McDonald’s employees’ concerns are specific and contextual, but the need to be heard extends to alleged victims of many different backgrounds. The strike aptly mirrors much of the #MeToo-era advocacy with which it is aligned: In response to sexual misconduct, many women don’t desire vengeance so much as they want an acknowledgment of the harm that’s been wrought. While some people pontificate about the dangers of letting #MeToo go “too far,” this ask, shared by any number of people who have experienced sexual assault or harassment, remains maddeningly simple.
In one far more high-profile example, Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who (first anonymously) accused the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape, has said through lawyers that she will cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Ford has asked for a full investigation—an opportunity for the veracity of her claim to at least be assessed—before she undertakes the strenuous task of sharing her story on a national stage. Given the severity of Kavanaugh’s alleged crime, and the astronomical importance of the post for which he is nominated, Ford’s request is hardly outrageous.
Still, partly because genuinely listening to Ford would require a bureaucratic process—in this case, an investigation—her voice has, thus far, gone largely unheard by government officials. Others outside governing and judicial entities have attempted to silence Ford, the implicit through line of their actions being the inconvenience that her voice represents: She has been doxxed and hacked, received death threats, and has been forced to flee her home and hire a security detail. She has been reminded, again and again, that the very act of listening to her is a burden many refuse to bear.
But women’s accounts of assault or harassment are far more important than the nuisance they represent to the entities charged with preventing future occurrences or assessing restitution for past harm. It’s telling that, as of now, it feels difficult to imagine a world in which McDonald’s were to listen to its employees before they felt the need to strike, one in which women like Christine Blasey Ford could speak without fear of being attacked or maligned by the highest offices in the country. It’s tragic that women must walk through a world in which the default expectation is that their stories will be metabolized as distractions (from profit, from the pursuit of power) rather than the accounts of fully realized human beings worthy of attention.
For McDonald’s employees and other fast-food workers, the overall lack of empathy from the public stems from the same source of marginalization that enables cultures of workplace harassment. Many low-wage food-service employees are uniquely vulnerable to harassment on the job because of the precariousness of their economic conditions. The specter of poverty complicates—and often precludes—decisions like the one to risk one’s income to protest harassment. Reports of misconduct in more visible, highly paid industries have thus far eclipsed the national concern over the hostile working conditions that many food-service employees contend with. So when McDonald’s employees ask that their voices be heard, their entreaties are directed just as much to media and to consumers as they are to the company’s executives.