Yesterday I went to the supermarket to pick up a few things in anticipation of a winter storm that was supposed to go through this area today. I was wearing a long corduroy skirt with tights underneath and knee length black boots. I also had on a turtleneck sweater and a black leather coat. I had decided on a skirt as opposed to my normal jeans and sweater combination because I had a business appointment prior to going to the supermarket.
I will also mention, before continuing, that my hair is just about waist length and I seldom tie it back or wear it up. I have mentioned this because I was only in the store a few minutes when a man I had never seen before started to talk to me. He was a middle-aged man, dressed meagerly, and the smell of alcohol was so strong around him that it nearly caused me to fall backward. When I responded to him without being overly friendly or attentive he got upset and said, "Are you one of them Holy rollers that think you're better than me? You got that long hair and long skirt but you can't hide behind that church." I was stunned. How did wearing a skirt and having long hair make me anything more than a woman in a skirt?
Before he could say anything else a couple of the store clerks escorted him out of the aisle and a third clerk approached me with an apology for the man's behavior. I wasn't really shaken; I was more or less embarrassed and frustrated. I completed my shopping and headed home.
During the drive home I started to think about stereotypes and how people make assumptions based on appearances or even names. For instance, the name Barbara always seemed to appeal to more people than the name Gertrude. A man with the name Jonathan seemed to have some sort of exotic appeal while a man named Herbert was given very little notice. Many times we talk to people on the telephone and form a mental image of them just by the sound of their voice. I even thought about how many times we think of a particular race when we think of a criminal or someone who will work cheaper than other people. I never realized just how much stereotyping we all do.
That brought me to another thought that I wasn't at all pleased with. Do stereotyping and prejudice walk hand-in-hand? I remember complaining to a friend a few years ago that I felt buxom blondes with sexy personalities often land a job with fewer qualifications than a brunette like myself with what I consider to be average looks and an outgoing yet serious personality. I wish I could smack myself right about now. Until this strange man stereotyped me in a public place I had never realized that I have made outlandish assumptions myself.
A few months ago I tried to talk my Goddaughter into trying contact lenses instead of getting new eye glasses. She told me she preferred the eye glasses because they make her look smarter. I overheard one teenager teasing another teenager in Wal-Mart one day; "You gotta be Jewish! Just look at that big nose!" My neighbor and her daughter were visiting here one afternoon last summer and the mother told her daughter not to think about having a cookie. "You're going to get heavy and people will think you're lazy. All fat people are lazy!" I was shocked to hear that come from her mouth and I immediately called her out on that misinformation but I guess we all tend to define the world as we see it, or as we want to see it.
The truth is that we are all alike no matter how we dress, how we worship, what color our skin is, or our financial stature. Each person is unique, an individual creation, and deserving of their chance to be known for what they are and what they give to the world. I've never said that "all so-and-so's are....." but I have looked at someone and thought that maybe they had bad intentions because of the way they were dressed or the way they spoke.
I can't stop other people from stereotyping. I can't change what other people think. I can change myself, however. I can become more aware of reality and stop painting pictures in my mind with colors that don't exist. I refuse to judge anyone because I'm too mentally lazy to find out what another human being is really about. Blondes don't necessarily have more fun and men with big feet are not necessarily well endowed. I must admit, that last stereotype will be a hard one to give up. I've had fun checking out feet in the shoe store. :)
© Dianna Doles-Petry