abdominal pain had been dismissed by doctors for quite some time, had recently been diagnosed with late stage cancer, far too late for any meaningful treatment.
The needle that threads these stories together is that they show that often women aren’t trusted to make decisions for themselves, to be the experts on their experiences, or even deserve to hold space that is theirs.
In 2019 alone, more than 350 bills that would limit abortion access have been proposed across the country. Despite Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s harrowing testimony of her sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, he was swiftly confirmed to the Supreme Court. Last week Justice Clarence Thomas gave the signal that contraception bans are on the horizon. The trend of women’s pain (particularly black women) not being taken seriously is well documented.There is no denying that we live in a climate where the bodies of women and other people with uteruses are constantly the battlefield on which political war is waged. Naturally, this permeates through to the bigger culture. We are not trusted to make decisions for our bodies in their most intimate, singular moments. Restrictions on our bodies are primarily made by white cis-men legislative bodies, without consultation from physicians.
Let’s break for a second. I’m not saying that all white cis-dudes are guilty of taking these actions, but I am saying that they all carry privilege, and that impacts how they interface with the world. Looking through a different lens, I don’t get personally offended when people of color generalize issues with white folks. It isn’t personal. The fact is, we were all raised within white supremacist culture, where racism is institutionalized. This isn’t something to feel bad about; you can’t be in the water without getting wet. What it does mean is that as a white person, it’s not enough that I don’t act overtly racist- I need to actively work to make spaces anti-racist. The same goes with men and sexism.
Back to that big-bearded-man-bun-sporting-hacky-sack-tapping hippie (description courtesy of my partner) who felt empowered enough to hop up on stage, grab Kamala’s mic, and start yapping about animals. Lois Beckett of The Guardian spoke with this doofus, “I asked (the dude bro) who jumped onstage to interrupt Kamala Harris, if he had considered the optics of literally taking the microphone away from women of color. ‘I did,’ he said. ‘I tried to show my profound respect for each of the people onstage.’” My good dude, you took the microphone from the only black woman running for president. The optics of a white man taking up space and silencing a black woman is not okay. Consequently, white folks who speak out about animals but are silent about black lives are also not okay.
The Starbucks barista, who’s been aptly dubbed ‘the womb botherer’ by comedian Tiffany Stevenson (at least something good came out of this!) thought it was appropriate to deny a woman her coffee because he thought he knew better than she did herself. This story went viral in part because so many women jumped in to talk about times they themselves were womb-splained by random strangers during their pregnancies.
Starbucks is known for its coffee, but let me refill your tea. The coffee conglomerate prides itself on being LGBTQ friendly, but former barista of nine years, Maddie Wade, is suing Starbucks for discrimination and harassment that she experienced after coming out as transgender. Her manager deadnamed her, cut her hours, and purposely used incorrect pronouns. While we’re here, a quick note. Forget “preferred pronouns.” A person’s pronouns are non-negotiable and part of showing basic human respect. Rather than fire the bigoted manager, Starbucks is digging in their heels and saying that Maddie’s experiences didn’t meet the threshold for discrimination or harassment. Can you believe this? In June 2019, the 50th anniversary of when luminous transwomen warrior queens Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera ignited the Stonewall Riots, Starbucks has the nerve to say this behavior wasn’t harassment.
I don’t want to hear about feminist spaces needing to be more inclusive of men. We need straight white cis dudes to make their spaces safe for everyone.