We went to the Alameda County Fair yesterday. I always enjoy going and since it had been 8 or 9 years since I had gone, I was really looking forward to it. There were some really fun things at the fair. Pig racing was one highlight. Comedy shows, the interesting new fangled gadgets they try to sell you, the gardens, the animals, the music, people, art - all of it very interesting. We chose not to go on any of the rides. We thought about going, as a family, on the ferris wheel but it would have cost us $25 for the 2 minute ride and I could not justify that to myself in any kind of way. My daughter wanted to do that "walk on the water" thing where you basically get in a big plastic hamster wheel and spin around on the water. I would have let her do that, even though it was $10 per person, but by the time we were ready for it we'd "lost" where it was in the fair and since Alameda County Fair Grounds are huge, could not see taking the time to search it out. The cost of food... well, you know how these fair grounds are.
We had a great time. And yet, there were a few incidents that continue to rankle in my mind. The most noticeable had to do with the magic show we attended. The guy was over the top with his bad jokes and attempts to be funny. But I kind of get into that sort of thing. The rest of the crowd looked leery and weary of his antics after the first five minutes, but I tend to be more tolerant, especially when I can see someone is really trying. However, about 15 minutes into the show he asked for a child volunteer. He called up a little girl. He kept calling her "sweetheart" and saying he was going to find a husband for her because she was so pretty. That started setting me on edge, but I didn't think too much about it until he called an even littler boy up to the stage to "help" as well. At that point, he said that actually the boy was going to be the junior magician and the girl was to stand there and be his "beautiful assistant" because girls aren't the magicians, boys are, and the girl's job is to stand around and be beautiful. I was stunned. Floored. We are in the Bay Area, for heaven's sake! Do people still think that here?! Do people actually get away with saying stuff like this on STAGE?! He proceeded to work with the boy and let him do magic while the girl just stood there looking awkward, and at one point like she was about to cry. I was sitting next to my eldest daughter. My other two were on the other side of the semi circle on the ground. I could see their faces and I looked over at them to see if this was registering. They both looked happy and smiley and like nothing had just happened. My eldest poked me and said, "Why do you look so upset, Mama?"
"Did you not just hear what that man said?" I demanded of her.
"Oh. Well, yeah. I guess that wasn't right, was it?"
"Damn straight it wasn't right!"
What was more upsetting to me was that as soon as I could reunite with the younger two children and said something to them about what they heard and if they caught how wrong that was, they both said, "Well, that's the way people are, though, right? They think girls can't do what boys can do and they think it's okay to say that."
"What people are these?" I demanded.
"Well, everybody, Mama." They proceeded to tell me stories of things that had been said to them not just by peers but by teachers and relatives and other people we value who have basically let my girls know that their prospects were limited by their gender, that their roles in life are clearly laid out for them because they are female. My son quoted things too, but interestingly, he, too, felt imposed upon by these statements, that he was expected to be better than his sisters in a way he knew he could not be.
"But I've been trying to teach you something different!" I said.
"Well, yes, we know. And because of that we tend to see these things while other kids probably don't even see them," said eldest. "But still, how can we fight a whole culture that says we can't be or do what we want because of our gender? A culture that tells us who we are as females? Who we are expected to be, and how we are expected to behave as girls, and later as women?"
I had that conversation in my head the rest of the time we were there, and no doubt as a result of that I saw other things that I might not otherwise see. At the "games" area, the call remained, "Boys! Come win a stuffed animal for your sweetheart!" At the cookware show it was "Ladies, these pots and pans will serve you well as you cook for your husband!" At the garden show it was, "Ladies first!"
I am a female pastor serving a congregation. Because of that I think it is easy for me to forget that we have not come very far at all in so many ways in terms of equality issues, in terms of treating each person as the unique person they are rather than as a male, as a female, as a this, as a that.
I'd like to believe that somehow fairs are worse than other places, but I doubt that's true. I will continue to try to teach my kids a different way. But I realize I'm fighting an uphill battle if the messages they receive everywhere else continue to be ones that make women "less" and men "more". So I put this out there as well. Notice the messages out there that descriminate and limit people of any kind. Confront the messages. Challenge the messages. For the sake of all of us, try to treat each person as the individual they are. Try not to limit one another by gender or class or appearance or race or ethnicity or background or ability or orientation or any other reason. It lessens all of us when we do this.