Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Christians Shouldn't Boycott—or Embrace—Target

(Photo: Flickr, Mike Mozart)

Since Target proclaimed that transgender customers can use whichever bathroom they want, the conservative response has been confused: Some insist boycotting the superstore is the only option, while others have proudly declared that they’ll still shop at Target (and stop for a coffee at the in-store Starbucks, another highly liberal company, while they’re at it). 

This isn’t the first time Target has been the target of boycotters—but, somewhat ironically, it was left-wing customers who protested the company in the not-so-far-off past. In 2010, after Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a political action group that supported an “anti-gay” Republican candidate’s bid for governor of Minnesota, democrats and gay rights advocates demanded that their followers boycott the store. The mother of a gay man was applauded after posting a YouTube video of herself shopping at Target for the last time, then cutting up her Red Card. 

In response, the company spokeswoman—get this—apologized: “Our commitment right now is in letting people know that we’ve heard their feedback and we’re really sorry that we’ve let them down. We want to continue doing the many things that Target has done as a company to foster our inclusive corporate culture and then look at ways of doing things better in the future.”

Something tells me that won’t be the response this time.

In fact, over the past years, Target has taken its pledge to practice “inclusiveness” pretty seriously—well before the bathroom policy began drawing conservative ire. In 2014, Target declared its support for gay marriage; in June 2015, the company launched a #TakePride campaign, including a video montage of gay couples and rainbow flags and a line of “Pride products” sold in select stores. Apparently, “inclusiveness” doesn’t include people with conservative values, even though only 30 percent of Target customers identify as liberal, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey. 

So, as a Christian friend recently pointed out to me, if we were going to boycott Target, we should have been doing it a long time ago. 

The problem? Conservatives who insist on boycotting liberal companies—more specifically, those that support the LGBT lifestyle, like Target—are pretty much going to have boycott shopping altogether. 

Each year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation puts out a Corporate Equality Index, grading companies on their tolerance toward and accommodation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. (Criteria include things like providing transgender-inclusive health care, supporting transgender employees who are transitioning—yes, that means accommodating their bathroom needs—and showing public support for LGBT, by, for example, donating to LGBT-friendly charities or actively recruiting LGBT employees.)

The 2016 report gave perfect scores to a staggering number of companies: 3M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Airbnb, American Airlines, American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, AT&T, Avon, Bank of America, Barnes & Noble, Coach, Coca-Cola, CVS, Facebook, Gap, Google, Hershey, Kellogg, McDonald’s, Nike, Pfizer, and, of course, Target—just to name a very few. In other words, if you’re going to boycott Target, you better be prepared to boycott pretty much every business, except maybe Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a. (Walmart only scored marginally lower than Target, BTW, with a rating of 90 out of 100.) 

Still, I don’t think the other extreme—embracing Target like an unrepentant prodigal son—is  much better. Since Target’s announcement, I’ve seen Christians, pastors included, proclaiming on social media that we should keep buying into the bullseye, because, as Christ-followers, we should love, not shun, those who think differently than we do. And that is absolutely true—if Target were a human being with a soul in need of salvation. But here’s the thing: Target is a corporation. A profit-making, money-driven machine, not a lost soul who might be further led astray if Christians respond to Target’s new policy with disdain, rather than tolerance. 

If you want to continue shopping at Target, by all means, grab a cart—but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that plundering Target’s Dollar Spot is an act of unconditional love and Christ-like non-judgment, because, sorry, consumerism can’t be equated with evangelism. The truth is, you’re just another customer who likes Target’s trendy home decor and cheap diapers—and that’s okay. Just don’t call opening a Red Card a display of Christian piety. 

So how can people with the same beliefs land on two totally different responses to Target’s policy? It hinges on how you answer a larger question: What does it mean to be in the world, but not of the world? This oft-repeated phrase comes from Christ’s prayer for his disciples, in John 17: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

In other words, we’re sent to this earth to mingle with our fellow sinners—and ultimately, reveal to them the love of Jesus Christ, while resisting the temptation to let worldly values overpower heavenly ones. Obviously, living in a sanitized, “sin-free” bubble won’t accomplish that. But will roaming the aisles of Target—or daring to drink a cup of coffee brewed by a bunch of liberals—really help us win souls? Conversely, are we to stay away from non-Christian stores altogether? Or shop at the liberal stores, while somehow distancing ourselves from their values?

This is a question I haven’t yet answered. But I do know this: We subconsciously absorb the values of the places we frequent. This is why we embrace church and shun strip clubs; send our kids to Christian schools, instead of secular ones; eat at Chick-fil-a, but not Hooters. Exaggerated examples? Yes. But just because Target doesn’t purposefully hire big-breasted cashiers doesn’t mean we’re exempt from the influence of its corporate culture, however gradually or subconsciously. 

If you're not convinced, consider Chick-fil-a—just walking into the place feels wholesome: The speakers play instrumental versions of Christian songs; the cashiers are exceedingly polite; and the restaurant makes life easier for moms, with little touches like disposable placemats for kids and the best indoor playgrounds around. (I consider this last point salient to the conversation, considering the central position of children in the Target bathroom debate.) 

The new Target bathroom policy probably won’t change my experience of the store that much, since I live in a small, fairly conservative town—but I do think the policy is one indicator of increasingly blatant, in-your-face liberalism that will color the company culture to a growing degree. Eventually, I believe, Target’s values will be on less-subtle display, forcing us to decide: Can I inure myself against the company’s values—or do I protect my family from overt displays of secularism? 

Personally, I’ll probably keep shopping at Target, albeit on a much more casual basis, not because I think the CEO will spot me, realize a Christian is non-judgmentally roaming the aisles, and rescind the transgender policy. I’ll go there because I like the diapers. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Is Target Placing a Target on Our Daughters' Backs?

(Flickr: ~ Izee. . .in&out)
Last year, Target announced it would stop categorizing toys by intended gender—a move that many conservatives protested, but that didn’t particularly ruffle my feathers. My one-year-old daughter currently favors “boy” toys—blocks, cars, and balls—and I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with her deciding she prefers princesses and tea parties later on. 

But, now, Target has taken its secular pandering too far, announcing on Tuesday that transgender customers are allowed to use whichever bathroom fits their “gender identity.” Interesting, considering 60 percent of Target’s customers are women, and 62 percent have children. But these days, protecting the majority isn’t the trendy thing to do—even though, regardless of their ideology, I can guarantee 99.9 percent of the moms at Target wouldn’t love sending their little girl into a bathroom with a stranger of the opposite sex. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

As we’re all acutely aware, the bathroom issue extends well beyond the bullseye—we’re in the midst of a nationwide debate, in an out of the courtrooms, about, essentially, whether men belong in women’s bathrooms.

Of course, proponents of non-gendered bathrooms insist that unintended interlopers—men who aren’t living as women—wouldn’t dare take advantage of the policy and meander into women’s facilities. And to some extent, I agree: Men who don’t want to violate a woman also have no interest in violating her privacy. 

So, yes, I think the majority of men will stay where they belong: in the men’s room. 

But the unfortunate flip, I believe, is also true: Men who do want to violate a woman do have an interest in violating her privacy. And let’s face it: Men who intentionally enter women’s restrooms aren’t there for the tampon dispenser or scented soap. They’re there to commit crimes. 

In 2015, for example, a man was arrested at an Indiana mall after hiding in a women’s bathroom stall and then attacking an unsuspecting woman. In a 2014 case, a man was charged with voyeurism after crawling into a women’s bathroom stall and grabbing a woman’s upper thigh; she ended up sitting on his hand on the toilet seat to protect herself.  Just a few months ago, a Utah man was sentenced to at least five years in prison for following a woman into a restaurant bathroom and raping her. 

And as you might expect, it’s not always adults who are the victims: In 2013, a Florida man brutally assaulted a 9-year-old girl in a Best Buy bathroom. 

This last case in particular (although all of them are horrifying) epitomizes the idiocy of allowing men to wander, unchecked, into women’s—and girls’—bathrooms. Apparently, making sure transgender adults never have to feel awkward is of greater import to our society than the safety of our children. 

We live in a twisted era where the plastic, hourglass-shaped body of Barbie is demonized as a threat to little girls, while Target is applauded for sending grown men into the same bathrooms as our daughters. Let’s pick the right battles, moms. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Amazing New Way to Buy Chic Secondhand Furniture

The rest of the room is a work in progress, but the couch? We're together for life. 

Last year, when I began decorating our new house, I knew that I wanted a curated vibe—a home that was the product of my travels, antiquing trips, and thoughtful decorating, not something I threw together with a couple Target runs. I knew this would take time (that’s my excuse for my half-decorated house!), and sometimes, it meant getting a little creative with my sourcing: I bought my dining room sideboard at a small antique shop in Baltimore, my vintage folding screen and kitchen chandelier on Craigslist, my dining room table on Ebay, and I had my living room chairs custom-made—not to mention the dozens of thrift stores I’ve scoured along the way for smaller pieces of furniture and home accessories. 

But when it came time to find a couch for my sunroom—a small room off the foyer with windows on three sides—I was stumped. The couch I’d purchased for the living room was, much to my husband’s chagrin, a bit on the firm side—definitely not one you’d sink into to read a book. So I wanted something super-comfortable, but with style. Enter Viyet, a website I’d never heard of until Google led me there. (I was searching random things, like “botanical print sofa” in this case, that I thought might lead me to an interesting couch.)

Viyet, a company launched from a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, is among a flock of recently churned-out websites—Chairish is another example—for buying and selling secondhand furniture. 

What sets these ventures apart from Craigslist is the guarantee of quality—you don’t have to sift through a dozen avocado-green couches from 1975 before finding a gem. Viyet is especially useful if you’re unskilled at spotting diamonds in the rough online: Curators—many of whom are renowned interior designers—review photos of items that users submit to sell, and only choose the pieces that satisfy their aesthetic sensibilities. If an item is selected, Viyet sends out a photographer to take a few professional photos of it, which means you don’t have to try to judge the quality of an item from a few poorly-lit, grainy cellphone shots. 

In the case of my sofa, the curator was Martin Lawrence Bullard, who was named a top interior designer by Architectural Digest and featured on Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators. In other words, I could trust that the couch would be beautiful to look at, but also beautifully constructed. 

Although I didn't love the red accent pillows (which I ended up simply flipping backwards), everything else about the couch caught my eye. 

When I clicked on the Viyet listing for the sofa, I instantly fell in love—it had a beautiful botanical pattern of birds and leaves, and looked more than deep enough for napping or reading. One problem: The listing was for a pair of sofas—and my sunroom could definitely only accommodate one. So I reached out to Viyet and asked if the consignor would consider breaking up the pair. Another request: The listing said that one couch was stained, and I wanted to make sure I bought the clean one. The seller agreed to both conditions, but I still wasn’t quite ready to commit to shelling out the asking price. So I made an offer—another great feature of the site, which allows you to negotiate with sellers. Two days later, my offer was accepted (and, in addition, I had a $100 coupon since I was a first-time buyer). 

This helped offset one of the more painful parts of the process: shipping. Unlike sites like Overstock or Wayfair, shipping is far from free—I had to shell out a few hundred dollars for white-glove, cross-country delivery (the sofa was in California). And then there was the waiting: It took a month for my couch to arrive. And when it did show up, I was disappointed to discover that the cushion had stains on it—not major ones like on the matching couch, but still noticeable. Fortunately, Viyet credited me $100 to cover the cost of cleaning. 

Otherwise, the couch was perfect for my space. And it’s easily the most comfortable piece of furniture in my house. Plus, its unique pattern lends the sunroom a garden-y feel, which is exactly what I wanted in the brightly-lit room. 

So would I do it again? Yes. The whole process was a bit of a hassle—negotiating, shipping costs, waiting—but buying consignment online literally opens the doors of some of the country’s chicest residences, giving access to furniture I could never afford brand new. That, to me, is far more valuable than the instant gratification of a furniture store. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Transforming My Hall Closet from Gross to Gorgeous

Before and after
My one-year-old rarely naps, so when she does, I get ambitious—and by ambitious, I mean destructive. A few weeks ago, during one of her rare two-hour snoozes, I decided to clean out a hall closet that had only recently registered to me as disgusting, when my sister-in-law opened it looking for the bathroom. That’s when I saw it through an outsider’s eyes: blue-and-white checkered contact paper on the floor, peeling wallpaper, and stacks of miscellaneous baby gear. In other words, kind of gross. 

After I started peeling the blue wallpaper. Notice the lovely contact-paper "flooring," stuck to a piece of plywood.

I really intended to just clean the closet out. But once I got started, I noticed the peeling wallpaper was more like falling-off wallpaper. So I started ripping it off in sheets—and only then did I realize that directly under the wallpaper was plaster. Crumbling plaster. This is part of the adventure of owning an old house: There’s no such thing as a small project. 

I'm kind of horrified I used to store my baby's diapers in here.
I didn’t want to burden my husband with another unexpected project, so I decided I’d have him teach me how to do a skim coat with spackling, hiding the horse-hair plaster. (Funny story: When I started finding tiny hairs in the plaster, I thought a balding man had long-ago been hired as a handyman, until I remembered that horse hair was a very old form of insulation.) But my hubs concluded that the plaster was far too uneven for repair. He kindly offered to take the closet down to the studs and hang drywall, giving me a fresh start—and a place to hang the secondhand baby clothes I’ve started selling online (check me out on the Totspot app: @thepinkflamingo). 

Demolition is under way!
I helped with the demo, which involved pulling down the horizontal wooden slats behind the drywall, and uncovering wads of newspaper from the 1930s. I even found a poetry lesson with handwritten notes—a discovery that reminded me exactly why I love old homes, even when they can be a pain to maintain!

I didn't find money, but I did find a super-old ad for underwear and negligees.
After all the demolition was done, Frank installed a new stud—one of the old ones wasn’t stable—and reframed the ceiling, adding a few inches of extra space and allowing for a light fixture (which involved running new wire from a neighboring fixture in the hallway). Next came the drywall—followed by spackling, sanding, and finally, painting—skills Frank learned from a childhood buddy who happens to be a professional dry-waller. 

More destruction in action!

Originally, I had planned to buy a carpet remnant for the bottom of the closet. But we realized the wood flooring hidden beneath the contact paper was in good shape—and after a quick sanding (Frank used a combination of a 60-grit belt sander, a 60-grit orbital sander, and finished with a 220-grit orbital sander and a little hand sanding), then a coat of stain, it turned out to be gorgeous. 

Isn't that floor stunning? 

We salvaged the original baseboards—although they’re a bit rustic, I liked the idea of preserving some element of the original closet. And lastly, Frank installed three closet rods to give me adequate space for storing my baby clothes. I love the final result—and am now considering “cleaning out” the linen closet down the hall! 

All loaded up with clothing!