Strange Feelings While Checking Out At Wal-Mart

I went to Wal-Mart the other day to buy Valentine’s Day cards for Vale to take to daycare, even though she has no idea what’s going on and no teeth with which to eat candy (haha! all for me, then!) I was standing at the self check-out kiosk, scanning items, and debating between the hologram dinosaur Valentine cards versus Peppa the Pig (I have no idea who the hell Peppa is). As I scanned body wash and York Peppermint Patties I also wondered whether these days it is considered negligent to give candy to classmates on Valentine’s Day, as opposed to organic, non-GMO fruit or some shit. I pushed these concerns aside with some thoughts of back in my day! and Fuck it! Candy is awesome. Be a little festive for Christ’s sake! But my fears would later be confirmed when I saw a friend’s Instagram of the tangerines she had wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow a-la-Pinterest, for her son’s classmates.

As I internally railed against non-GMO, grass-fed, gluten-free, vegan fruits, I was only vaguely aware of an infant crying in a carrier a few kiosks away. The crying baby briefly triggered my recall of a time I was excited to make it all the way through a shopping trip with a happy Vale when she started fussing right as I pulled up to the check-out line; I sympathized with the poor mother.

Right when I decided on Peppa Pig, the woman in the kiosk next to me angrily muttered, “You know, that baby has been crying for two hours.” My first thought was, as to both the mother with the crying baby and the woman currently addressing me, who spends two hours at Wal-Mart? I responded generically, “Oh, that sucks,” assuming she was complaining about the noise, and also internally questioned, Wal-Mart is pretty damn spacious. Couldn’t you have like, moved three aisles away? Who stalks someone in Wal-Mart for two hours? But then she added, “Seriously, two hours. Screaming. Don’t you think the baby might be hungry or something? Ugh!”

Much to my surprise, the word, “hungry,” evoked in me a sudden, foreign, and involuntary feeling of deep sadness for the baby, and for a few seconds I felt quite horrible. I know of women who can pinpoint the exact moment they truly felt like a mother. I wouldn’t go as far to say this was my moment, because I don’t really ever have defining moments of that sort. Perhaps my emotions are so dulled, or my tendency to ruminate is so acute, that I let such moments pass for months before realizing their significance. In any event, for me, life is a series of small incidents melting together on a spectrum of experience; there are no “aha!” moments I can identify, in which I suddenly realize something profound. But still, I felt unexpectedly unsettled, as if an unfamiliar chamber of my heart had been revealed.

Recent Trend: Sexist Family Photos

These types of pictures always make me cringe. The first time I saw a particular photo of this theme, I mistakenly believed it was an aberration. In fact; it appears to be a recent and unfortunate trend in family photography. To call this “unfortunate” might not be most peoples’ reactions to these pictures. A more common response might be, “awww…” but it is unfortunate, because these pictures are sexist. If you looked at these pictures and thought they were cute, you are sexist. Whether you are a man, woman, goat, or cat, if you think this is “adorbs,” you are sexist.

Maybe you don’t care; and that’s ok. However, when women are taught from the day they are born that they need big strong men to take care of them, protect them, and employ violence to further their purported interests, it is not to their advantage, but to their detriment. These pictures were presumably taken to celebrate or commemorate the arrival of a daughter. Yet, the salient theme for celebrating the inception of this human life is not what goals she may achieve or obstacles she may conquer, but the many things from which she apparently must be shielded. The inane little chalkboards do not say, “One day, she’ll discover the cure for cancer,” or “One day, she’ll out-lawyer you,” or if we want to keep with the theme of violence, “Don’t mess with her- because she defends herself and will fight back.” They say, “We will protect her.”

From day one, the expectations from a female are not that of decision and action; they are of helplessness and passivity. Sit still, be good, and let papa and brothers take care of you. This kind of attitude does not bode well for a sense of independence, freedom, or personal responsibility for anyone. From what, exactly, is it that she must be shielded? Historically and culturally, men beat their chests, grunt, and “protect” their female family members from sexual advances of other men – even when the advances are welcomed by the women themselves. These attitudes are rooted in the idea that women are property and the sense that it is pretty much the greatest humiliation and debasement ever if your daughter/sister exercises sexual independence.

The words “Don’t Mess With Her” and “We’ll Protect Her” immediately bring to mind the age-old stereotype of men threatening other men who dare approach their sisters and daughters. Fathers advising harmless potential suitors that he owns many guns. Brothers threatening to throw punches at an innocent prospect deemed to be unsuitable for their sister. I say “age-old,” but that’s entirely inaccurate. I was at a dinner party not 2 years ago where a man proudly declared that he menacingly advised his 16-year-old daughter’s boyfriend of the loaded shotgun he keeps in the house. He shouldn’t have been proud; he should have been embarrassed that he literally mentioned deadly force merely because a teenager dared take his daughter out on a date. This is not valiance; this is psychopathy.

The idea of men acting as the violent gatekeepers to the sexuality of their sisters and daughters is not funny or cute; it’s base, animalistic, and does women no favors. It’s time for men and women who perpetuate this nonsense to stop behaving like cave people. It may come as a surprise to some, but when inculcated appropriately, women are entirely capable of making their own decisions, with or without the approval from the men in their family.

There is clearly a gender divide here. There are no corresponding sibling photos featuring older sisters and a baby boy. The ridiculous “protection” motif is exclusive to females, perhaps because there is no dishonor when boys deviate from puritanical expectations, and because boys are not property.

Women are people too. Your teenage daughter is going to kiss, and/or have sex with whomever she pleases. So is your sister, your mother, and every other woman walking down the street, because if raised correctly, women recognize and embrace their volition. They not only make their own decisions, but accept the consequences thereof. Get used to it, and stop romanticizing a culture that grooms women from day one to fear sexuality and to accept a demoralizing and pathetic position as an object for male protection.