It only occurred to me as I replied to a post by Honest Mum on Facebook (and I’m still not ABSOLUTELY sure, so subtle was it) but this week it felt like everyday sexism was everywhere.
I walked into Waitrose for Monday’s usual between ballet drop off and pick up sprint shop with my two sons, one pushing the trolley while the other went straight to the bananas. A lady I hadn’t seen before said, ‘You’ve got your hands full there!’
Had I? Well, I didn’t think so. The eldest realised we would need a trolley rather than a basket (I hadn’t thought of it as I reeled off the top-up items we needed, post-weekend) and he brought one along. The youngest had heard the first thing on my imaginary shopping list and had already gone to make a start.
I thought little of the ‘hands full’ comment, except that I don’t hear it said to many mums (we assume they can cope with parenting). But then I started to reply to Honest Mum and realised apart from the dad disparaging sexism, which I think I’m immune to now, was this surreptitious comment being made about boys going shopping?
When my daughter comes along to shop, I never get this comment. It might be coincidence, of course. But there was something about the look and the tone that suggested this lady only thought I had my hands full because these are boys, and boys don’t like shopping.
Boys don’t behave nicely in shops.
My daughter is ‘a good little helper for daddy.’ That’s the comment I’m most likely to get when I’m with her and they’re right, she is. Sometimes. Sometimes she gets bored and hates it. She doesn’t actually lie on the floor, though inwardly I know she wants to. Sometimes I want to.
But in reality my two boys were being helpful. Wonderful in fact! Making my life easier. Making sure we got back in time to pick up their sister from her class. It took a big leap not to see their kindness and exemplary behaviour, and I wonder if it was because the blinkers were already on that this lady could not see beyond her own prejudice.
At the checkout, Everyday Sexism part 2: I was putting the shopping into bags and my eldest went to take a token to put in the charity box. The cashier said very sharply, ‘Not until after shopping!’ She had clearly taken a dislike to the boys, despite, again, their perfectly well behaved and quite charming presence. They were boys. And boys in shops are naughty. That’s the impression I got and her curt, impolite manner confirmed it for me.
I said, ‘Why does it matter if he takes it now?’
‘It should be after shopping,’ she said, in the more polite tone that would have done for the boy.
‘But does it matter? You’re going to give it to us anyway, in about two minutes.’ She didn’t say anything. ‘Would you stop me from taking it? Would you have said that to me?’
There was no further conversation, except polite necessities.
All of this made me cross. I told my eldest that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that it was unnecessary for the cashier to speak to him in that way. (I refrained from saying this in front of her). In response, I said he continued to do absolutely the right thing, to be polite, though perhaps he was thinking impolite thoughts (and that was ok).
My boy’s Head Teacher stopped me the other day to say what a delight he is, never big-headed (unlike me gushing about my son here), never naughty, and that they will be sad when he reaches Year 6 and has to leave Primary school. He’s a sensitive soul who takes a moment out to think and watch the sunset with his football. This is not a badly behaved boy, but twice in every half hour that assumption seems to be made.
Honest Mum said it made her sad, and then I was sad too. This kind of everyday sexism is part of the fabric of conversation. And it’s not right.
As a teacher, I would say somewhere between 97-99% of the children I’ve taught in twelve years were lovely – if you spoke to them like they were lovely.
Even naughty little boys.