Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Winging It

Have you ever heard of The Wing? OK, you haven’t. It is a social club for women. It exists in a number of American cities and is opening new branches around the country. It provides an ambiance that women cannot find in the men’s club they insisted on joining several decades ago.

Thus, we are, in principle, all for The Wing. Yet, as Amanda Hess reports in a long form New York Times article The Wing has not quite lived up to its utopian aspirations. You might know, you must know, that attempting to make any social organization utopian guarantees that it will fail.

Moreover, not to put too fine a point on it, but The Wing is not simply a place for women to sit back comfortably and network with other women. If that were its aim and purpose, we would all favor it. Unfortunately, The Wing pursues a political agenda. It supports the radical left wing of the Democratic party, containing as a member notable anti-Semite Linda Sarsour. It even threw a fundraiser for notably anti-Semitic imbecile Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Obviously, its members were all in with the Hillary Clinton candidacy and believed that Brett Kavanaugh was a serial rapist.

So, The Wing is pursuing feminist ideology while pretending to be a woman’s space. And, as happens with all organizations that pretend to be ideologically purer than thou, it attracts the aggrieved and the victimized. The people who work at The Wing, Hess points out, were promised membership privileges-- how leftist can you get-- while they are being treated like the help-- how patronizing can you get. Or else, perhaps we must call it matronizing.

Worse yet, since The Wing makes an ostentatious show of being politically correct and gender non-binary, it has been forced to admit male beings into its spaces. Clearly, this has caused trouble, it has defiled the atmosphere. And yet, feminism earned its spurs by forcing all-male clubs to open their doors to women. Now, does the phrase, hoist with his own petard resonate here.

But that is not the only problem. The larger issue, the one that arises every time the proletariat rises up to overthrow capitalist masters, is that common proles have no managerial experience. They run their company based on ideals, not experience. In practice, this means that they wing it!!! And they make a mess of it all. Such seems to be the case of one Audrey Gelman, founding mother of The Wing, a woman who has created a great brand but who has no idea of how to run it. 

Do keep in mind here that Friedrich Engels, of all people, wanted women to become part of the vanguard of the revolution, leading the war to overthrow capitalism, etc.

So, it began with a flash of an idea in Gelman’s mind. As Hess puts it:

She envisioned a kind of feminine pit stop she would call Refresh — a private club where women could blow their hair out and check their email in comfort and peace.

Hess then describes the experience of entering into The Wing:

Stepping into a Wing location feels a little like being sealed inside a pop-feminist Biodome. It is pitched as a social experiment: what the world would look like if it were designed by and for women, or at least millennial women with meaningful employment and a cultivated Instagram aesthetic. The Wing looks beautiful and expensive, with curvy pink interiors that recall the womb. The thermostat hovers around 72 degrees, to satisfy women’s higher temperature needs. A color-coded library features books by female authors only. There are well-appointed pump rooms, as well as private phone booths named after Lisa Simpson, Anita Hill and Lady Macbeth. There is an in-house cafe, the Perch, serving wines sourced from female vintners, and an in-house babysitting annex, the Little Wing, where members’ children may be looked after. The vibe is a fusion of sisterly inclusion and exclusive luxury: Private memberships run up to $3,000 per year, and the wait-list is 9,000 names long.

It has been a great success:

In the three and a half years since the company’s inception, Wing locations have multiplied across New York and popped up in Boston, Chicago, London, West Hollywood, San Francisco and Georgetown. New clubs are set to open in Toronto and Seattle this year; Vogue ran a feature on Gelman and Kassan scouting spaces in Paris. The Wing’s ascent is fueled by more than $100 million in funding from venture capitalists and stakeholders including Mindy Kaling, Valerie Jarrett and Megan Rapinoe.

As you might guess, The Wing lives the gospel of diversity:

In 2018, the Wing introduced a scholarship program that extended free memberships to people working for the “advancement of women and girls,” gave health benefits to the clubs’ hourly workers and promised “long-term, well-paying job opportunities” within the organization. Forty percent of its executives are now women of color. As Gelman told Fast Company, “We want our mission to not only be expressed through our brand but through our internal policies.”

So, The Wing is not just a social club. It is something of a feminist workplace, which means, that it wears its ideological commitment on its sleeve:

The promise of a feminist workplace has drawn hundreds of bright and ambitious women to seek employment at the Wing, eager to work in beautiful spaces and in the company of women. “It was a pink penthouse in the sky,” says Raichelle Carter, a chef who worked in the Flatiron outpost of the Perch last year, recalling her first impression of the place. “Butterflies, rainbows, everybody working in unison.” Only later did she and many of her colleagues come to think that the Wing’s utopia was built to empower a very particular kind of woman; that it was in fact their job to construct the shimmering mirage of feminism for such women; and that it was routine for women like them to be undermined in the company’s pursuit of feminist P.R. It was “a total facade,” Carter says. “It’s just like any other company that wants to make their money.”

According to Gelman, the purpose of The Wing is to provide a space where women are being taken care of:

At the Wing, comfort itself can represent a kind of progress. As Gelman once put it on Instagram: “Women go through their lives taking care of everyone & everything, and there is deep relief in entering any tangible space where someone is finally taking care of you.”

On the one hand this might seem infantilizing. Everyone is taken care of when a child. On the other hand, it is strange that these feminists, women who have touted their autonomy and independence, who have insisted that they do not want any toxic male chauvinist pig to take care of them, are now looking for a space where they can feel cared for.

Anyway, The Wing is markedly political. Thus, it excludes all women who think differently. Hess makes the point clear:

The Wing was conceived amid great expectations for the Hillary Clinton presidency, but it was her defeat that sharpened the company’s sense of mission. As Trump ascended to the White House, and sexual harassers were unmasked at workplaces across the country, the concept of the women’s-only club was elevated from luxury to necessity. Members who joined for a refuge from public bathrooms were now also claiming refuge from the patriarchy. The absence of men and the presence of fine amenities became a salve for the traumas experienced by women as a class. Gelman began to speak about a Wing membership as analogous to political agitation. The news of the day might be dispiriting for women, Gelman told Entrepreneur magazine, “but to see women coming together and fighting back and organizing — whether through the Women’s March or in support of organizations like the Wing — that’s the silver lining to all of this.”

The ascendance of Trump allowed feminist women to ignore the fact that the nation’s leading enabler of sexual harassment is Hillary Clinton. It takes some serious mental contortions to arrive at this conclusion, but the ladies of The Wiing are up to it.

As Hess puts it, The Wing is a political movement, a political organization:

Like the women’s clubs, consciousness-raising groups, feminist bookstores and lesbian separatist womyn’s lands that came before it, the Wing’s organizing structure gestures at radical potential. When women convene together in the absence of men, the argument goes, they can psychically recharge, compare notes on the patriarchy and define new political priorities. In the summer of 2018, Gelman threw the congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a fund-raiser after her surprise victory in a Democratic primary. On Instagram, the pair could be seen on Gelman’s patio in matching button-down shirts and round wire-framed glasses. Later an endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez popped up on the Wing’s website: “The Wing isn’t just a functional space, it’s a real symbol of what’s opening in our country. [It’s] one of the most potent forces that we’ve seen emerge in politics this year.”

So, The Wing shows what happens when women are in charge, in a space that presumably excludes men.

But, the absurdities of political correctness seep into The Wing, and even into Hess’s prose. Writing about one employee, Vei Darling, Hess feels obligated to use Darling’s preferred pronouns: they. Which renders her normally pellucid prose clunky and barely literate. 

When Darling, who uses the pronoun “they,” joined the Wing, they had just come off a couple of service jobs at workplaces dominated by men, and thought a women-only space sounded like the place to be. But when Darling arrived in the sprawling SoHo location for an interview, they were not so sure they fit in. The crowd seemed very white; everybody looked rich. But Darling was assured that they were exactly the kind of person the Wing was looking for: a first-generation Liberian-American with a striking, pasteled online presence who was cultivating their own business as a professional witch incorporating Tarot and astrology. Within months, they were drafted to model shirts that read “THE JOY OF SISTERHOOD” and “EXTREME SELF-CARE” on the Wing’s website.

Being a walking grievance, Darling finds lots wrong with The Wing:

But after working there for a year and a half, Darling came to understand that their true value to the company was different from what they had first imagined. “It was only so that they could exploit my presence and my image for their own purposes,” they say, “to make it seem like they were more inclusive than they actually were.” In June 2019, when Dumbo employees were paid several days late, Darling wrote an email copied to Gelman and Kassan describing what Darling and their colleagues felt was “a toxic culture” of “passive aggression,” “disrespect” and “fear of retribution.” Wing employees “don’t get paid enough for our immense physical, intellectual and emotional labor,” Darling wrote. 

The Wing promised the women who worked there the privileges of membership. It was a gracious and generous gesture, one more honored in the breach than in the observance:

Most Wing employees I spoke with had ambitions bigger than their starting positions; the job planted them tantalizingly close to their passions. They were granted membership privileges, with access to the beauty rooms and the lending libraries, and they mingled with actors, magazine editors, political operatives, Gelman herself. The pitch to incoming staff members emphasized the grand opportunities afforded by the space. “These are the people that are going to hire you for your next job,” A.C. Smallwood, who worked at the front desk in the Flatiron location, remembers being told about the members. “These are the people that are going to invest in your start-up.”

And also:

Some staff members hired to work the front desk or run events saw their job duties inflated to include scrubbing toilets, washing dishes and lint-rolling couches. As the company rapidly expanded and new members flooded into crowded spaces, a chasm opened between members and the staff. While some members had friendly or unremarkable interactions with the employees, others seemed to hold them personally responsible for delivering on the brand’s promise of feminist entitlement.

Racial diversity has not arrived at The Wing:

Despite the impression of diversity promoted on the Wing’s Instagram feed, employees working events could find themselves to be the only black women in the room. Members and their guests could be casually racist. 

And it ran afoul of the gender discrimination laws that feminism has fought for:

After the New York City Commission on Human Rights began an investigation into the Wing’s gender policy and a Washington man sued over being denied access to the club, the company instituted a policy of allowing men through its doors. But when the leadership announced the change to staff members, they framed the new guidelines as an effort to generously school its community on inclusiveness toward nonbinary and trans members. “It was worded like someone had just skimmed the Wikipedia for Judith Butler,” a former employee says. But soon the real impact of the policy became clear, as men entered the spaces, tagging along with their girlfriends and colonizing the phone booths.

Personally, I think that a club for women, even or especially one that excludes toxic people like me, is a great idea. Now, The Wing should get over the jejune leftism and let in some non-feminist women. Or better, it can hold a meeting with Nikki Haley. I hope it’s not too much to hope for.


trigger warning said...

Womyn? Passive-aggressive? Perish the thought. :-D

BTW, Schneiderman, thanks for "matronize". Should I ever be openly accused of "mansplaining", an accusation that fits frequently, I shall reply "Stop matronizing me!"

UbuMaccabee said...

When wahmen convene together in the absence of men, it is a crashing bore. Thankfully, this movement has removed countless wahmen from insisting on being in the company of men, much to our delight, and relief. They will not be noticed or missed. Even dominant lesbians would prefer to be in the company of men; they find wahmen about as uninteresting as we do.

Sam L. said...

"In June 2019, when Dumbo employees were paid several days late,..." WHAT is this "DUMBO"? (Inquiring minds, etc, etc.)

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Dumbo is a neighborhood in Brooklyn... It's an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass.

Anonymous said...

You had me at chicken wings...

Sam L. said...

Thanks, Stuart. There's pretty much everything that I don't know about NYC. I was there once as a kid, many, Many, MANY years ago.