16. Salespersons and Policing Gender Norms

Just Give Me the Pink iPod, Dammit

metamorphosis_shopping_bags.pngIn January 2012 I wanted to buy an iPod nano, mostly for my new exercise program (successful, by the way). I like to do these things in person, so I went to the nearby FutureShop. This store has really declined in its customer service, I think. Although sales “associates” still work on commission, it’s almost impossible to find someone to help you these days. After a couple minutes expecting someone to find me, I went looking for a salesperson, and I found one: a male around 35, I’d guess.

Here’s the thing, I wanted the pink one: it’s one of my favourite colours. And being early in my transition, this was one of the very first purchasing decisions I would make that would begin to signify my female self. What I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t going to let myself “chicken out,” as they say, and not get the one that I wanted. I was tired of making decisions based on how others would perceive them. So I asked for the pink one.

The salesperson had to get it from the bottom shelf, which required opening a cabinet and going down into a baseball catcher’s squat. But while down there, he asked me if this was for me, and before I could even answer, he said, “No, probably not, right?” while giving me a sideways smile, glance, and wink.

I was dumbstruck, actually dumbstruck. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled and nodded. I regretted my reaction immediately: I wish I had said, “Of course it’s for me, but it’s really none of your damned business, and what you just said was offensive.” I also had half a mind to kick him while he was still down in the squat, but I thought better of that.

People think that these sorts of sexist and genderist comments are cute and playful: they’re not. They’re offensive, and not just to me. This is why little boys get beaten up for having a pink backpack, or girls get shit when they want to play with trucks or get muddy. It’s why female athletes get called lesbians, and why boys with emotions get called sissies or fags. These little insipid comments are one of the more powerful means we have of enforcing gender stereotypes, often because they’re so ubiquitous and made without aforethought.

Thankfully, I’m so much further in my transition and at a level of confidence where I can easily, straight-up confront crap like this. You want another way to be a good ally? Even if you’re not personally offended by comments like these, speak up and tell them that they’re still offensive: anyone can have pink things, and anyone can play with trucks.

Here’s some homework: think of the last couple times you made a comment that amounted to policing gender norms. Maybe you made fun of a girl for how she “walked like a man,” or for a boy showing some emotion; maybe you made a comment about how girls are bad at sports, or how guys don’t know how to clean. Maybe you could leave a comment with your story. I’d like that.

Oh, and check this out: this mom’s awesome!

Yours truly,