Tall, Blonde or Americano? A Starbucks coffee is part and parcel of everyday life. Sadly, for women, so is everyday sexism. This is a story about what happens when the two collide.
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet. Apart from we’re in the grip of a sweltering heatwave, and it’s open season on sexism, which means as well as fighting to keep our rooms cool, our makeup intact and thigh chafing at bay, we’ve also got to deal with the inevitable onslaught of sexual harassment that comes when we decide we’d like our skin to breathe in a summer dress.
Whatever the weather though, there’s seemingly no respite from sexism. And thanks to a toxic email comparing women to coffee that’s doing the rounds right now, your temperature’s only about to rise.
Yes, your eyes did not deceive you. Yes, you read that correctly. Coffee. “Tall, Blonde, Americano” coffee, to be precise.
Prepare to rage, because a Starbucks executive has called out a salesperson for what he described as a “blatant example of sexism” after he received an email comparing women to Starbucks coffee.
In case you’re wondering why said sexist salesperson decided upon Starbucks as a point of reference, David Brunelle, who shared the email on social media, is a director of product engineering at the coffee chain. So offended was he by the email (and rightly so) that he decided to post the incriminating message on Twitter for the world to see.
“Here’s a blatant example of sexism in an email from a salesman this morning,” he began, before quoting the email.
“I can’t help myself, what’s your go-to order at Starbucks,” the email read. “I like my women like I like my Starbucks order: Tall, Blonde, Americano…”
As we all know, men often struggle calling sexism out publicly, especially when the circumstances are unfavourable, or they’re concerned about how they’ll perceived by friends or colleagues. That’s exactly what Brunelle proceeded to do though, giving a masterclass in exactly how men should be calling out casual sexism when it occurs.
“You lost me with this line: ‘I like my women like I like my Starbucks Coffee order: Tall Blonde, Americano…’,” Brunelle’s takedown began. “Tech can be a challenging place for women. Your statement perpetuates the mindset that women are here for our entertainment. I don’t believe that to be true.
“This type of statement also makes a few dangerous assumptions: That I’m heterosexual and will relate to the objectification of women. That I’m cisgender and haven’t personally been objectified/alienated. That I’d feel comfortable objectifying women behind closed doors.”
Brunelle was just warming up, though. When your company boasts unequivocal tolerance and inclusion, he continued, you have a fundamental obligation to enforce that policy. Practising what you preach, in other words.
“One of my company’s values, that I am deeply committed to upholding is ‘Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.’ I’m also dedicated to increasing diversity in technology. In order to increase the number of women and minorities in this field, we need to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and supported.”
Then for the mic drop: “It doesn’t seem like our values align.”
Brunelle wasn’t done yet though. Continuing his Twitter thread, he speculated how many other times men had been allowed to get away with bad behaviour, because of how patriarchal culture (surprise!) upholds pervasive gender inequality. “It makes me wonder: How many times has this tactic worked? How many men received a similar email and ignored it or, worse, thought it was funny/ harmless?”
Brunelle then issues a rallying call to all those men who sit quietly in the background when this type of behaviour goes down.
“Men: Call each other out. Don’t normalise this type of behaviour. Make sexists the ones who are alienated, not women.”
Nevertheless, one Twitter user still needed further clarification why Brunelle was bringing this dirt to the light. “While I 100% agree with the spirit of your response why the need for a tweet? Does Twitter really need to be the fly on the wall in every conversation?” they asked.
Once more for the users lurking in the back of the Twitterverse, Brunelle emphasised that giving the comments a free pass would have amounted to dangerous complicity, and therefore further legitimised institutional sexism. By sharing the email, he continued, he hoped to encourage men in similar predicaments to cultivate a model of accountability.
Brunelle then responded with three points: “To demonstrate that folks from under represented groups have allies,” he wrote. “To show men that have yet to internalise the lesson yet: sexism/racism is not ok. “To model what it looks like to hold each other accountable.”
Brunelle added that he’d also taken the decision to share the salesperson’s email with the company’s CEO and VP of Sales, in a further effort to ensure the toxic culture did not spread further afield.
“After careful consideration, I decided to share this email with the company’s CEO and VP of Sales,” Brunelle said. “I suggested this person be given an opportunity to receive training and contribute to D&I efforts vs. being punished. This type of attitude is just too problematic to brush off.”
Brunelle’s response is a lesson to all those men who consider themselves allies of women, but stay silent when sexist behaviour and gendered commentary occurs in their presence. Women cannot challenge problematic norms all by themselves, and by that same token, men cannot be bystanders when they have significant power to help change the status quo. Together, we need to confront toxic behaviour, and create a freer culture that tolerates nothing but the equal treatment of women.