Saturday, March 21, 2015

Author-humiliation-bait and YPIS

I'm not sure if this even counts as a YPIS cycle, because it's just so ridiculous, but here goes: a Jezebel-affiliated piece takes down an xoJane personal essay about tipping, one introduced with the heading - all-caps - "UNPOPULAR OPINION." The essay is by-and-about a young woman who refuses to tip. (For maximum future author-shaming, it includes a photo of the author, in a restaurant. Because a really great thing to do is to proudly declare your aversion to tipping with an accompanying photo.) The Jezebel "Kitchenette" post is about why people who don't tip are assholes. So far, so predictable. But! The xoJane author a) lives somewhere where there isn't a lower minimum wage for tipped workers, and b) is a retail worker making minimum wage. These details combined do kind of cut against the idea that this opponent of tipping is some rich lady oblivious to the plight of low-income workers.

But how can an anti-tipping piece go without a YPIS critique? What the Jezebel affiliate comes up with:

I'm going to put this as plainly as possible: restaurant jobs are harder than retail jobs. I know it hurts to hear that, but it's true. Sorry, Sarah; your lot is not the harshest one, and you are far from the special snowflake you see in yourself. You can resent the implication all you want, but I'm not implying, I'm straight-up telling. Your job is easier than a job waiting tables, and if you'd ever worked in a restaurant, you'd damn well know that already. 
I've worked multiple retail and multiple restaurant jobs — on average, there is absolutely no comparison of which one is more physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding, and it's not even particularly close. Do you get breaks at your job? Generally-speaking, do you have regular hours? Is your pay directly dependent on your ability to put up with harassment and abuse from customers (not should it; is it)? Oh, you do, you do, and it isn't? Kindly have a seat, please.
Take that, minimum-wage retail worker! How dare you be so stingy with your tips, what with the pile of gold that Old Navy or whatever is surely paying you, except that you're getting minimum wage, but... yeah. It would seem that if restaurant and retail workers get at least minimum wage in a certain locale, but only the former also get tips, servers are if nothing else getting paid more. But no! Here's this pampered, princess, minimum-wage retail worker, paid no doubt a ton to write an essay for xoJane (#sarcasm), and where there is privilege, it must, of course, be checked.


caryatis said...

Huh. So if in Washington State, the waiters are soon going to be all making $15/hr, doesn't the rationale for tipping completely disappear? Unless there's been some extraordinary service. I would think willingness to tip would decrease dramatically if you _know_ the person makes more than you do without the tip.

They took down the photo.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yes, taking down the photo was probably a good idea. Even better would be abandoning the publication model that thrives on author humiliation.

Re: tipping, the problem is that it's now understood as income redistribution. As in, the customer *by definition* is wealthier than the server. This is, of course, not the case - particularly not if waiters are making $15/hr! But the conception of tipping as charity-from-the-rich is so persistent that it's impossible for people to respond to a retail workers' skepticism about tipping *except* by positioning her as Marie Antoinette.

CW said...

You can often figure out whether you are expected to tip someone by thinking about whether they are performing a function that someone like Marie Antoinette would have had servants perform for her. Hotel maids, waiters, and people carrying your bags at hotels are all acting like servants. Coffee shops are confusing because getting you coffee is something your servant would do, but waiting in line to order something at a counter is more like being a customer at a store. (Bartenders don't fit that well into this model, but I think hairdressers do.) Tipping does give you the chance to act like a big shot even if it is only for the duration of a single meal. It isn't really about redistribution of wealth or rewarding people with the lousiest jobs (nobody tips the janitors who have to clean the men's room at a football stadium.)

I've long contended in the comment section of this blog that tipping doesn't have much to do with the minimum wage, and I think the behavior of most people in Washington State, California, Minnesota, etc. seems to support my claim, but maybe we'll see behavior change once the minimum wage gets up to $15 in Seattle.

Hypatia said...

Thank you for this! I have long sought cultural guidance about US-social mores on this blog, since whenever I ask my American friends about this kind of stuff they stare at me like I'm enquiring about the niceties of informing relatives about the funeral buffet after burying a maiden aunt alive.

I'm mostly with you on the tipping critique, and entirely with you on the publication model critique. (Is YPIS-shame a form of discipline that could be turned against itself, I wonder?).

Very happy to see your (I hope paid for!) writing in the New New Republic along with Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's. You both give very interesting critiques of contem.pop.feminism. I would love to hear the two of you in conversation.

Keep going!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


The idea of a Marie Antoinette test is an interesting one. But given how different the consumer economy was in Old Regime France, I couldn't begin to guess where different services would fit in. Haircuts, for example, don't seem an obvious luxury. Some, yes, but in the same way that fast food places wouldn't have tipping, but sit-down restaurants would.

It's about redistribution insofar as that's where every how-dare-someone-not-tip argument goes. It's never, how dare someone not enjoy the feeling of power that comes with tipping, nor is it ever, how dare someone not reward good service. It's always that, if you're fancy enough to be eating out, surely you can help out your server.


Enthusiasm much appreciated! And yes, TNR pays.