A few weeks ago I walked into a store with my dad on a mission: to purchase pepper spray. This was a general safety precaution that I had meant to do for a while.
We asked an employee to help us locate the section where it would be. On the way there, he turned and asked me, with assumption in his voice, if it was for me. I said yes. Then, he turned to my dad asking if it was some sort of graduation gift or college gift.
A moment later (I think he could sense my annoyance) the employee asked something along the lines of “I can’t joke around?” I said no.
The red flags were flying high.
First, there is a problem when it is assumed that pepper spray is to be purchased for girls my age. Second, a gift? And third, it is an issue when viewed as something to joke about.
We reached our destination and my annoyance continued when I saw that half of the section was pink. For a moment I guess I had forgotten that I only know how to use things if they are pink. (You know, because I am a girl after all).
A number of the pink sprays were in packaging that displayed a photo of a woman. Some were even specifically marketed for women on college campuses.
As girls, we grow up with people telling us to be careful, because we are girls. We buy the pepper spray or the cat ears to put on our key rings. We have our phone in our hand when walking at night, just in case. We are told to watch our drinks. We are reminded to stay together and to not leave our friend alone at a party, club or bar.
I can hear echoes of numerous catcalls I have received while walking outside or exercising. But I cannot fathom what some girls have experienced – I shudder at the thought.
Yes, we should take safety measures and be aware of our surroundings. Yes, we should look out for each other.
But what if more parents taught young boys, and all children, that girls are humans who should not be taken advantage of or looked down on? That clothes do not give consent and that girls are not walking in public to be eyed down or catcalled. That yes is the only thing equivalent to yes.
Is this not equally as important? Wouldn’t it be easier to start at the root of the problem?
If as much time was spent teaching this as it is teaching girls to be careful, maybe girls would not spend their lives in fear of forgetting to be careful.
Maybe girls would not receive pepper spray as a graduation gift; maybe we wouldn’t need so much pink pepper spray.