Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some poeple just don't know when to stop

I was at the grocery store the other night, with both Things in tow. Thing 2 really loves grocery shopping. She loves seeing all the fresh fruits and vegetables, looking at all the packages, and, when she’s in the right mood, being quite chatty with the other shoppers. At the very least, she gives out lots of flirtatious, “Hey, there,” glances, which are, of course, only encouraged by reactions like, “Oh, isn’t she cute?” Thing 1 isn’t as crazy about grocery shopping, but she is pretty helpful, and Thing 2 being on a little bit of a copycat jag, she really wanted to take groceries off the shelf and put them into the cart. Well, for a while, every time she said, “I want pick it” the item was too high, or too low, but finally, we reached an item that was just at her height as she sat in the cart – she got to pick the liquid soap. She was so proud. Just then a store employee walked by, and Thing 2 said to her, “Hi! I big girl! I picked it!” The employee was suitably enamored. Thing 2 beamed.

We finished our shopping, and went to the checkout. Just by luck, we had as our cashier the enamored employee. Thing 2 and the employee smiled at one another, and then the employee recounted the story of their meeting to the woman who was in line behind me. The woman commented that it was great that Thing 2 was so friendly. Then she turned to me and started to lecture me that I should not try to train my daughters not to speak up for themselves. I tried to cut her off by saying that, of course, I would never do such a thing (being pretty uppity myself). I was still smiling. She meant well by this, I believe. Just as every person who approached me while I was pregnant to make sure I knew that “Breast is Best”, and every person who has ever told me that I really should make sure my child had a hat on, or that my child was overdressed and would surely overheat (sometimes within a block of each other, with no wardrobe change in between), as well as all those people who felt that they should express their concern for the health of my back when I used to carry Thing 1 around town in a hiking backpack instead of using a stroller.

Then she started ranting about how much sexism there is in [New City]. She had moved from another region, where apparently there was far less sexism. I replied that, yes, there may be more sexism here than in some other places I’ve lived. Really I was just trying to get her to wrap it up. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s true. I think it has a lot to do with the circles you walk in. She continued her rant, moving on to the “Good Old Boys” network that is apparently running the town. Maybe she thought she was educating me. She'd clearly forgotten about the two kids she was initially concerned about. I turned to her after paying for my groceries and said, “Well, I’m a scientist, and my experience has been…” She drowned me out by saying, “Oh, well then, you must really know what I’m talking about.” Blah, blah, blah, a bunch of other stuff, and then she said, “You know the real problem in [New City] is all these immigrants. I mean we have people here who are cutting up women’s genitals back where they come from. And did you know that in Japan it’s still not illegal to beat your wife.” (Actually, a quick Google search revealed that this may not be true. Japan’s law is a newer entry here, that doesn’t show up on another similar page, and one can argue whether or not it is well written and packs enough punch, but it does exist) She continued to immigrant bash, saying, “Some people who hear this think I’m a bigot, but there’s going to be a talk at [Local Ivy League University]…” To which I said, “Oh, well I’ll be sure not to miss that,” and walked away. She kept talking at me as I went.

I was really angry, and it took me a little while before my head cleared and I figured out why. Sexism is when one person is judged to be less valuable or capable than another on the basis of gender. I have to agree that there are a lot of sexist people in the world, and it sounds like this woman had the misfortune of running into a lot of them. However, I don’t think it’s any more acceptable to judge a person to be less capable of treating women fairly because they were not born in this country. Neither is it right to blame our society’s problems on one particular group, simply because they are “outsiders”. That kind of thinking has led to all sorts of sticky messes (insert your favorite forced relocation or genocide here).

Yes, it is true that what passes for appropriate behavior varies greatly from country to country. In some countries, the general consensus is that it’s okay to treat women like shit. In some countries women are treated relatively well. There are lectures about this all the time. I would not say that America is leading the pack, however. And individual people, though they may be shaped by their environments, make their own choices about how they will behave. Some, as this woman graciously demonstrated for my kids and myself, make better choices than others.

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