Friday, June 06, 2008

Waitress sent home after shaving head for cancer research

Stacey Fearnall, waitress at upscale restaurant Nathaniel's in Owen Sound, shaved her head for a cancer fundraiser and was promptly sent home by her employers for having done so. My initial reaction to this CBC-written story was, of course, that the restaurant owners' actions were incredibly sexist and discriminatory. After all, Fearnall didn't show up with an offensive word tattooed across her forehead; she shaved her hair. For charity. This particular article states that she was, in fact, laid off. As the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission indicates in the article, Fearnall may thus have justifiable grounds to sue based on gender discrimination at this point, since bald men work in restaurants.

I found another article on the story on the CBC site but by the Canadian Press, that was disconcerting for other reasons. Here, Fearnall's husband was quoted as saying that when she did go in to work that customers wouldn't make eye contact with her. Restaurant owner Dan Hilliard also claims that some of his customers support his decision and told him that they ''would have been 'appalled' to have been served at Fearnall's table''. If this is indeed true, then it's a sad commentary on people's narrow-mindedness and stereotypical expectations of women's appearance, either within or outside of the context of why she actually did it. I mean, what if this woman had actually been going through chemo? Does a woman suddenly become a grotesque untouchable just by virtue of not having a full head of hair?

Also, although in the first CBC-written article, Hilliard claims that he was not advised ahead of time that Fearnall was planning to shave her head, the second piece by the Canadian Press states that the ''restaurant's owners'' told her ''well in advance that they wouldn't be pleased if she participated in the fundraiser'', so it seems that it actually was discussed beforehand and that Hilliard's not being upfront about it (not that this has any bearing whatsoever on whether he had any justification to either send her home or lay her off). In this second article, it's also indicated that Fearnall is ''still on the payroll'' until her hair grows back, yet in the first CBC piece, it states that she was laid off and is no longer employed there (which may not have been made clear when the Canadian Press article was written).

A third article on the story that appeared in Owen Sound's The Sun Times newspaper further complicates the story. In it, Ontario Human Rights Commission spokesperson Afroze Edwards asserts that ''appearance disputes are rarely grounds for a workplace discrimination investigation'', which doesn't exactly jive with what the Ontario Human Rights Commission's chief commissioner is quoted as having said in the CBC article.

Regardless of the confusion (whether due to differing stories, misquotes or shoddy research / writing), the bottom line is that -- whether they canned her, or not -- a woman shaved her head (in this case, for charity) and was sent home from work for having done so. Come on? Shame on Nathaniel's!

I'm writing a letter to the editor of the Owen Sound's The Sun Times newspaper over the weekend and hope that others do the same.

1 comment:

J said...

This is so ridiculous. Not only is it sexist in that they probably wouldn't have had an issue if a man came in with a shaved head, but is this even legal? I mean, an employer shouldn't be able to have any influence over specific causes one participates in, nor over how they wear their hair. It's not like she came in with green hair, or as you said, an offensive word tatooed on her head.

And the fact that customers wouldn't have wanted to be served by her is truly disappointing. What if, as you said, she really DID have cancer, is this how we choose to deal with sick people? No matter how you slice it, it says something pretty negative about many peoples views about other people. I mean, this is just so superficial, who flippin' cares what she does with her hair? I think part of the democratic disintigration in our socities has to do with the fact that we get so concerned over things that are not only none of our business, but stupid and petty to boot.

Good for you writing a letter to the editor. You should suggest a boycott of Nathaniel's too. This is just so angering. Women have come a long way in the world, but there are still too many who ascribe to the traditional view of a woman's 'place' and 'acceptable' appearance. We have come a long way in the battle against sexism, but we still have a long way to go. I think sexism is the oldest ism there is. So sad too.