I went shopping yesterday in The Metro at a mall that has a Scheels sporting goods store. As I walked past the boy’s department, I overheard this exchange between two of its employees:
“Did you see this coat? It says it’s a Boys!” She held up a dark pink jacket. “What are we going to do with it??”
“Better put it in Girls”, she replied with what I interpreted as annoyance.
I thought I should have said something; called them out for gender stereotyping, but I didn’t. I replayed the exchange over and over again in my head, and I hated how it smacked of bullying by proxy. They made a judgement of gender simply based on the color of the coat. What if it had been an eight-year-old boy walking by wearing that coat? In the best case scenario, they wouldn’t have said anything, but they would have had those thoughts. Worst-case, they would have said something offhandedly, i.e. “That’s quite a coat you got on there, son!”, if not something totally ignorant along the lines of “Only girls wear pink!”
My son’s hair, since he’s no longer under a private school’s appearance policy, has grown long enough that he can almost sweep his bangs behind his ears. He has protested quite loudly when the topic of a trim comes up. However, a couple of weeks ago, he told me that a classmate had said that only girls grow their hair long. Doodicus suggested that maybe he should get his bangs trimmed. I said we could schedule something for the weekend. I knew he just needed time to get over the teasing words of his peer. He’s had to do it before because his grandparents and aunts and uncles have made similar comments. I always quickly vocalize my support of Doodicus’ hair, and I would have thought by now they would have stopped hassling him, but apparently it may require the more obvious approach by telling them to simply fuck off about the whole hair-thing already.
But I wonder why I didn’t come to the defense of the faceless and nameless boy who may have fallen in love with the pink jacket. I could have said something knowing that neither of the employees would have been able to defend themselves against the crazy customer, not to mention I was simply an anonymous person they could later describe with scathing detail to other like-minded employees on their next break or maybe even in their staff meeting (I have no idea which end of the spectrum their management falls under, but I couldn’t help but pick up on the VERY traditional Christmas music that was being piped over the speakers during my hour in the store), but I kept my head down, so to speak, and walked out of earshot. I had a chance to be an advocate for tolerance and I wonder if I had had my son with me, if I still would have failed to provide him the upstanding role model of what we expect from him as he matures.