There was probably an impressive, expensive study done by professionals who never look at the prices on restaurant menus to help Wal-Mart determine where they should put their dressing rooms. I never want to meet them, but if I did, I’d have some decent feedback.
“Look, I’m sure you told Wal-Mart to place dressing rooms in the dead center of the bras and panties section to push more of their personas through the sales funnel, but I wish you’d asked me first. Not only was I uncomfortable sitting on that bench waiting for my friend, but so were those unsuspecting women when their ‘hold a potential bra purchase up to your breasts to see how it might fit’ session was interrupted by eye-contact with a Middle Eastern man sitting 8 feet away from them.”
I’m not the type of person who pulls his phone out when he gets uncomfortable, but I wish I had been that day. Not just because of all those ladies who freaked out (I’d be pretty upset as well if a bushy-eyebrowed man, deviant or not, was watching me buy underwear), but because of what happened on the bench next to me.
In case you’ve been able to read this far without a wretchedly awkward (and admittedly hilarious) picture painting itself in your head, let me set the scene:
I’m in a small town. I can’t remember which one, but if I could, I’d be respectful enough not to tell you. My buddy has ripped his pants and needs a new pair. There’s nothing but a Wal-Mart around and he’s trying on jeans while I sit on the bench outside the fitting room.
I’m avoiding eye-contact when a much larger, older man sits next to me. Thankfully, he seems just as perplexed by the positioning of these fitting rooms.
We make pleasant conversation in that strange, “How weird is this, right? Two guys sitting on this bench in this Wal-Mart, trying not to make everyone else uncomfortable as they shop for underwear?” sort of way you’re probably familiar with.
“You gotchya a girl in there?” He asks me.
I ask him who he’s waiting on.
“My granddaughter,” he tells me.
As if she were waiting for her cue, his granddaughter appears from the dressing room as soon as he announces her. She’s a young girl who came to Wal-Mart with her grandpa to buy some shorts. She seems excited. She holds up two pairs in front of him to see which one he likes best. She has yet to even notice that I’m there or that her grandfather and I had been talking. She speaks loudly and freely; she knows she’s safe.
“Which one do you like, grandpa?!”
I know this entire story has seemed obscure and pointless so far, but if you could’ve been there and seen the look on her face when she asked him, you’d have found it remarkable as well. Like any other child, she was eager to be delighted in, sought after, and seen.
“I don’t care!” Her grandfather replied.
I don’t know what made this man say what he said. It may’ve been because there was a young guy next to him and he didn’t want to embarrass himself by seeming to care about his granddaughter, or perhaps he genuinely just didn’t care about her, but I saw the joy leave her face.
Two arms that were raised high in the air, each holding a pair of shorts she’d just tried on, now clung tightly to her waist. She hadn’t noticed me before, but she was aware of me now. I couldn’t help but stare at the ground and try to keep myself from frowning as blatantly as I was.
In my head, I’m thinking, You idiot. This would’ve been so easy. All you had to do was have an opinion. You couldn’t show some excitement? But I didn’t say anything the rest of the night. My buddy and I left to go see a movie. I don’t remember which one. Or which theater. Or why we were in that small town in the first place. All I remember is the look on that little girl’s face.
She was crushed.
I’ll never know what it’s like to be a Woman. I know even the most accurate feminist perspective I have is still flawed. I’ve never engaged in any debate, online or in person, about feminism or why this person was/wasn’t qualified to be president or whatever else, but I went home that day thinking about my Dad and the way he treats his granddaughter, my niece.
I realized the connection between her self-confidence, the way she carries herself at such a young age and the way she has been affirmed by the men in our family. And while my sister and brother-in-law have done a very good job, she has a unique connection to her grandfather. More severe than all of his opinions on all other “important” matters is the intentionality he has with her.
He reminds her that being his princess means she can cure diseases as a doctor or build something incredible as an architect or engineer. He celebrates her strength and ferocity. He knows she’ll need it. He knows we’ll need it.
Driving home that night, I imagined my niece, or sister, or future spouse in the same position as that young girl in that Wal-Mart in that small town. What is the world needing that could’ve already been introduced by a Woman who wasn’t shut down before she became a teenager?
I became a feminist when I realized the cost of not being one.