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Culture Clash: Super Value President on Staff’s Sexual Behavior

Last week, Super Value President Rupert Roberts said the company will no longer cover maternity costs. The company practices a form of self-insurance, setting money aside to cover medical costs rather than engaging an insurance company which could cost more money. It has decided to discontinue maternity coverage in order to have more money available for catastrophic illness and life-saving treatment. Roberts claimed this decision came as a result of the increase in pregnancy over the past 24 months. He added that covering the expenses is “no problem,” but the company wants to keep its reserve big. He then said he hoped this change in policy would impact employees’ sexual behavior, noting that some had been caught having sex at work. He suggested that young women — whom he referred to as “girls” — specifically want to work at Super Value to benefit from the maternity coverage. This is a preposterous assertion as maternity coverage does not come close to the cost of having a child, but if it is a strategy for reducing the initial cost, some might call it family planning.

The public debate sparked by Roberts’ comments zeroed in on a number of concerns, but there are others that did not get the same attention. His comments leave quite a bit to be unpacked.

Compensation is not a gift

Far too much of the conversation about Super Value discontinuing coverage of maternity expenses frames it as a gift or a kindness. Health care is essential and, aside from public health services, insurance is that only way it is possible for many people. Health insurance is also expensive, especially for women. When asked why health insurance for women costs more, insurance agents say it is because women give birth. It is assumed that women will, at some point, become pregnant and give birth. Not only is that assumption made, but it is built into health insurance plans to ensure those expenses can be covered, at least in part. This is considered essential, from prenatal to postnatal.

Most of us do not work for fun. Some of us are fortunate and innovate enough to enjoy what we do for a living, but compensation is a part of the deal. Employers offer compensation packages. These packages can include money, vacation time, flexible schedule, incentives, a company vehicle, and yes, you have probably guessed it — health insurance. Employers are not always able to offer a salary that adequately compensates for employee output, so there are other components in the package. In some cases, employees can even take study leave, bring their children to work, or access special offers and discounts. Most employers, however, include health insurance in their compensation packages. Sometimes employees contribute to the group plan, and sometimes the employer covers the cost. This is not extraordinary, and it is not an act of benevolence. It is earned. Super Value has not been doing its employees a favor; health coverage is a part of the package because the salaries alone are not sufficient compensation.

Right to have sex as adults

It has been said that sex is a national past time, right up there with drinking alcohol. This is not exclusive to Bahamians. It is not a special fact about young people. It is not limited to a particular gender. People have sex because it feels good. Consenting adults have the right to enjoy sexual activity. At times, people choose to have sex in inappropriate places for a range of reasons, from not having access to a private space to looking for an extra thrill. It happens.

It is understandable for an employer to be upset about employees having sex on property. It is, however, ridiculous for an employer to bring that issue to the public. If it is true that employees are having sex — and we must keep in mind that this is hearsay — there are better, more effective ways to deal with it. There should be a conversation with the staff which may be accompanied by new policies and consequences. These policies and consequences, however, do not need to include public lambasting and shaming or the loss of compensation owed to all employees.

Again, it is important to note that we do not know that what Roberts said is true. If it is, he has a strange way of dealing with the issue. I find it difficult to believe the offense would be repeated to the extend he suggested if it had been appropriately addressed internally. Even if employees have been behaving this way, it is unacceptable to punish them or try to change their behavior by altering their compensation packages and publicly sharing the details of the situation. It is also paternalistic of him to suggest that the loss of maternity coverage might stop them from having sex. People have sex. It does not mean they want to have children, or want to benefit from “free” maternity health care. It means they want to have sex. All Roberts needs to concern himself with is ensuring sexual activity does not happen at work.

Creating an unsafe work environment

It is clear from the conversations about these comments that Roberts has created an unsafe environment for the women working at Super Value. In particular, cashiers are very visible as they are on the frontline and have the most interaction with customers. Men have shared their plans to go and “get a Super Value woman.” In a misogynistic society where sexual education is lacking, rape culture is seen as normal, and sexual harassment is a common occurrence, it is irresponsible to publicly share a narrative about the women working in the stores. At the very least, Super Value needs to make a public apology to its employees — specifically the women — as well as reverse its change to the compensation package and increase security at its stores for the protection of the women it has made particularly vulnerable.

Sexual education opportunity

It is no secret that sexual education is either nonexistent or woefully lacking in most schools. This has always been the case, so there are thousands of adults who do not have critical information. Now is a good time to do some research, visit a medical professional, or get other resources to learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is an excellent time for Super Value to bring in professionals to talk to staff, conduct HIV testing, give information on STD testing, and offer male and female condoms. With its large reserve and the amount of money it stands to save since it has cut maternity coverage, the company can certainly afford to pay nonprofit organizations for a few hours of work. Make it a community event. Invite the general public to visit booths, get free condoms, learn the correct way to store, open, and put on condoms, and engage with sex educators. The company made a big mistake, but should not ignore the opportunity that now exists. There is a lesson for everyone to learn.

Published in The Tribune on July 25, 2018.

You Got It, You Got It Bad

It being misogyny. And/or fatphobia.

 

I’ve been paying attention to the public dialogue about charges brought against Usher for knowingly exposing women to at least one STD — herpes — without disclosing. This is vile, manipulative, and an abuse of power. It’s disappointing to see where people have put their focus. Most comments I’ve seen are either about the stupidity of the women who they presume engaged in unprotected sexual activity with Usher, or the incredulity about Usher engaging in sexual activity with a fat women. Which one pisses me off more? I really don’t know. Overall, I’m outraged by the continued scapegoating of women, even in a situation where a man is clearly at fault.
I’ve commented on a few threads about this story, and decided this morning that I would pull out the key pieces to share here, both because I am tired of talking to people who don’t actually want to listen, learn, or admit to their fuckups, and because it’s important to document these ideas and positions since, unfortunately, the same things come up over and over again. I definitely plan to drop the link to this post in comments all over Facebook and walk away, refusing to do any more free labor.

 

Here are nine points that kept coming up:
  1. Fat women have sex. Maybe someone told you fat women are unattractive, asexual, or undesirable, but you should cut that liar all the way off.
  2.  Casual sex is a thing. It’s fine. Don’t like? Don’t have it.
  3. Exposure to STDs is not limited to penetration.
  4. Comprehensive sexual education has NOT been made available to everyone, and access to health care resources and services is not universal. Judging people with limited or no access is indicative of cognitive dissonance. Or a character flaw.
  5. Shaming and blaming are counterproductive activities if you have the least bit of interest in improving sex ed and/or access to services and resources. It’s really good for feeding your superiority complex and reducing the likelihood of your friends and family members coming to you if they need help though, so there’s that.
  6. We are all suffering the effects of the abstinence-only “education” peddled for decades. Similarly, we continue to suffer the effects of the monogamy-only rhetoric. Learned early enough, these ideas take root, shaping negative narratives around anything different and, if you’re not careful, result in closed-minded judgmental positions you are opposed to shifting, even in the face of new information and/or different contexts. This inflexibility is not a strength.
  7. There’s inequality in access to contraception. Ever seen condoms in a pharmacy, gas station, or grocery store? Ever seen dental dams in any of those places?
  8. The likelihood that you have, whether knowingly or unknowingly, put yourself at risk of contracting STDs is pretty high. Blow job without protection? Yeah, that’s one. Kissing people without seeing results of their sexual health screenings? Another one. (Hello, herpes!)
  9. There is a power dynamic too many people love to ignore. It exists between men and women. Employer and employee. Parent and child. Priest and parishioner. Celebrity and fan. 40-year-old and 20-year-old. That power dynamic affects engagement.
 
We have a long way to go. If you’re not running the marathon with the people doing this work, it’d be nice if you’d at least work a water station. If you’re not going to help at all, it’d be appreciated if you don’t get on the route to elbow or trip those of us pushing to get to next mile marker. Your judgment and lack of information/understanding/global context is not helping anyone get the resources and services they need, and is definitely contributing to the shame that keeps people from actively searching and asking for what they need. Get out of the way.

 

 

Edit to add: I’ve seen reported that Usher does not have herpes and plans to sue for defamation. While that may be the case, all I have said stands as it is a direct response to the commentary around the accusation rather than the accusation itself.

 
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