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It’s not much of a mystery that the workplace isn’t much of a fair place. For years now people have been fighting for equality in the workplace, in all its areas. Women fighting for the same wage as men. Ethnic people fighting for the same wage as white people. It’s been an issue for a long time, even back in 2001 when Barbara Ehrenreich published her book Nickel and Dimed which tells her story as she delves from upper middle class to the working poor. Throughout her book, Ehrenreich hits hard issues such as (not so) affordable housing and employee benefits. But Ehrenreich also touches on the very dicey topic of equality in the workplace. Ehrenreich uses her writing skills and her newfound knowledge to make her audience aware of the inequality in the standard workplace based on race and gender biases. She takes her upper middle class audience through three different states, showing them a part of America they may not have noticed. She breaks apart these three states into three different sections to give organization to the piece and also add the juxtaposition between the different places she has experienced. Along the way, she gives details such as her inability to obtain a job due to her race, her friend George telling her about the parameters of his life in America, and the sexism she finds that blocks her from plentiful job opportunities.
Barbra starts her journey in Key West, Florida. Right off the bat, this is the first place where she really starts to see a bit of the racism in the workplace. She says, “Best Western, Econo Lodge, and HoJo’s let me fill out application forms, and these are, to my relief, mostly interested in if I am a legal resident of the United States.”(13) Barbra is a middle-aged, white woman. It’s not too hard to pick up on that she is not talking about herself specifically; she is talking about those with Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. She uses this to let us know that those places typically hire ethic people. Then while she is in Maine, she mentions when deciding where to go she chose there because “(she) was struck by what appeared to be an extreme case of demographic albinism.”(51) She then goes on to explain how this is good because it also means that housekeepers and maids and such were white here as well, implying that in other states she would be less likely to find a job in housekeeping because typically companies in other states employ majority if not only ethnic people. It’s little things like those that she says that just point out the racial biases in the workplace as seen first hand by Barbara and hundreds of thousands of other Americans.
But Ehrenreich hit a different point about being an immigrant in America that people in America might not know about. When she was working as a waitress in Florida, she worked with a Czech boy named George. George is a dishwasher at the second restaurant Barbara worked at, Jerry’s. On page 38, Ehrenreich tells her readers about how George explained to her about how he doesn’t actually get paid by the company but the money he makes goes to the agent that sent him over here, and out of the money he makes, the agent only gives him 5 dollars an hour. I think that this is something many Americans aren’t aware of. Ehrenreich could have left it out, but she made it a point in her book to educate people who knew nothing about it, such as myself. She points out a whole other dimension in the inequality in the workplace. She is really forcing her audience to look at a point of view most of them really don’t have to deal with.
But how can anyone talk about inequality in the workplace without so much as mentioning the topic of sexism, and so Ehrenreich did. She shows her readers several subtle hints of sexism throughout the book, “We all admire her for standing up to Billy and telling him, after some of his usual nastiness about the female server class” (page 21) which shows the sexism isn’t just on a corporate level but also on a management level. However Ehrenreich really uses Minnesota to hit at the topic. She very carefully weaves the statements into the text so if her readers aren’t on their toes, they might not notice at all. When she’s talking about the simple task of hanging up clothes she mentions, “My first response to the work is disappointment and a kind of sexist contempt”(156) then goes on to talk about how she thinks she could be better used doing something in plumbing but how that’s a man’s job and all she’s expected to do is return a pink shirt to it’s rack. She follows that with the simple but powerful statement: “I feel oppressed, too, by the mandatory gentility of Wal-Mart culture. This is ladies’ and we are all ladies’ here.”(156). And at this point Ehrenreich could have made a big investment in the subject and talked for paragraphs or pages about it, however she uses this as a way to move along her piece and she quickly moves away from the topic. Ehrenreich is smart in doing so as to not bore or lose some of her audience. She wants to keep the feminist undertones under wraps so she can squeeze them into different places for more of a wow factor. So her readers don’t go, “oh it’s just Barbra being feminist again.” Rather they think about why she decided to include this piece of information. It makes those types of claims seem more essential to her book and her story than little side notes that she included just because she feels like being feministic.
Nickel and Dimed really does a great job of lightly pointing out the equality flaws in the average American workplace. Ehrenreich does a fantastic job of showing the sexism in the workplace without giving her readers the feeling that she might have an ulterior motive. She also gives them a great view on noticing the racism in her experiences. Though the goal of the book is clearly to explain to her audience how someone clearly can not live comfortably, or maybe even at all, on minimum wage, Nickel and Dimed had clear undertones of other extremely serious topics including and especially inequality in the workplace
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