By Hannah Matis – So I worked for Hobby Lobby for about eight months, when I was finishing my PhD and was no longer stipended and needed the cash to get by. I worked on a deeply part-time basis, primarily in the frame shop of a big store here in South Bend, Indiana.
Hobby Lobby began as a frame shop back in the day and so, for reasons of personal history, the overall quality of work and materials is higher there than on average throughout the rest of the store. I was/am deeply grateful for the work and I’m proud of a lot of the work I (and my fellow employees) did there, from Dali to antique Japanese prints to one glorious night when an elderly woman and I matted and set her lovely silkscreen prints, one of which she was sending, bless her, to the White House.
That said. I have a few observations based on my personal experience of, admittedly, one store with a few personal peculiarities of its own, not the responsibility of the corporation at large. To be short and to the point, Hobby Lobby exists and thrives and makes scads of money on the backs of women, both as customers and as employees. It sells (mostly) second-rate craft supplies and crap imported from sweatshops in China to, mostly, lower-middle and lower-class customers: its rise has paralleled the sliding downward of the American middle-class.
To be short and to the point, Hobby Lobby exists and thrives and makes scads of money on the backs of women, both as customers and as employees.
Its customer base is loyal partly because of Hobby Lobby’s ideological choices, although I personally wonder what Christ would have to say to his name plastered all over cheap wooden plaques made in God knows what kind of third-world working conditions. I can’t speak for the personal faith of its CEOs, but as long as religious jargon continues to make Hobby Lobby a ton of money I continue to be suspicious of how genuine it is. In the meantime, it makes money off, for example, exploited teachers and preschool teachers who already spend enormous sums of their own money on their students.
If you shop there you should know: those stores are cleaned and put in order by the same people who bag and check out your purchases. After the store closes those people stay, pretty much at the command of the manager, until he decides to let them go. Do you know how long it takes to put in order an entire aisle’s worth of origami paper after toddlers have spent a joyous day sacking the place??? Or Christmas ornaments (I have flashbacks to the Christmas ornaments…)??? Closing time can be as late as midnight, never mind when the employees got there during the afternoon. To hell, I might add, with the *employees’ families* in the meantime. The one manager who routinely let us go at a decent hour was a single mother, go figure.
In my frameshop the only full-time employees (the ones with the much-lauded benefits and quality of life) were male.
Now overwhelmingly the senior management is male. In my frameshop, the only full-time employees (the ones with the much-lauded benefits and quality of life) were male. EVERYONE ELSE, the people who take up the slack, working 39 hours with no benefits or job security whatsoever, were primarily women: old women hauling incredibly heavy loads shifting furniture, middle-aged women juggling three jobs, and young twenty year olds. Many of them don’t know anything different; the patriarchal atmosphere of the place is the air they normally breathe. (I was the only Obama sticker in the parking lot after 9 PM, shocker.)
All that to say that the fact that it was Hobby Lobby who lodged this suit did not surprise me in the least. I am personally outraged by the decision, although I know that most of Hobby Lobby’s female workers probably share in the corporation’s moral code and so it *feels* less oppressive to them than it did to me, and they might even agree with it. Fine. But for Hobby Lobby to take some – ANY – sort of moral high ground in all this leaves me remembering certain lines of Christ about tithing one’s dill and one’s cumin and neglecting little things like justice and mercy.