Episode 85: This is capitalism, baby
Published March 24, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I am Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda we talk about the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation hearings, human going out top and conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, women CEOs of startups are in some hot water this week including Sophia Amoruso from Nasty Gal and Miki Agrawal from Thinx, plus Dov Charney remains the worst, so much worse than any of those women. We're going to talk about it.
Aminatou: Hi boo-boo! How's your day going?
Ann: Just great. I've eaten -- like I've had a very weird day for me, which is to say I've eaten more desserts than I have savory things. I don't even know.
Ann: It's like I'm having one of those days where I'm working too hard and not getting up to make proper meals, so that's what's happening with me.
Aminatou: All I've eaten today is fruit in this way that's not . . . obviously it's because there's no food in the house. There's only like many, many fruits. And I made a pie which I can't eat because I have to take it to dinner. It's like every two hours I just feel my blood sugar rise and crash. [Laughs] And it's like time for more cherries. Time for more bananas. This is not good.
Ann: Here is my secret confession. Whenever I accomplish something that's kind of like baking a pie or doing some high-end, domestic chore while I'm also completing work . . .
Aminatou: High-end domestic chore? [Laughs]
Ann: I mean baking a pie is kind of a high-end domestic chore. It's not cleaning the toilet. It's something that -- it's like a beautiful thing that you can take to your dinner later, right? Whenever I'm doing something that I actually enjoy doing but is kind of in the realm of the domestic, like let's say I'm repotting some plants -- you know I love that -- while simultaneously keeping up with my work, is when I feel the most oh my god, having . . . like reaching my full potential of working from home. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know, that's like -- well, I did clean the toilet bowls today.
Aminatou: And it was very intense. Cleaned the shower. But this pie looks good. I wish I could send you a slice.
Ann: What is it filled with? Just describe it.
Aminatou: Cherry pie.
Ann: Oh, my fav! I love that.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm taking it to like a one percenter feminist dinner later so I'm very excited.
Ann: Oh my god, what is a one percenter feminist dinner?
Aminatou: [Laughs] It's just it's my name for awesome feminist ladies in New York. We have a lot of privilege.
Ann: I would say, because my guess would be if you're bringing a fancy dessert to a one percenter feminist dinner, the rule would have to be that you paid someone else to make it. You know?
Aminatou: Oh, man, that's true. But, you know, anxiety problems.
Ann: This is how we know you're a 99 percenter at heart. You made the pie.
Aminatou: Oh, I made the pie myself.
Ann: Okay. Are you clued into the Gorsuch hearings? Are you watching that at all?
Aminatou: Okay, I'm really confused about these Gorsuch hearings because I was under the impression that at the meeting after the election we had clearly told our elected officials nobody is passing through here. And now I hear that my man's about to be voted on by April 3rd? This is not good.
Ann: Right. Like the hijacking of this seat that was supposed to be for an Obama nominee.
Aminatou: Right. You know really what it is too is you realize that Democrats are generally spineless, and two, it's because he comes across as this charming, nice guy. They're all like "Well, I guess I'll meet with him." And I'm like no, remember when nobody would meet with Merrick Garland? Nobody . . .
Ann: Who is also a charming, nice guy.
Aminatou: Yeah, who was also charming and nice and actually I'm sure -- like we didn't even like his politics, but I don't understand how they're not outraged that Republicans stole an Obama Supreme Court seat. Like I think about that often and it enrages me all over again.
Ann: Yeah. Reading a lot of the coverage it's like "He's a judge's judge." I'm like what the hell does that mean? All that means is other important people in his profession seem to like him personally and he doesn't seem like the craziest option of all the people that could've been nominated for this seat.
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: Which to me still sounds terrible, right? None of that sounds good.
Aminatou: Also it turns out he's friends with bad billionaires like the rest of them. They all have a web of secret, nefarious millionaires and billionaires.
Ann: He does drive a gold Mercedes convertible, though, I heard on NPR and I was like that sounds pretty cool.
Ann: I did hear that and I was like ugh, this is why everyone likes him! Damn it!
Aminatou: This is why everyone likes him! To be clear, I am not a Supreme Court expert by any stretch and I only went to the NBC School of Law and Order. But he clued in to the new judge style of they don't tell you anything that they're thinking, and so they get nominated and then get sat on the bench and you realize they're basically fascists. Like who knows?
Ann: Right, yeah. The tell is originalist. That's the word. That's like the tell.
Aminatou: Ugh! I am so mad about this because clearly we have other stuff going on, right? There's Russia inquiries. The president is doing crazy shit. So honestly on my to-do list of things to care about and call my senators about this is a low priority which is exactly also how he's going to sail by, you know?
Ann: Oh, sail by.
Aminatou: "This is the least crazy thing that's going on with Trump."
Ann: Yeah, he's going to glide by in his gold convertible.
Aminatou: And all of the Republicans who are even never-Trump people are really happy about this choice, so that's the other advantage that he has is they're just like oh, this is the one smart thing our president has done. And I'm like no.
Ann: And, you know, there's so many things. Like if you try to drill down, turning to our core people at the National Women's Law Center for some insights about why and how he's terrible . . .
Aminatou: Oh, love those ladies!
Ann: You know, for example over the weekend they released a statement that had to do with an in-class discussion when he was a professor where he was talking about how essentially it's totally chill for employers to target women who may want to avail themselves of maternity leave at some point in the near future and the fact that those were questions solely focused on women. He's sort of like, you know, that's just the way it is, right? More women take those benefits. Why shouldn't employers be able to ask about it? And the thing about that, it's like right, that's terrible. But having to use . . .
Aminatou: Because women are carrying the babies that you people say we can't get rid of!
Ann: Oh yeah, don't even get me started on how this intersects with his anti-choice beliefs, right? But the fact that essentially a law school conversation about a hypothetical is a thing that we have to go on, because you're right, he is this new mold of judge that isn't going to be all Scalia in your face about everything until he's confirmed.
Aminatou: This whole maternity, like taking maternity benefits thing, actually made me really upset because it makes women seem like they're just these professional grifters, you know? They take jobs because god forbid you're going to have better benefits. Like one, fuck you to everybody who thinks that. And to be clear it's not just the conservative, Supreme Court nominee person that thinks that. I've heard liberal men say that. It's just again really, really, really frustrating that this once again is a women's issue at the center of something that is politically really important and we're led to believe there's two sides to this story. And it's like actually there's only one side to thinking that women are people too. [Laughs]
Ann: There's only one side to the fact that America provides no guaranteed time off work to someone who has just become a parent. Like that's really the only side that's at play here.
Aminatou: Right. Also there's literally like seven companies in America that give you decent maternity benefits, and trust me if women worked at all of them we would have no wage gap so that's not happening first of all.
Aminatou: Ugh! It just drives me so crazy. This has nothing to do with him and more the general issue, but just still this issue that once you have sex with a man and you are pregnant everything is your responsibility.
Ann: Oh, yeah. Like you made the choice to have sex so good luck.
Aminatou: That makes no sense to me. I'm just like then what the fuck are y'all responsible for?
Ann: Actually doing all the regulations that dictate how the sex happened in the first place. Like that's truly what I feel like.
Ann: Sorry, I shouldn't laugh at it, but at a certain point it's like . . . ugh.
Aminatou: Right. But it's also the fact that it takes a women's law center to be outraged by this. Women are attuned to this stuff but I guarantee you that when he said it in class a lot of people didn't think it was that crazy.
Aminatou: What are we going to do with this one?
Ann: I mean, and it's one of those things too where I get really angry because I think I was reading something over the weekend that was like "Listen, he's filling Scalia's seat and so even if he's as conservative as Scalia we're kind of where we were before." And I was like no, where we were before was Obama got to nominate someone.
Ann: That was where we were before. Scalia keeled over on a weird brotherhood hunting trip and Obama got to pick.
Ann: And they didn't let that happen. So, I don't know, that's also the thing that makes me angry about it too, the level of resignation of like no big deal.
Aminatou: I know. But, you know, sometimes I literally will lay in bed and just like I'm so angry about the Merrick Garland thing but then I'm just like it's true. At worst we just get another Scalia, and if ISIS can chill for four years and all of the Supreme Court justices take all their vitamins and nobody dies this thing is still in play.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: That is such a ridiculous -- you know what I mean? [Laughs] It is such a ridiculous mental exercise.
Ann: Right, and puppies and rainbows and unicorns.
Aminatou: But that's literally where I'm at right now. I'm like is everybody doing okay? Is everybody taking their meds? It's like how do I get word to ISIS, like just chill. Give us four years to sort out our business over here and then game on with you guys.
Aminatou: There's no equilibrium and any slight movement just feels like a seismic shift right now. Neil Gorsuch is like young and strapping. My man's going to be doing terrible things to us for the next 40 years at least.
Ann: Yeah, forever. Forever. On the court forever. I'm just like really . . .
Ann: How soon can we get him interested in hunting in weird locations?
Aminatou: [Laughs] That's my favorite conspiracy theory though.
Ann: Maybe, it sounds like he's already into that.
Aminatou: It's like what happened to Scalia? Did you see this picture of when he went to visit Dianne Feinstein at her office and she's so excited about it?
Ann: No I didn't.
Aminatou: Oh my god, hold. I'm sending it to you right now.
Ann: Oh my god. [Laughs] Are you sure? Are you sure she's so excited about the derailing of the Supreme Court?
Aminatou: Looks like it to me.
Ann: Hmm. Hmm. All right.
Aminatou: Dianne's one of those like -- obviously like love her, DiFi, like been around forever. At the same time it's like her level headedness is not what we need right now and that's been really hard to reconcile.
Ann: You're right. Like the sort of totally applaudable cooperative tactics that worked 30 years ago when we lived in an era of civil politics, if there's any proof that that does not work anymore it's the fact that we are debating and Congress is probably going to confirm this nominee and not the person Obama put forth months and months and months and months ago.
Aminatou: It's so . . . this makes me so angry. We should find Merrick Garland and interview him for this very podcast.
Ann: I know. Where Are They Now? Merrick Garland.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Where Are They Now?
Ann: I knew this day would come quickly but it came so quickly.
Aminatou: I'm really out for vengeance on this one, like I'm so upset, and I don't even like Merrick Garland like that. You know what I mean?
Ann: I just saw a quote from DiFi who said she's deeply disappointed that Merrick Garland never got a Supreme Court hearing and it's like well . . .
Aminatou: You're like how disappointed are you, Dianne?
Ann: Show me with your actions, not your words. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Show me how disappointed you are.
Aminatou: Do you know about this girl Tomi Lahren? I can't say her name. Tammy? I call her Tammy because that's what black Twitter calls her.
Ann: I have heard of her, conservative media darling who is like a baby, right?
Aminatou: Yes, 100% a baby. In fact let me look up her age. She's like the definition of a walking going out top, this one.
Ann: [Laughs] Going out top, Tomi Lahren.
Aminatou: Human going out top, Tomi Lahren, 24 years of age which means that she just graduated college yesterday right? I don't say this to be ageist. I say this to tell you about how much experience she has in the world. So Tomi Lahren works for crazy conservative person Glenn Beck. She's at his network, whatever that thing is called.
Ann: New hipster Glenn Beck? That guy?
Aminatou: Oh my god, Glenn. [Sighs] I want to strangle him.
Ann: Sorry, I'm baiting you.
Aminatou: So Tomi Lahren works for Glenn Beck, and to be fair to her she did not invent this style. Actually liberals are who made this style very obnoxious and popular. She makes these videos where she just looks into the camera and she just rants for 20 minutes. You know, like very Keith Olbermann if you know what I'm talking about.
Ann: Like our podcast but with more direct eye contact. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Exactly. Listen, there's a lot of love and friendship on this podcast along with the rants.
Ann: It's true.
Aminatou: But you know that thing, right? It's like the straight-to-camera "Let me tell you how it is" Keith Olbermann garbage monologue nonsense.
Ann: Right. Like let me tell you the truth no one else is going to tell you. That vibe.
Aminatou: Totally. And Tammy [Laughs] -- I love calling her Tammy -- and Tammy very early on caught on to the fact that in order for that to work you have to be super controversial because people love it when you tell it like it is. Some of her earliest monologues were calling Jay-Z a drug dealer and saying Beyonc was married to a drug dealer and she was always glomming herself onto whatever could make good hash tag controversy.
Aminatou: Or, you know, like saying Black Lives Matter was a terrorist movement for example.
Ann: Oh yeah, that's what I know her from. From that specific comment.
Aminatou: Right. Yes, this 24-year-old from like South Dakota who lives in Vegas, again, human going out top. This was her whole thing. Also the thing she has going for her is she is young, she is pretty, she is on TV, and we all know TV people are the devil. So her platform just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger because her YouTube channel, it was massive. This thing that conservatives do drives me crazy where they're just like everybody is so afraid of free speech and you have to be PC now so I just say it like it is. And I'm like no, you people are just racist. You just like saying racist things out loud. Just like admit to that.
So she like fashioned herself this conservative Barbie. She's really into guns. She's pro-meat. You name it. Like Ann Coulter 20 years ago, but way dumber. I do not like Ann Coulter at all. You can't accuse Ann Coulter of being stupid.
Ann: Sure. She's made so much money. She's a very savvy businesswoman.
Aminatou: Yeah, she's a very savvy businesswoman but also prefrontal cortex intact. Like synapses firing on all cylinders.
Ann: Right. She does know exactly what she is doing and is strategic about the choices she makes.
Aminatou: Exactly, you know? She's like a Harvard lawyer. This communications major from the University of Nowhere . . . ugh. So, anyway, Tomi is in a lot of hot water because she was on The View the other day which is such a problem, right? She's been legitimized in all of these really big media ways like Trevor Noah had her on.
Ann: Oh, they had like a deep heart-to-heart.
Aminatou: Yeah, he had her on The Daily Show. He had her on The Daily Show and honestly that was my final straw with me and Trevor Noah. No love lost there, but just framing this as some sort of like we need to understand where these people are coming from. I'm like no, these people are coming from they're racist and they're opportunists. Like that's where they're coming from. Debating people means that you have to have a baseline of good faith. These kinds of people have zero good faith and are intellectually dishonest. You don't need to understand where this dummy comes from.
Aminatou: So, anyway, she's on The View which is ostensibly a big deal for her and on The View she comes out saying that she's pro-choice. [Laughs] Which is hilarious for many reasons. One, just like a couple of months ago she went off on this rant about Lena Dunham and definitely declared that killing babies was murder. I don't know about you but that's not like pro-choice to me but whatever.
So she's on The View and she's saying how she's now pro-choice because she believes in small government and she wants people to stay out of her guns so they should also stay out of her body. The most beautiful plot twist in the world happened. All of the conservatives have now turned on her because that's definitely the third rail for them. The best tweet that I saw on this was some other conservative Barbie was like "At least Hillary never called us hypocrites." [Laughs] Like wow.
Ann: Well also the downside of telling it like it is which is that even women who are really conservative want access to services to control their own bodies, you know what I mean?
Ann: It's like woops, got too real.
Aminatou: Gina, I hope you play the clip, but she sounds like a complete idiot. She's like "I'm a constitutional," and it's like hmm, actually you mean constitutionalist.
Sunny: You call yourself a conservative -- a conservative Republican and a constitutional conservative, but you also consider yourself pro-choice which is interesting to me because 68% of conservative Republicans think that abortion should be illegal across the board.
Tomi: No, I'm pro-choice and here's why. I am a constitutional. You know, someone that loves the constitution. I'm someone that's for a limited government. And so I can't sit here and by a hypocrite and say I'm for a limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies. I can sit here and say that as a Republican and I can say you know what? I'm for a limited government so stay out of my guns and you can stay out of my body as well. [Applause] So I think it's . . .
Joy: You need to go out and speak to women about that. Speak to Republican women.
Tomi: I do every day.
Aminatou: And now she's taking a ton of heat. Apparently she's been suspended from her job at Glenn Beck Network, Inc. dot com, LLC. And like that's not happening for her. They've all turned on her because they realized having this dummy as the face of your movement -- listen, I have no love for conservatives but they can do a lot better than this girl for whatever the future of conservatism is supposed to be. You know, it's like oh, when she was saying all these racist things you guys were down for that but the minute that redneck Barbie is pro-choice, like no, that cannot stand. Welcome to Sexism 101, young lady. You're going to learn today.
Aminatou: It really terrifies me that people like this have the kinds of platforms that they do because whether she means it or not people feel justified in their racist beliefs because of people like her.
Ann: Yeah. I mean and it is hard for me because on one hand I want to understand what is informing the worldview of people who are saying and voting for terrible things. And I don't mean this in an empathy for Trump voters kind of sense. I mean it in an educate and arm yourself about what is coming for you sense.
Aminatou: It's the same, right? The messages are always the same. It's always racism wrapped as economic anxiety which is complete garbage and it is this belief that saying hateful things about people is telling it like it is which is a God-given right to them. Like I don't think these people are complicated at all.
Ann: Yeah, and I guess I don't mean that I think she is personally complicated but it's just in that kind of like . . . I don't know, like some of the things that I think about from the Bush era about how conservative media was put together and funded and things like that, which is less about understanding the beliefs of the people and more about systemically how are they reaching people to communicate this garbage? I guess that is sort of what I'm getting at. And in that sense, like you say, not super smart. She is more of a tool to that end. And when she's no longer useful as a tool, when she's like "Oh, maybe I'm pro-choice," the mechanics of that as opposed to trying to find some deeper truth or understanding about the beliefs. Which is not to say I don't think Trevor Noah made a huge mistake.
Aminatou: Oh my god, the biggest mistake. But you know what? That's the story for another podcast.
[Music and ads]
Ann: I this week find myself preoccupied with relatively young women, CEOs, or at this point former CEOs, namely Miki Agrawal from Thinx who was in the news -- we can talk about her in a sec.
Aminatou: Do you mean SHE-E-Os?
Ann: Oh my god, I refuse. I absolutely refuse. And then there was also an article about the bankruptcy and sale of Nasty Gal, so about Sophia Amoruso as well who you might know from her Girl Boss book which was very popular. I don't think, has Miki Agrawal written a book too? Do they both have books?
Aminatou: You know that having a book is an integral part of having . . .
Ann: Oh my god, completely. It's how you cross the 50K Instagram followers threshold or whatever. I don't know.
Aminatou: Exactly. She has a book that -- hold on, it actually has a really funny title. Do Cool Shit: Quit Your Day Job, Start Your Own Business, and Live Happily Ever After.
Ann: Oh my god. Well she apparently did start her own business but the happily ever after is -- the jury is still out.
Ann: Have you been following the news about her this week?
Aminatou: Yo, I have been reading every juicy detail with my jaw on the floor like everybody else. But if I'm really honest, also kind of not shocked.
Ann: Right, and I think that is the common theme here which is these are both consumer-facing businesses started by relatively young women that have been written about for their cutting-edge aesthetic and feminist undertones. And in the case of Thinx there were a whole bunch of allegations about, you're right, the day-to-day office stuff like inadequate maternity leave, bad things when it comes to salary negotiations, and how much different employees who do the same work were getting paid. And basically general failure to create a feminist utopia within your own company.
Aminatou: Right. You can't sell feminism if you're not practicing feminism at home. It's like your employees will notice. That's a big problem.
Ann: Sure, and then eventually they will anonymously speak to the press in large numbers and you will have to write a Medium post explaining how you're not good at doing the HR part of being a CEO. That's basically what happened.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, on one hand Thinx -- what's the other one called?
Ann: Nasty Gal.
Aminatou: Nasty Girl. Nasty Gal. [Laughs] You know, these empowerment water they love to sell to women and they want women to support them and all the marketing hinges on everybody being down with the sisterhood. What do we preach on this show? Trust nobody.
Ann: Is that what we preach? [Laughs]
Aminatou: That is what we preach on this show, trust nobody. It's not even that deep, right? It's like you don't even have to go looking very far to see that none of these people practice what they preach. You can't be out there telling women "Bodily autonomy! Buy this $300 leather jacket to be a part of the sisterhood," but you can't provide your employees with basic HR needs? Especially when you know that kind of messaging is the reason that very idealistic young women will come work there for zero dollars.
Ann: Right, because you are a charismatic figure who supposedly lives your beliefs.
Aminatou: I know, but at the same time this is kind of my call-out to young people who you want to do good in the world or whatever. This is a really good reminder that the only way that your company shows that they value you is by how much they pay you and what kinds of benefits they give you. Like everything else is just talk. Founders will get rich if they work hard enough. You might not get rich. So be vigilant also and look out for yourself because let me tell you who's not looking out for you, She-E-Os. They are not looking out for you. There's only room for one person.
Ann: Okay, so here's a -- so when I read both of these articles, one of the questions that I had was about is this just a systemic problem wherein if you take outside investment and funding because you want your business to be massive, right? You are scaling rapidly to help more women or whatever you tell yourself. Is that system so incompatible with actually having a feminist value system as an employer that you are doomed to fail from day one? Or is it like it's just really hard to be an ethical CEO period? No matter what type of company you have and no matter what type of investment it's always going to be hard and women get put in the spotlight more for their failures.
Aminatou: I think that there are a lot of truths here. I think that having an ethical company of any kind, like it doesn't have to be a feminist company. Look at the Jessica Alba trying to do Honest shit and then it turns out there's hella chemicals in all her stuff.
Ann: Awkward. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I think running an ethical business is hard because capitalism is a dirty game. There's no room for being a good and nice person, or there is. You will just take less money, like which you just have to be okay with. But the problem is when you have investors, unless all of your investors are on the exact same page about you and about the kind of company you want to run, then that's hard because everybody wants to get paid back. It is also true that women-led businesses are scrutinized more but I submit to you that in these two cases that's not necessarily true. Their downfall is that they were preaching something they weren't practicing and I don't think that has anything to do with women. If anything I think it has to do with just the glaring hypocrisy of it all.
Ann: Yeah, and I don't know. I mean there is a part of me that's like I want people who use their feminist ideals as part of the selling point for supporting their business and shopping with them to be held to a higher standard, right? Like should be held to an excellent standard. How are the people who work for you? What kind of experience are they having? What are the people who you work with on all points of the supply chain? What experience are they having? I think that is totally a fair standard.
But you know it is hard for me when I'm like I care about these things as well and I think that frankly one way for women to differentiate themselves and get funding and make their business work, which is a thing that I want women to be able to do . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, but don't be disingenuous about it, you know what I mean?
Ann: Yeah, but what I was going to say is I understand the temptation to use that as part of some kind of brand differentiation. I mean basically it's empowertizing and it's fucked up, but I get this notion. I've read enough things about women pitching their businesses and how men with money tend to respond to women's business ideas, especially when those business ideas are serving a largely female demographic. And so I guess what I'm trying to say is yes, it's definitely a trap -- I know we say that all the time too -- but this idea of not that it's the only way you can get your business funded, but when you need to find whatever advantage you can find to like . . . you know, if you just want to run a clothing company, making it part of your selling point that it's zeitgeisty and feminist or whatever. I mean I get the temptation. It's like there are all these forces that are not just capitalism is hard, but additional pressure.
Aminatou: I don't know, Ann. I feel like you're being a little too soft about this. No, true. If your thing is that you are going to sell to women, right, and that you want to empower them, you can't have it both ways. You cannot rely on your distinguishable thing being that you're a woman and then you shit on women at every turn of the way. You can't be disingenuous about it. It would be one thing for me if I really believed that these women, they were trying to run feminist companies, and there's actually no evidence of that that that's what they were trying to do or that they even tried at all or that any of it worked. I would feel differently about it. Like one CEO that is also taking fire right now for something that is similar is the ModCloth CEO.
Ann: Oh, really? I didn't hear about this.
Aminatou: Yes, because they just sold to jet.com which is owned by Wal-Mart and people are losing their shit.
Aminatou: Here's a company that by all accounts has been super pro-woman, founded by a woman, has done so much to move the needle for women in fashion. And by all accounts internally was a company that was really well-run, case-in-point the exit, and sold to somebody that people are like "Ugh! This company doesn't support women." Like ultimately, right? She sold to a subsidiary of Wal-Mart.
And I think that is more complicated and kind of better-framed for this conversation of like what happens when you try to run a pro-woman, feminist business? Because here is somebody who is like I've taken my company as far as we can go. We do awesome stuff. And now I need more resources, and here is the form that the resources came in. And the overlords are not exactly the best. I'm more interested in following that conversation than like "Hi! I'm a CEO who takes FaceTime calls on the toilet because I'm happy and free and so should all of you." Those are two very different things.
Ann: Well and honestly my understanding -- maybe I've missed some more serious allegations about the Nasty Gal sell. My understanding of that was just it's sort of somewhere in-between the two of like a little bit of mismanagement but not the kinds of allegations that have come out about Thinx coupled with the kind of need for getting more money that you talked about. So I feel like it's all on a spectrum. They're all different cases. It's all in some ways the same underlying issue but it's not like a cookie cutter these women sold their shit with feminism and then sold out the women who worked for them. I don't think they're that clear-cut.
Aminatou: If I remember right Nasty Gal had a lot of those kinds of problems early on. I think that later on they brought in a management team. But you're right, I don't know all of the particulars of that specific scenario. People forget that this stuff is hard, right? There is something particularly incredible seeing people who have an idea in their head and then the next thing you know it's like three offices around the world. You actually execute on an idea that you've had for a long time. This is America. That shit will never not be amazing. Like God bless. [Laughs]
But at the same time just because you have this great idea and you execute on it doesn't mean that you know how to treat employees, right? And I think that startups get . . . startups get a huge pass for not implementing HR early, for not really setting a professional work culture that is appropriate because everybody is so fixated on this let's build fast and break everything and blah, blah, blah. It's like slow down, Mark Zuckerberg. But again a lot of this stuff is not complicated, right? At the heart of it it's like do you value people's labor? And how do you reward it?
Ann: Right. And I think for me one of the questions I'm asking myself is oh, is it that I'm just not clued into many, many businesses that fit this mold but happen to be run by men and so I'm not looking at them in the same way? What part of this is the claims about a feminist business and what part of it is like oh, god, this is a systemic thing where all startups have trouble understanding why HR is important and rules are important? You know what I mean?
Aminatou: Yo, people are just assholes. But, you know, justice comes for everyone though. It's like look at what Uber is going through right now, right? And that's because a woman wrote a blog post essentially that detailed what her experience was working there which was horrific. And now the stock is tanking. People are quitting left and right. Not to derail that conversation, but that CEO went from being everybody's favorite villain in Silicon Valley to oh my god, where is the adult in the room here? You know?
I guess where I'm trying to get to is I hope that this image of the bad boy CEO or just ruthless CEO or like Devil Wears Prada is subsiding a bit because it has business implications that are bigger than just the CEO's bottom line.
Ann: Oh my god, totally related, did you listen to the Dov Charney/American Apparel arc on the last season of Startup?
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: First of all I listened to it and I can't believe that more people didn't talk about it. We are woke so we know that Dov Charney was a bad person. I couldn't believe how much more despicable he was via audio.
Ann: So I just listened to this within the past few weeks and I have to say, okay, first of all the show -- or the podcast for those who have not heard it -- the loose premise is we follow a new business that is starting up. In this case it is a new business run by someone whose last business failed miserably which is American Apparel.
Ann: Tabling that for one moment. [Laughter] We can go through your eulogy for American Apparel in a minute. But the first few episodes are like Dov Charney as the protagonist talking about how he's rebuilding and his grand vision for this new business which is basically just American Apparel again only with a slightly different name.
Aminatou: One trick pony. What are you going to do?
Ann: Oh my god, and I think he's still wearing the glasses. So, you know . . . anyway, so at this point I almost gave it up because I was like ugh, I can't find it in my heart to want this guy to succeed again. And then they start getting into truly what happened and why did American Apparel fail? And to your point about Uber and especially about the idea of it being kind of like cool or at least something that doesn't matter much to have your CEO be a total air quote "bad boy" with zero boundaries and like, you know, lots of allegations floating around but nothing a few NDAs and private arbitration stuff won't fix, it is honestly so appalling. Like I was like I knew he was bad. I had followed I think various forms of the allegations against him. But it is truly terrifying listening to many of the women who worked for him tell their stories about that experience.
And then of course the whole season, as an editor I'm like oh my god you guys did not do your job. I mean I'm interested in it but it's not a podcast about a new business, right? Like it is truly the season is about . . .
Aminatou: It's a podcast about a predator.
Ann: Exactly! It is -- yes, it's like to catch a predator who is well-funded and installed at the top of his company.
Aminatou: It's like to catch a predator who is telling you exactly how he's a predator.
Ann: Oh my god, completely, and is claiming it's part of his business success.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, and American Apparel, like really complicated company right? It's like on one hand actually made in America, actually made by a lot of immigrants and Americans in L.A. That part of the story we're all happy about. And then the rest of it you're just like they marketed like pornography and ran a complete nuthouse.
Aminatou: And he got away with it. He got away with it for as long as he could in part because people are like that's what makes the company sexy and you need a creep to run a sexy company. But I don't know, like when I was listening to all of his employees talk I'm just like you guys, unemployment is literally a 5% run. You can get a job anywhere. This is not okay.
Ann: Yeah. I mean and it's also . . . [Sighs] There is something as well about listening to people who these reporters interview. You know, essentially knowing what they know about his behavior and then being like you know what? People's memories are pretty short. He'll probably be successful at this new business. It is really complicated. The reason I went back and listened to it is a woman I know here who's a friend of a friend was doing the Spanish/English translation for the interviews for this podcast with people who had been employed in American Apparel's factories and how excited they were that he was starting a new business and how supportive of him they were. And it's one of those things where you're like oh, god, I hate hearing that this is a person who had one aspect of their business be something that is very much aligned with other things I want to see happen but the packaging and his behavior and everything else being so terrible. And in a weird way it's like it sort of feels like the conversation about some of those other businesses run by women. Totally different in terms of the scale of the behavior, I would say, but at its root just being like I support certain things about your work so wholeheartedly and then other parts of it it's just like wow, where is the adult?
Aminatou: Yeah. It's also interesting to me that those women fell faster than he did, for example.
Ann: Oh my god, completely.
Aminatou: You know what I mean? Like granted the Thinx lady is getting sued for sexual harassment. But, you know, there's no rapey vibes at these lady companies compared to what's going on at American Apparel. And I feel like if the economy had been stronger he would've probably held on for even longer, you know? And so I think that the double standard to me that's there is how much quicker people are to call women kind of evil or see their incompetence or really just knock them down, like that happens faster for them.
I think that there's a point to be made too that part of the reason that this happens to a lot of women CEOs is because they have to perform based on male success metrics. You have to run the office like the evil man CEO but you're going to get treated differently for it.
Ann: Or not even like a traditional kind of evil man CEO but this idea that work is life is passion is politics, like it's all the exact same thing and that's how you convince people to believe in you. But also when I look at . . .
Aminatou: And also you don't give maternity leave.
Ann: Oh, god.
Aminatou: Because we're working all the time.
Ann: But that is really -- like a lot of that stuff, when this season of Startup, when Dov Charney is giving his excuses, his only excuse for being incredibly abusive is just like "Well I don't see a distinction. It's just like my coworkers aren't just my coworkers; they're like my friends. They're like my lovers." And I'm just like no, wrong.
Aminatou: You're like HR would beg to disagree.
Ann: Right, you are wrong. [Laughs]
Aminatou: This is what the salary's for.
Ann: Right, yeah, so I don't know. I mean truly he is like . . . I know we're not ranking villains, but definitely the worst of all of these people.
Aminatou: Oh, no, he's like -- are you kidding me? He's definitely worse than like . . . like I don't care what these other ladies . . .
Aminatou: You know, these other ladies' crimes are crimes against women at large. It's so crazy to me too that he doesn't feel sorry. Like these women have to explain themselves in Medium posts and kind of pretend they're taking the high road. This guy basically gets an entire podcast to make people kind of feel sorry for him.
Ann: I know, and I would argue that it ultimately doesn't work but I was talking to someone else who . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, because he's so despicable. Whew.
Ann: Exactly. But I don't know, I was talking to somebody else who listened to the first two episodes and gave up and I was like "Uh, you need to keep listening because if you only listen to the first two episodes all you hear is his case for himself." It's like actually nothing turns my stomach more than the idea that you would kind of half clue in but not hear the stories of these women who he hurt. Ugh.
Aminatou: I know. Oh, god, just like everybody get out. Just get out if there are creepy vibes at your work. It's just not worth it.
Ann: Yeah, and if you have a boss who believes that work and personal should be a completely porous boundary, like my first boss in journalism would ask me all the time about my relationship. And it wasn't -- I mean that is harassment, like when your boss is like "Tell me what's going on at home and who you are keeping your private time with," you know, in kind of a prying, creepy, old man way, it's like no. That is actually workplace harassment.
Aminatou: Yeah, like step back, step back, you don't know me like that.
Ann: Exactly! I know! Ugh. If you feel something say something.
Aminatou: I know. It's just like not . . . [Sighs] It's the kind of thing too where I wish they would just teach this to everybody in college. They would teach you what sexual harassment actually was. They would teach you what is good, professional behavior in and out of work. Just because you work with someone all the time doesn't mean that they're entitled to parts of your private life. That's just ludicrous.
Aminatou: It's so ludicrous, but like a lot of people . . . you know, it's like people don't know until it's too late or they're in trouble, and guess what? Companies always side with who -- it's been interesting watching the Uber fallout and one of the reasons that's cited for not letting go of all the problematic people is they're all high-performers.
Ann: Valuable to the company is like the words they use.
Aminatou: Yeah. They're just like "Sorry that guy made you feel uncomfortable and is staring at your boobs but he's really good at coding here."
Aminatou: You know, all sorts of crazy stuff. And it's like this is the kind of stuff that we reward, right? We reward like high performance. We don't reward people saying like "Oh, this is a toxic work environment." So you should know that and guard yourself from that early on because if it doesn't feel good literally start looking for another job. It will never get better and it only gets worse the longer you stay.
Ann: Totally, because yeah, those people are enabled by creating a culture that allows them to do that like it's normal. And so for every person that's gritting their teeth and pretending that they don't think it's creepy it makes it easier for that person to just continue pretending or acting that it's okay.
Aminatou: Right, because nobody has voiced an issue with it and everybody is still here and the team still stands by you. It's like for all of our praising for HR on this show, also HR is their greatest structure but at the end of the day they work for your company. So always be looking out for yourself because nobody is looking out for you.
Ann: Yeah. And actually that American Apparel story, just how difficult it was for the board to even investigate the really plausible claims of wrongdoing was pretty interesting for me to listen to to kind of say like okay, if you're someone who's really invested in this not happening . . . it took like rogue board members researching in secret to act on this at all, you know? I mean it's truly -- you're right, it's like having HR is not enough. Oof.
Aminatou: Nobody cares for the workers, man. I'm telling you it is . . . this stuff is nuts. It's so nuts but it's like this is capitalism, baby.
Ann: Well, at some point -- I feel on a totally related note in the not too distant future we are going to do an episode that is about CYG as a business and how we have made some of the not always easy capitalist choices that we have made. Like I don't know, I feel personally invested in this in a way that I don't think I did several years ago. You know what I mean?
Aminatou: I know. No, it's true. It's funny because I read these and I'm like what? These business owners, this is crazy. And then I realize that we're business owners. [Laughs] How it's . . . like I don't sympathize with any of them honestly. To me all it is is like a cautionary tale. I was like this is how easy it is to just get caught up.
Ann: Yeah, and then I think there's relatively little resources that are about navigating wanting to make money, like not starve, make sure that the time you're investing in the business is rewarded, but on the flip side having realistic expectations and doing it in a way that matches your beliefs to the greatest extent possible. There are lots of books that are like money, money, money, how to grow, and not a lot about walking what is almost always a really difficult ethical line.
Aminatou: Are you trying to run an ethical podcast over here?
Ann: Not saying I am. Not saying I'm not. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I was like you haven't talked to your business wives about this. [Laughs]
Ann: Listen. I just -- I mean, listen, I know you were kidding but seriously as a thinking person who has beliefs in the world that is bottom line . . . like we are not like a B-corps. We are not a non-profit. That's where this stuff gets really screwed up too. It's like we're going to have to do a whole episode about that.
Aminatou: And people notice. People notice too. It's like it's the sting of every time somebody says "I know you girls are trying to make some money but dot, dot, dot . . ." And I'm just like ugh. Like yes, we are all trying to make money. Everybody's time should be compensated.
Ann: Oh my god, okay. But we can't go too deep. [Laughs]
Aminatou: We're not going to go too deep into our own startup episode but if you have any questions for us you should email them to us.
Ann: Right, related to the biz of CYG because that is really what we're going to talk about.
Aminatou: We're going to get down and dirty. I'm both excited and nervous. I feel like it'll feel like a therapy session.
Ann: Oh my god. I'm excited. Well, I'm excited in part because I'm always interested in -- like one reason why I always read these stories, particularly about women bosses but in general, is because I want to know best and worst practices. You know what I mean? I'm just straight-up interested.
Aminatou: Well, best practice, treat your employees like human beings. [Laughs] Worst practice . . .
Ann: Good thing we're our own employees. [Laughs]
Aminatou: That's right. Good thing we're our own employees, right? But, again, we'll discuss -- you know why I'm really excited about this episode though?
Ann: Tell me.
Aminatou: Because it means Gina gets to be on the podcast.
Ann: I know! As one-third of CYG, LLC Gina is going to be a critical part of our convo about this.
Aminatou: Maybe Gina is the moral compass of this whole thing. We'll find out. Tune in.
Ann: Maybe definitely. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Tune in.
Aminatou: Okay, boo-boo, I've got to hop in the shower and take my pie to my dinner party.
Ann: [Laughs] I have nothing to say to that. I have to go.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Ann: I'll see you on the Internet.
Aminatou: I will see you on the Internet. Bye, boo.