I ended my very brief stint at a new job this morning. The work wasn’t difficult, just tedious and redundant. But that’s not why I left. I left because I can’t support a company that supports rape culture.
In a letter to the owner of the company, which will remain unnamed while I give them an opportunity to address the issues I submitted in my letter of resignation, I stated the reasons for my departure. Below is a copy of the letter I wrote, complete with all names changed for privacy (for now).
For perspective: I had been working at this job for less than 3 weeks (about 9 shifts total). The shifts, as they are mentioned below, are from 3:00 PM to around midnight. The dress code, as it is mentioned below, is ‘wear what you want so long as your hair is covered’ because it is a food service job.
Effective immediately I am terminating my employment with (REDACTED NAME OF COMPANY). I will not report for my Sunday shift at 3:00 PM.
Last Sunday, when the packers were short-staffed, I followed Garry* and Natalie* to the prep-side of the building to bag pizza dough. While bagging, Dallas’* playlist featured a song titled “Rape Me” by the band Nirvana. I said nothing in this moment about how uncomfortable the song made me feel on a personal level, nor how wildly unprofessional I found it. Garry* and Natalie* showed no visible signs of discomfort so I decided to take home my feelings to determine whether or not I was being hyper-sensitive.
Come Friday, I have the opportunity to detail the events to my immediate manager, Daniel*, and I did so. I explained that Dallas* playing the song is a “sexual harassment claim waiting to happen.” Daniel* counters that he himself plays that song “all the time.” I explain that Daniel* has a rape survivor on his crew and he asks, “Do I? I don’t know that.” I found this response to be the wrong one. I told Daniel* that I am a rape survivor and he relented about the song choice, admitting that he understands why it would make me uncomfortable. Daniel* went on to tell me that he knows “everyone” on staff at (REDACTED COMPANY NAME) and that he, apparently, can attest that they are all “good.”
The reality, Daryl*, is that I should never have had to reveal my most intimate and painful trauma to an almost complete stranger in order for him to take my complaint about the music selection seriously. I would have been offered the opportunity to file a formal complaint in any other job, without revealing my victim-hood – even at the bar where I work, which has no official HR department.
The reality is that the song in question is utterly inappropriate for any professional workplace. I had been under the impression that this workplace was professional, regardless of our liberal dress code or odd hours.
The reality is that I followed the chain-of-command with a legitimate complaint and Daniel’s* defense of a song promoting rape is the No. 1 reason I am terminating my employment.
I am disappointed that I cannot offer you a two week’s notice. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to work for (REDACTED COMPANY NAME).
Ideally, the owner of the company will pull my immediate manager aside and ask for his side of the story. Ideally, the owner of the company will come to a conclusion about what happened, because I imagine there will be a little bit of “he said, she said” in determining the facts behind this particular case. Once the owner feels he has a legitimate grasp on what transpired, I can only hope that he finds an opportunity to amend the situation. What might that look like?
It would look like some training for the management at this company. It would look like a revision of sexual harassment/sexual assault laws for the ENTIRE staff. It would look like a loud, immediate, and complete reproof of songs, conversations, and any other action that promote, diminish, or otherwise defend rape.
As for me, I’m brushing up on the Department of Labor’s available information on workplace harassment. Know your rights, people. Especially if you are the minimum-wage-paid-backbone-of-capitalism that this country relies on.
Why It Matters
The reality is, folks, that the only appropriate response to rape is utter and complete disgust, shock, horror, and absolute condemnation. Anything short of this is a pathetic attempt to normalize an action that dehumanizes an obscene number of people, male and female, every year. “Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives,” according to a fact sheet published by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention in 2012. These statistics can be difficult to comprehend. These are abstract numbers when you don’t know personally know a victim. Most of you, however, know at least 5 women. Statistically speaking, one of those five women has or will experience an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime: a woman in your close circle of friends or a member of your very own family.
Those statistics alone are disturbing but, unfortunately, exist with natural amplifiers. According to the Department of Justice (2015) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2013), most sexual assaults go unreported to the police.
So, while the numbers I initially listed are horrifying as they stand, they simply aren’t accurate. The statistics behind the rape of male, for example, are totally inaccurate as men are far less likely to report a rape than women.
There are many reasons that a victim will decide not to come forward. The most prevalent of which is that more often than not, rapes/sexual assaults occur in the confines of a relationship – though not always romantic.
So, based on the statistics, you have all but a guarantee of knowing a rape victim somewhere in your immediate circle. And, according to these numbers, the person who raped your friend, or sister, or mother, or co-worker, or neighbor, was someone close to them. Put simply, you probably know both a rape victim and the rapist themselves.
How This Affects You, Readers
My first thought, when faced with someone acknowledging the rape they survived, is a blood-thirsty urge for justice. I want nothing more than to drag the accused before the courthouse while cradling their windpipe in my clenched fist until the gavel comes down on a ringing “Guilty!” If you’re anything like me, I have more bad news for you: proving rape/sexual assault is incredibly difficult. Often, it is unsuccessful. For context: “Nationwide, an arrest is made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.” -Timothy Williams for the New York Times, May 22, 2012. Indigenous women in America suffer the highest number of rapes by race; “One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape, according to the Justice Department. Their rate of sexual assault is more than twice the national average.” (Williams)
But why does this affect you, random internet reader?
- Emotional argument: As I have stated before, you most likely know a rape victim. If for no other reason, you should care about rape because you care about that person. Male or female, I guarantee there is no justification for this person being raped. GUARANTEE.
- Patriotic argument: A lack of reports of rape means a lack of convictions of rapists means a lot of rapists roaming free. As a tax-paying patriot of this country, I DON’T LIKE THAT. It is very bad for my community – who remains unsafe while these criminals walk free. It is expensive – rape kits are costly, therapy for victims is costly, prosecuting rapists is costly. We could avoid the fear, the expense, and the rapists at liberty if we just, you know, eliminated rape.
- Logical argument: For starters, you should hate rape. Rape is bad. Full stop. The natural status quo for a normal human being: actively anti-rape. Since we’re on the topic, your lack of rape-y tendencies is not enough. Again: A lack of participation in rape is simply not good enough. You must actively work to end rape. How? TURN OFF THE RAPE SONGS, maybe? Educate yourself on how and why rape occurs. Curb the jokes about sexual violence and curb anyone who attempts to tell them, as well.
There are a lot of ways this problem of a culture of rape apology (like defending someone playing a song promoting rape) affects you, even if you don’t see it. The reasons listed above are just a few. The nuances of each of those arguments spread deep and wide. I shouldn’t have to write a blog explaining why this song, or the attitude defending it, is problematic. Our first response to a song promoting rape should be an uproar. Always.
My name is Chelsey Mick and this is how support for any aspect of rape/sexual assault has no place in our society.
Post publication notes:
When a co-worker read the letter I gave to my former employer, his first response was, “The FCC approved this song. It is played on the radio all the time,” and the song is about how Kurt Cobain (the deceased lead singer of Nirvana) felt about the way the music industry in general, and the record label specifically, treated him (i.e.: Kurt felt “raped” by the label). In response:
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Labor are two different entities. Just because the FCC thinks the song with the chorus of “Rape me, rape me again” is appropriate for children of all ages does not mean that the Department of Labor is required to approve the song for workplace settings.
- Kurt Cobain’s comparison between the way he was, from his perspective, treated by the music industry or his record label, to one of the most heinous violent crimes imaginable is pathetic at best and evidence of an atrocious lack of self-awareness at worst. It should be stated that, for those who do not know, Kurt Cobain used a massive amount of drugs unto his untimely death. He most likely did suffer from an atrocious lack of self-awareness due to his rampant drug use. Doesn’t change the fact that comparing his purported treatment to actual, criminal rape is not a fair comparison, nor is it a reasonable defense for playing this song in a workplace setting.
Despite my disagreements with these points, I felt they were fair to bring up in an effort to round out the major point of this article: Rape is bad. Any song with lyrics stating “rape me” is bad. Rape songs do not belong in the workplace, because they are bad.
I recognize the immense amount of privilege that I have to be able to walk out of a job, with zero notice, on my principles alone. I am financially stable enough, as a 28-year-old white female in college, to quit my second, part-time, minimum wage job without severe repercussions. Not many people have that luxury. This is why I must, again, emphasize the serious need for workers, especially minimum wage workers, to learn their rights. You have a right to report inappropriate behavior. You have a right to feel safe in your workplace. Do your research. Defend yourself with knowledge.
When questioned about my apparent lack of “loyalty” to my previous employer, I scoffed. Out loud. Several times. Because that is easily the stupidest argument I have heard. I am not required to be loyal to a company who chooses to pay me the BARE MINIMUM THEY ARE LEGALLY REQUIRED TO PAY. I am not required to be loyal to a company who so poorly trains its managers that I feel compelled to pull the Rape Victim Card in order to lend credibility to an ALREADY CREDIBLE CLAIM. I am not required to be loyal to a company that requires me to educate them on why songs promoting rape are bad. You know what I am required to do? Refrain from sharing trade secrets (like recipes or client names/orders) and maintain a safe work environment for my co-workers. Do not come at me with this “loyalty” nonsense. I owe nothing to a company who can’t respond correctly to claims of unprofessional behavior.