The Secrets in Canvassing

From the July/August 2018 PNL #861

by Samantha McCormick

We are all told from a young age that it is what’s on the inside that counts. We are told that our inner beauty is all that matters. Sadly, in the real world that isn’t true.

For a short time, I was a canvasser - I went door to door asking for donations and letters to local representatives for four hours a day, five days a week. My job was to talk about environmental issues and ask for donations to help fix them. We called the people we spoke with “contacts” so as not to seem like sales people, but at the end of the day that’s really what we were. To keep my job, I had to make a weekly goal for fundraising and letters. It was not until my second week that I saw how much my appearance impacted my job performance. I decided to vary my looks on different days and see just how much my looks affected my job. I did the training for the first week of the job to get the feel for it, and then I started the experiment on my second week.  

The second week, I wore pants and no make-up, and had short hair. My numbers went up, but I still didn’t reach the goal. One day, I wore an LGBT supporting t-shirt. One lady wouldn't even talk to me; she said that the shirt was inappropriate to wear to work, and not everyone is as liberal as me.  I was a lesbian woman walking alone in conservative areas; in this day and age that is a calling card for an issue. In the small talk I had with the contacts, I never talked about my sexual orientation or my girlfriend- I was afraid of not getting a donation, and what could be said or done to me because of who I am.

There were rainy days where no one invited me inside. I had every conversation with a contact outside in the rain or bitter cold. I suspected I was being treated like a second class citizen because I appeared “butch”-lesbian. I would get nasty looks from people that opened the door. I was made to feel very unwelcome.

The next week I changed my clothing and style up. I wore makeup, fashionable sandals, and dresses. I also started wearing jewelry. I knocked on every door with the same smile as the week before, but there was a difference this week.

I got larger donations. I received more letters. It wasn't just the quotas I was meeting; people were more conversational. On a windy, rainy day, I was invited inside houses. I was offered water, soda, food, even an umbrella by many different people. This was the theme of the whole week. One day I wore a light blue breezy dress, a pair of white sandals, red lipstick, and used a name brand purse. I was asked out on dates by at least four contacts, the women that would answer the door asked if I was walking alone, and if I was, to please be safe. This was a huge turnaround from the week before. It made me angry that because I look more girly, I was now treated like a person.

Now, why is this? It was clear to me that my appearance affected my job. I felt that I had to dress and act a particular way in order to pay my rent and bills.  If I looked more like what some would say a stereotypical butch lesbian would look, I was not treated well and earned less money. If I dressed “girly,” I was at times treated like a helpless sex symbol and earned more.

I thought about  what this says about our society as a whole. If someone looks a little out of the norm, they are treated with less respect and dignity. If a woman looks feminine, that is interpreted as both an invitation to be hit on and as cause for concern for her safety.

We have a lot of work to do. Let’s take a look at what is going on right now in places like Starbucks. They called the cops on two African American men just for sitting there. A young African American boy had the cops called on him for mowing lawns for money. A baker refused to make a cake for a gay couple, and the state said that it is legal. Little kids are being put in cages just for not being American citizens. History stops repeating itself with change, and I think it’s time we all make that change. We all need to learn to accept the diverse people, and not treat them like animals. Reach out to someone different then yourself, and let them know they are welcome, and not alone. Let it be known that hate ends here.

Samantha is an activist from Liverpool, NY and graduated from Le Moyne College with a degree in English. She is on the PNL Editorial Committee.