How Stereotypes hurt us, from a personal perspective

If you’re like me, in any of the smallest of ways, you’ve chafed at the bit that is stereotypical roles for all your life. I struggled long and hard as a child with statements such as “you should focus on behaving like a lady” and “but you should wear (read:like) pink; pink is for girls” and “frills are just so pretty, I don’t know why you don’t like them – you’re a girl” and “but patent shoes are so formal and show class”.

Embarrassingly, I thought long and hard (obsessively in some instances) about things like why boys stand up to urinate and why girls must sit. I will even admit to experimenting a little with the reversal of that concept. We won’t get into the details… let’s just say the results were hilarious in retrospect, if humiliating at the time. Chalk it up to youthful ignorance of human anatomy. When I learned more about how our bodies are built, I heard the gong go off in my head on the why of that particular fact. Some of our “norms” are as a result of biology – case in point. A ton others, though, are not. Like how long we keep our hair or what colours we wear. Those things are dictated by society, not biology.

Something someone very dear to me said to me recently got me thinking. There are so many ways in which we produce cookie-cutter children and we are not even remotely aware of those ways. Why? Because it is what we were taught growing up (much in the same way I was), and we saw how it went for those who were socialised in ways other than the “norms” of society. Shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Better to be “normal”, isn’t it?

But I have to ask you this: how does that feel, that “normal”? Does it feel comfy to be in your “normal” skin? And just for a second, I want to ask you to set aside that “but I wouldn’t fit in” feeling and really think about how it feels to be “normal”.

And here’s the thing: some of you will tell me it feels perfectly fine. That’s the thing about stereotypes. They actually do fit some people. The hurtful part is when it doesn’t. We can’t all be the same. And we shouldn’t have to be. I am firm advocate for allowing people to grow into the kind of people they want to be instead of the kind of people society says they should be. And the way to do that is to stop insisting that they stick to the “norms” that society dictates. A 3 year old boy can most definitely have long hair and wear pink if he wants to. Objections to either of those are society talking, not biology. We have to remember that.

I applaud the trashing of gender stereotypes because I have never been comfortable with the “typical girl” one at all. And I think it hurt me far more than it needed to be forced into pink frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes and bows in my hair. It hurt because I was uncomfortable and we often associate discomfort with other items. For example, church became a consistently bad thing growing up because it was when Mom forced me into pink, frilly dresses and socks with patent leather shoes. That’s harmful – no matter what you think of church and religion. A child’s recollection of church should not be as a result of how he or she was dressed.

Do me a favour – please. The next time you think “Oh but that’s not very masculine/feminine” stop for a moment and ask yourself whether whatever it is you are criticising is a biological dictate (like urinating standing up), or societal (long hair and pink for a boy). And if it is societal, acknowledge that the reasons why you want to change them is not because it’s wrong, but because you are concerned about them being shunned, ridiculed, abused, discarded. Then allow them to experiment and choose and hope they realise that society can be unforgiving on their own before it is too late. Perhaps, like me, they’ll realise that to be vastly different is to draw unwanted attention to their lives. Or perhaps they’ll say “to hell with it – I will be who I want to be” and chart the course for new lands.

Remember, some of our most loved heroes and creative geniuses were far from “normal”. Maybe that is what it takes to succeed – the courage (or crazy) to challenge the status quo. Maybe that’s what we need to change the world we live in. Allow those harmful stereotypes to die the miserable, lonely death they deserve.

About that job I mentioned …

Remember me saying that I got a job using those supposed “soft skills”? Yeah … Well, I had to quit that job. … And … I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few weeks wondering whether my subconscious generated an excuse to quit because I was so dissatisfied with the job … or whether I really was too sick to continue at that point in time.

The truth is there were several things wrong … not the least of which was the fact that I was overqualified and I felt it acutely every minute of every day. When they interview you, they really only need to know that you’ve completed high school, have a basic work ethic, and can pass a drug screening. Nothing more really. Having some computer skills is a bonus, having some customer service skills is also a bonus … but not a requirement.

The bottom line is that it required basic skills but was tough as hell because people. Look lemme tell you something … considering my gross misanthropy, it’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did. Sick or not, I don’t know how much longer I was going to be able to stand sitting and allowing people to shit on me that way. Oh yes – there were some fun and enjoyable and rewarding calls. Sure. But there weren’t enough of them for me to work that hard for that little.

I tried to hang on … I really did. Ultimately, it’s always better to hang on to employment when you get it in this economy. The problem is … well, I spent all 7 weeks sick. The only week I wasn’t sick was the first one. Thereafter I was either flushing out a sinus irritation, or developing a cold from that sinus irritation or getting over a cold. In the final 7th week, the cold took my voice on Saturday morning and it was gone for a full 5 or 6 days thereafter. Which is kind of pointless for a job where you need to be talking. And they are very strict at this place … 2 absences and they fire you. Considering it was going on 2 days, I figured it was best to just quit. Within a week of leaving, I was better … much better. I hesitate to point fingers because while I know the building wasn’t the cleanest (and someone else actually said to me once that the ‘place was one giant petri dish’), I also know my resistance was probably low having worked from home for 4 years prior. It was as much me as it was the building. Regardless, it just wasn’t going to work.

Still, I learnt some things. I learned I absolutely can do just about anything I put my mind to. That those “soft skills” that I thought I didn’t have, are just unpolished … or unpracticed. But also … I learned I need to be happy in my 9 to 5. I was miserable – every day, all day. That is just no way to live.

So while I finish the degree and re-analyse what I want to do, I am back volunteering at the Dispute Resolution Center in downtown Olympia because that gives me a nice warm feeling deep down inside, that I am making a difference. Can’t beat the kind of work that is fulfilling … even if it doesn’t pay a dime.

Damn Daylight Savings Time Anyway

I’ve discovered one aspect of living in Washington State that I do not like.

Took me almost 4 years, but I found a flaw – at least a flaw that isn’t being 3000+ miles from home and family and familiar. You see, at this time of year, most of the US “fall back” and are on “standard time” again after having spent 8 months of the year in “Daylight Savings Time”. I have never quite gotten the explanation behind why we “save daylight” for the half of the year that we have more daylight – especially the farthest northern locations. It makes zero sense to me and even when someone tries to explain it to me, the whole deal just gets lost in translation. Ridiculous.

According to Wikipedia: “Putting clocks forward benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, but can cause problems for evening entertainment and for other activities tied to the sun (such as farming) or to darkness (such as fireworks shows). Although some early proponents of DST aimed to reduce evening use of incandescent lighting (formerly a primary use of electricity), modern heating and cooling usage patterns differ greatly, and research about how DST currently affects energy use is limited or contradictory.” My understanding? We did it way back when and since it benefits the profit-making enterprise most, we’ve never changed it. Who cares whether it actually harms people – right?

And it does harm people. Take me for example. This year, the “fall back” hit harder than usual. On Sunday, it was suddenly dark an hour earlier than it had been the day before. And between the dark, and the cold, and the rain … I just wanted to crawl into bed and never leave.

“Just SAD” you say? Meh. Honestly … I think if I were given the chance to ease into the shorter days, I’d deal with this cold, dark, rainy stuff far better than I have been. “Turn on a daylight lamp” you say? Meh. Honestly, just another way retailers make bank and I suffer. (Wait … don’t I make candles? Heh. Idea bulb!)

Anyway – this was the one thing about the PNW (Pacific Northwest) that I think I will never like. This sudden dark, damp, and cold that converge on one day a year when we “fall back”.

Can we stop this Daylight Savings Time nonsense now? Please? Come on – are we really “saving” anything?

Musings on light and dark imagery

I had an odd experience this morning. Two actually.

The first was as I was driving in to the DRC this morning … I passed a woman on a street corner with a huge image of a dismembered baby. (I understand that there is a Planned Parenthood is nearby and that this is common Friday morning fare … ) To say that the sighting was jarring is just a little understated. Three things crossed my mind in a matter of seconds – all three of which are extremely telling about me. My instinctive and immediate response was “Gross!!!!” My secondary response was, “Clearly never had one because that image is totally inaccurate!” And my final reaction was, “Well, it is her right!” Just as I had that last reaction, I turned my head to look at her, and she smiled at me. My mind is blown.

I mean, clearly I “get it” because I was able to say to myself that it is her right to protest. The thing is … there is responsibility in protestation and I honestly believe that if you are going to protest a thing, at least educate yourself on the facts of the thing before you protest it. And this poor woman clearly has no idea what she’s protesting … because a dismembered baby is just … gross! It’s inaccurate and it’s using scare tactics to solve a problem. It’s effective … to a certain extent, but it’s extremely damaging in several other ways. At the very least, it’s perpetuating an inaccurate image of the problem. I really wish people would learn more about the world before sounding off about things they don’t understand.

Still, it’s kind of perfect considering it’s Halloween today … and isn’t today all about death and fear?

Actually, it isn’t. And that is yet another myth. Halloween, traditionally, is about autumn (or fall), thanksgiving (for experiences, and lives, and loves), remembrance, and respect to those who have moved on from this world. Whether you believe or not, some think that on this day of all other days, it’s easier to contact and communicate with those who have died. For me, it’s just a day when I keep my porch light off at dusk instead of turning it on. The whole idea of celebrating Halloween with costumes and candy is still very alien to me. I still don’t get it. Not sure I ever will.

In any case, Halloween certainly isn’t about sick imagery of dead babies. Ugh.

It takes all sorts, doesn’t it?

Luckily on the heels of that experience was one that reminded me that there is solace. I parked my car in the lot and got out. I stood at the back of the car struggling with my bag and rain gear – not something I normally do. Normally, I get out, slam the door, hit the lock button, and head off towards the building. This morning, I stopped to look at the back of my car. Very out of character. But then I saw this image …

Signs of Autumn

Signs of Autumn

… and I understood. This was my reminder that there is as much beauty in this world as there is hate and ignorance. Often I need this reminder because I tend towards severe misanthropy – especially after seeing images of dismembered babies. (Ugh! What the hell are these people even thinking? Every time I think about it, it gets weirder and more gross!)

So I am keeping that image in my head for today … the leaf stuck to my bumper. It sounds kinda silly when I put it in words like that … but it’s a good silly. Autumn is my favourite season. And that image is the perfect foil to ignorance and terror. I hope these people find wisdom some day … and soon.

Late on Saturday night with The Walking Dead

Saturday night, after our outing at the Murder Mystery Dinner, I lay in bed beside my sleeping husband and decided I wanted to put on something on tv that would have me snoring in no time. I browsed through the Netflix catalog and came across The Walking Dead. Knowing that Sarah Wayne Callies (from Prison Break) was in it, I decided to queue up an episode.

Please note, I am not a zombie fan. My first introduction to zombie storylines was Night of the Living Dead and I had not been even remotely entertained. I watched that movie with a mixture of boredom, consternation, disgust, and horror because it was quite gross. But I think part of my problem was that I was amazed at how lazy the writing was. To me the whole deal was: conjure up the most horrific monster s human being can become, corner some normal humans in a building together (total strangers to boot) and let them struggle to stay alive through a night, throw in sim difficult personalities, and let one survivor walk free in the morning. Too easy. I wasn’t impressed.

Similar stories followed the same formula and I lost interest in the zombie story early. So it is that I am only now giving The Walking Dead any attention – after 4 seasons have passed. And it’s not that I didn’t know about it. I’ve known of the show’s existence from the pilot. If anything, I am intrigued that the show has lasted this long. Well, partly intrigued. We still have tons of reality shows, so that a crappy idea had lived for 4 seasons isn’t all that odd.

But back to Saturday night. I queued up the pilot and the first few scenes were boring and predictable. Some lone survivor of the zombie apocalypse encounters a zombie and shoots it in the head. It’s not until the credits start rolling that it hits me just how significant this introduction is. This particular survivor is dressed in a law enforcement uniform and seems to have the demeanor of lawman… but the zombie he has to shoot in the head is a little girl.

That was my first clue. This is no ordinary zombie story at all.

Before long, it’s almost 2 in the morning, I’m exhausted but now highly intrigued and on episode 3. It wasn’t so much that it was scary (and it was more thrilling than scary), but it engages you on a completely different level. There are real, rounded personalities to get drawn in by. Several story threads interwoven with the zombie head shots and swarms would interest the audience all on their own. The Walking Dead, it would seem, is a particularly engaging story after all.

I’m still trying to decide if I want to continue with it … I mean, it is zombies, after all. My least favorite paranormal creature.

I test drove a Fiat 500 the other day …

The other day, I test drove a Fiat 500; the 2013 version. No, I’m not in the market for a new car. On the contrary, I fall more in love with my SX4 everyday. So much so that when I got a letter from Suzuki international telling me about the recall, I jumped right on getting the information about it so that I could get it done ASAP.

Do you know that because Suzuki no longer has representation in the United States, all the people who used to do Suzuki maintenance figured it was cool to shut their doors to us Suzuki owners? I called all the listed Suzuki repair centers near me and the one closest to me, the one that was like 20 minutes away, told me “Oh I’m sorry. Suzuki is no longer in America.” Just that. Nothing else. When I said, “Yes, but as former dealers, aren’t you still providing service to those who you sold vehicles to?” And there was a pause and then a “Oh no. I’m sorry. We don’t service Suzuki vehicles.”

Uh huh.

So my only other option was the spot I bought the car from in the first place … all the way in Auburn. It’s about an hour’s drive from where I am. So I made the appointment and the mental motivation to drive an hour to care for my baby girl. (That sounds odd … me calling my car my “baby girl” … shivers) So anyway, I pull up to the office. I know it’s Sales, but I don’t know where Service is. Parked right in front of the door is the cutest black Fiat 500 I have ever seen.

A little background for those who may not know me as well … I learned to drive on a Fiat 127. There’s a lot of history in the 127 and just seeing the Fiat reborn just as cute, but modern is more sentimental than anything else. So no real awe at Fiat engineering (although I am sure it’s perfectly capable) and no real fanaticism about the brand either (it has been practically dead to the West for several decades).

While I am eyeing it, one of the sales guys comes out and asks if I’d like to test drive it. I resisted at first … because I don’t like to lie about my intentions. And I have no intention of changing cars. And I told him so. He winked and said “Doesn’t mean you can’t test drive it though…” So I demured.

It’s a cute car. It’s compact and because my sales guy was a little taller than my husband, I was able to see right away the first reason (and probably the only one I would need) to rule out the Fiat 500 for me. After pushing the passenger seat all the way back, this guy was still uncomfortable in the seat. He would be miserable at the end of a hour-long journey.

It wasn’t too long before I realised the second big reason why that car would be a complete no-no for me. We took the car out on WA167 – it’s a 60mph speed limit out there. And it was a fairly windy day too. That car did so much rocking and bouncing at 60mph for the few miles between exits that I just knew that the Fiat 500 is a town car. It’s not meant for the (relatively) high speed motorways.

All that aside … the car is a beaut. If you live in the city, it’s the perfect car. It’ll fit anywhere, the mileage is phenomenal (something like 40miles to the gallon), and it handles like you’d expect a small car to handle. It’s nimble, responsive, and fast. Just don’t expect to take anything with you. There’s no space … not even a decent back seat. I expect that while the trunk might hold groceries, it won’t hold much more than that. (I should have looked, I’m sorry). And the engine compartment … was crowded. They made the car just big enough to hold what it needed and no bigger.

To top off the day, they told me my car would take about an hour and a half to sort out – they were done in 30 minutes. It was a good day. I spent 15 minutes test driving for sentimentality and another 15 minutes munching on snickers and reading and then I could go home. Which is a good thing … because at the time, I was still in the job I mentioned and slowly losing my mind. Which is another story for another day. This story is already over 600 words long. Time to go back to homework.

So … I got a new job

Remember how last post I was talking about those “soft skills”?

Well, I got a job that requires soft skills. I am now a customer service representative with Xerox and I am in training. Imagine that. I better start learning about those soft skills real quick, yeah? Funnily, when I was doing all those beginning hiring assessments and so on, I scored low on people skills. So badly that had I scored badly in any of the other areas, I think I’d probably still be looking for work. Apparently, Xerox thinks I am perfectly teachable. For my sake, especially, I hope they’re right.

Frankly, it’s 2 days in and I have to admit that I am having fun. Of course, it is just two days in and it is still just training… so that “fun” could change to “oh-ma-gerd-shoot-me-now” real quick. We shall have to wait and see. I’m not sure what else I am allowed to say about the job here, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

But here’s a quick run-down on what I’ve learned in the last 2 days:

  • It doesn’t matter how bad a call can be, there are plenty of ways to handle it without it going off the deep end. And in fact, I heard a call go off the deep end let me tell you that with the lack of confidence I have in my own people skills, I don’t think I could ever screw up that bad.
  • There is always a way to help someone who seems unhelpable. (I know that’s not a word – I am creating it because it fits. Sue me.)
  • I am going to be drained each and every day because that place is full of high energy people and energy vampires. My trainer being one of them (I think).
  • Closing shift (the shift I took) can be bad if there are tons of calls waiting in the queue at 10:59pm, but it can also be one of the easiest since not a lot of people are calling in at 11pm Pacific time.
  • Never go into a situation with any high or low expectations – you will be disappointed. I was worried about the diversity of the place, and the class in particular. I didn’t need to be. It’s epically diverse and I love it – moreover, most of them are easy-going and completely open to discussion and conversation. (At least it seems that way so far – we’ll see).
  • I thought nothing could surprise me anymore…. I was wrong. I heard about someone on the first day whose behaviour shocked the living intestinal substances out of me… almost literally.
  • I can do anything I put my mind to. I am an introvert. I don’t much like people or interacting with people, but my behaviour these last couple of days defies that. I can speak out in class like the rest of them. Ha!

It’s going to be one helluva ride, folks. This is a transition like I’ve never seen before. Stay tuned to see how it goes.