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What I Learned From Four Years Working At McDonalds

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By Kate Norquay:

From 18–22 I spent four years working at McDonalds. I worked a mix of part and full time over these years, always failing to find a ‘better’ job. I never advanced up the rungs, never was a manager, never achieved anything of significance in my time there.

Basically, I was the absolute stereotype of a deadbeat McDonald’s worker. Lazy, stupid, with no initiative.

Over the years, I saw this stereotype play out in a number of ways. The faces of my parents friends falling when I told them what I did. The snide remarks, ‘Do you still work at McDonalds?’, or ‘I could never work at a place like that.’ Encouragement from my friends, ‘Just don’t show up to work today!’ (because it’s not a real job).

mcdonalds
Image source: Wikipedia

And it played out in my own mind. I was a terrible worker, too slow, clumsy and resentful of my circumstances. I quietly decided that I was too good for McDonalds. I constantly justified myself, ‘It’s suuuuuch a shit job! But I need money hahaha.’ I was a bookish good student who enjoyed intellectual conversation. I wasn’t meant for this useless physical labour.

I didn’t improve. And what’s more I didn’t want to improve. Why should I try to be good at something that was beneath me?

But after a few years my attitude started to change.

I started to be proud of my job.

I asked myself, what is the difference between McDonalds and the entry level jobs other students have? Why is my job so much more pitiful than others?

Is it because I work for a big corporation? No, because otherwise jobs at the Warehouse or Hannahs would be just as embarrassing.

Or because the company is unethical? Glassons and JayJays use slave labour.

Maybe because I work in fast food? But a job at Burger Fuel isn’t quite as bad.

Because it’s not intellectual? No, jobs in retail and reception are ok.

And then I realised.

McDonalds is supposed to be a job for people who can’t do anything else. I noticed that majority of entry level jobs didn’t hire people who looked like the people I worked with.

At McDonalds there were people with disabilities, overweight people, people who weren’t conventionally attractive, people that couldn’t speak much English, young teenagers, and a lot of racial diversity. These people made up the backbone of the store. They were respected as some of our best workers.

Then I would look at a store like Glassons, or Whitcoulls or Starbucks and the majority of the time I would see people that looked like me. White, early twenties, reasonably attractive, slim, English speakers.

This was the bias that both me and the people around me were applying to my job. I meet the criteria for a ‘good’ job at a clothing store. People who come from good backgrounds aren’t supposed to end up in McDonalds alongside those who couldn’t do better if they tried.

If you’re a white girl in your early 20s you will be ridiculed for working at McDonalds. But I don’t think the same applies for disabled people, or middle-aged Pasifika women or immigrants. Their friends aren’t quietly snickering, ‘when are you going to get a real job?’ Because this is the job we expect them to have.

ronald mcdonalds
Image source: Wikia.com

McDonalds is gross and greasy. But my humiliation, and that of my friends and my family wasn’t because I made burgers. It was because I was supposed to be better than that. Supposed to be more intelligent, more hard working and more talented than the people I worked with. I deserved a ‘good’ job. I had an inflated sense of self that comes with being a person of privilege.

I realised this attitude was way more gross than shoveling fries. Because I am not better than a McDonalds worker.
Sure, maybe I have different skills. I have no muscles and I fluster under that kind of pressure. I’m always going to be better at desk jobs than labour jobs. But this is not because I’m more intelligent or more skilled or worth more than a great McDonalds employee.

There are different types of labour, and just because we treat the work done by marginalized people as worthless doesn’t mean it’s true.

I am not as hard working as my co-workers, who sometimes pull twenty hour shifts to make sure no customer has to miss out on their midnight hamburger.

I am not as smart as our manager-turned-engineer. He learned how to fix all the machines so we didn’t have to call a mechanic.

I am not as organised as those who predict and order the ingredients for thousands of customers a week, knowing that if they screw up, it’s not just an angry boss to deal with. Customers always wait in the wings, ready to scream, throw drinks and use racial slurs over a lack of ketchup. I’m not patient enough to deal with that.
These things are skills.

And if you think you are better than those people, because you work in retail or organise files in a reception, you are wrong.

For me my time at McDonalds was invaluable. Yeah, I never want to scoop fries or make burgers again, but I learnt something more important. I started to chip away at my arrogance. I challenged the ways I dehumanized people for their job. I stopped equating dislike for big shitty companies with dislike for their foot soldiers. I developed more empathy.

And if that is supposed to be an embarrassing blip in my resume, I really don’t get it.

This post was originally published here and has been republished with permission from the author.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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