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Feminspire | April 18, 2014

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“Walmart Women” Facing Discrimination As Employees And As Voters

“Walmart Women” Facing Discrimination As Employees And As Voters

On Tuesday, employees of various Tennessee Walmart stores filed a class-action lawsuit against the corporation for sex discrimination in the workplace.

This lawsuit is the third of its kind following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the national class-action lawsuit Dukes vs. Walmart Stores Inc., in June 2011. Although Dukes represented more than 1.5 million women who suffered sex discrimination by Walmart, the case was rejected because a judge ruled the individual cases did not have enough in common to constitute a class-action case.  Since Dukes, Walmart employees seeking justice have changed their tactics by filing less-ambitious regional class-action lawsuits. Cheryl Phipps, the plaintiff in the Tennessee lawsuit, issued a statement about the case this Tuesday:

“We seek justice for ourselves and all Walmart women workers in this region who have been denied equal pay and opportunities for promotion.  Many of us have waited more than a decade to have our day in court to fight for the pay and advancement opportunities that we rightly deserved.”

The press release from the attorney representing the Phipps et al vs. Walmart Stores Inc. case documented another plaintiff, Bobbi Millner, describing her experience with sex discrimination at Walmart:

“When named plaintiff Bobbi Millner was inadvertently given the paycheck of a fellow assistant manager, she discovered that he was earning thousands of dollars more per year than she was, despite having considerably less experience.  On another occasion, a store manager told Millner that ‘men needed to earn more money because they raised families.’

While female Walmart employees face discrimination in pay and advancement due to their assumed primary roles as wives and mothers, similar sexist ideas have pervaded how we view women as political actors. Let’s talk about the “Walmart mom.” With swing states playing such a pivotal role in the outcome of the upcoming Presidential election, the media has been focusing on the “undecided voter”. An estimated fifty-four percent of undecided voters are women. A curious pattern has come of this focus; the media has now latched onto a characterization of undecided female voters as the “Walmart mom”.

The term “Walmart mom” was introduced before the 2008 elections to describe a key voting block that is believed to represent around 15% of the electorate. A “Walmart mom” is a female voter with at least one child under the age of 18 who has shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month. She is typically characterized as politically moderate—she is more concerned about providing for her family and her children than supporting any political agenda. A “Walmart mom” typically self-identifies as working or lower class and has higher anxiety about falling out of her current social class than the majority of women voters. A full 35% of “Walmart moms” self-identify as homemakers, compared to only 19% of all female voters, but many of them also hold full and part-time jobs.

So, what is the relationship between the female Walmart employees and the “Walmart moms” voting block? Walmart’s women employees are asking to be paid and treated fairly so that they can provide for themselves and their families in this tough economy; “Walmart moms” shop at Walmart to save money so they can provide for themselves and their families. Both Walmart employees and “Walmart moms” with fears and anxieties about their place in today’s economy are being exploited by the Walmart corporation.

Amidst these studies and statistics, we must also wonder: Why are “Walmart moms” distinguished from “Walmart dads”? Why not “Walmart parents”? What characterizes these female voters from the rest of female voters seems to be their identities as wives and mothers—identities that mean concern for their family’s financial well-being is the most important issue for them. The studies on “Walmart moms” emphasizes these voter’s neutral position when it comes to what we typically think of as “women’s issues”: pay discrimination, violence against women, abortion access, and contraception. But are these studies framing female voter’s views in a way that is convenient for society’s strict divisions between a mother and a woman?

I am not a mother, but I couldn’t help but cringe with disbelief at the Walmart mom who said, when asked about “women’s issues” like contraception or abortion access, “that’s jewelry when you’re trying to clothe yourself”.

Do you think the representation of the “Walmart mom” is accurate?

 

Written by Brenna McCaffrey