Will I Do Better the Next Time?

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.

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3 thoughts on “Will I Do Better the Next Time?”

  1. The thing is, sometimes stereotypes are just shortcuts. They’re not social statements. So, is saying something always necessary? Not in my opinion.

    In different circumstances, “pink is a girl’s color” is bullying. I think you would definitely step in and right a wrong that you saw occurring. I think it’s important to explain stereotypes (good, bad, or indifferent) to our kids and to encourage them to be themselves and not worry about what anyone else says. But, it’s likely that there will always be stereotypes – and non-conformists are great at attempting to make sure those bad stereotypes disappear one by one.

  2. The thing you could have told Doodicus, if he had been there, was that there are some battles worth fighting and others not worth fighting. Not worth it to fight with those sales women, for ALL the reasons you mentioned above.

    But the fact that you stand by Doodicus’s decision to keep his hair long (and wear a pink coat if he so desired), and would come to the defense of any of your family or friends whose children do the same – now those are the fights worth fighting.

    The problem with facing this stuff head on is that people don’t like to be told they are discriminating. We learn in history classes that slavery is wrong and discrimination is wrong. What that’s done, though, is take the homophobia and xenophobia and made it completely subversive. Most people can’t even acknowledge the fact that their strong opinions are discriminatory. Facing it head on just never seems like it’ll WORK – because people are in denial that they are discriminating, or they “meant nothing by it” or say things like “you’re being sensitive.”

    So I play my own subversive game – I teach my son to be tolerant, and that its okay if he wants to wear a pink dress (he doesn’t), and I tell him he is lucky enough to marry anyone he wants, even if it’s another boy. And he’s going to grow up knowing that there are people who do all those things and it’s okay. And then he’ll teach his kids tolerance, too.

    I can’t fight with women like those sales clerks because I know nothing I say will really educate them. I just focus on the people who might be willing to acknowledge that they’re wrong, and I teach my son how to be openminded and tolerant.

    Anyway. This is a long way of saying that I think you are being hard on yourself. 🙂

    xoxo

  3. It’s hard to be in that kind of situation and know what to do. P is growing his hair long for the second time after donating it a year ago. He has two pink shirts:one dress shirt and one that lists all the reasons a boy might wear pink. I bought it thinking he might like it but then J was concerned he would get teased (this was while he was having such trouble making friends), so we told him that he can’t wear it to school because some of the reasons are kind of rude (which they kind of are). He wears it around when he’s playing with friends in the neighborhood.

    I hate the whole “color = gender”, because what people really mean is “color = statement of sexuality” and its implicit homophobia. It’s a freaking color. But I don’t know what I would have done in that situation, either.

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