The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy
Continued from previous page
More and more frequently it was aging kin who were mentioned as a key care issue among middle-aged people, who are juggling parents’ needs with work and often still supporting growing children. I heard the rhetorical question “How do they do it when I am beside myself with being pulled in every direction?” “How do they do it on twenty-five, thirty, or thirty-five thousand a year [double what we call the poverty line]?” Middle-class, middle-aged people shook their heads at the thought.
Colin, a midlevel manager in a food packing company, said, “My dad has Alzheimer’s and I’ve had a hell of a year trying to handle it... so I’m gonna fire these guys who have family problems... and make less than a third of what I make? He [Colin’s boss] can give me all the shit he wants... but that [writing people up or docking pay] ain’t happening. And what he don’t know don’t hurt him.”
'There’s No Rules When a Woman Is Being Abused'
During a focus group discussion in the Midwest, Angela told a story about being beaten by her then-husband. She “was typical... trying to hide it” and feeling deep shame. As a top broker in a large real estate company, she felt that she should be strong enough to end the marriage. Instead, she would wear long sleeves and turtlenecks to cover marks of abuse. But the head of her office, “a family man,” took her out to lunch and told her that he knew what was going on—everyone did. And if she was ready to make the break, they were ready to transfer her to another office, in another state. She wouldn’t lose her stature in the company; in fact, they would provide her with an economic bridge until she found her footing in the new location. Angela said that she thought this man and the support that came with him “saved [her] life.”
Eventually Angela left real estate work. She became a top manager in a service industry where she supervised others, some of whom were far down the economic ladder. But Angela had incorporated an ethic about people ’s safety and the issue of intervening in abuse and had extended it to include everyone, particularly women who were “a lot more vulnerable than [she] was,” because lower-wage workers have no safety nets of savings, no flexibility in their schedules, and in many cases very few if any paid days off, and “everyone just ignores it.” Angela reflected that she “didn’t even have kids to worry about” and had “more options” and still couldn’t make the break until “someone reached out and helped.”
So in Angela’s department it was known that you get help, off the books or on; she wouldn’t ignore domestic violence. “If any woman comes to me and says she ’s being beaten... I am going to do whatever it takes, she said. “There ’s no rules when a woman is being abused.” Angela didn’t use the word “sisterhood,” but she certainly described it. And then Angela found that she had even extended the call to stop abuse to employees’ children too. “A mom came and told me that her son was being bullied up at school. told her, ‘Go, do what you have to. ... Stay in touch with me but just go do what you have to do.’”
Angela, well educated and wealthy, remembered facing the despair of being unable to protect herself despite her advantages. Getting real help—not words or commiseration, but concrete help—made the difference. And from there, as happened to so many of these people who decide to act, her perspective fanned out to include a wider range of vulnerable people with whom she identified. “We’ve got to take care of each other,” Angela said, and if your company or institution or government doesn’t, well, you do it yourself.