Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moms, Librarians, Cats & stereotypes


It all started with a comment. I was at work, the other day & I picked up a bag of cat food, to see if it had been priced or not & one of my co-workers asked if I had cats. I said no (I've always had dogs or other pets, even as a child. I think my mother was allergic to cats) & I asked why. My co-worker responded that I looked like a cat person. Curious, I asked what 'cat people' look like. He said "Oh, I don't know, like librarians. Kind of stern, with their hair pulled back." or something like that, I don't remember the exact words. I felt sad. Maybe it was the way I had my hair pulled back. I really need to get it cut (what would be cute?). Maybe it's the black, retro glasses, kind of indie or hipster, but they don't necessarily see the reference at work. Maybe it's the ugly smock or the steel toed boots we are supposed to wear. At any rate, I felt a bit misunderstood. Not unusual, I often feel this way. I really don't feel like a frumpy old librarian type & I definitely don't want to be the cat lady (one of my worst nightmares). Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being a librarian (we have a punk rock librarian somewhere near here, very cool) or having cats (beautiful animals), but this was expressed as a negative stereotype, that I don't want any part of. It got me thinking of my own mother. She was a tomboy, when she was a child. Maybe even mischievous & funny. You can tell this in old photos of her, in her grin & the way she often dressed. When I was a child, they tried to tell me that my mother had been a tomboy. I had a hard time believing that this was true. Sometimes she was unhappy. She had a job (retail) that she didn't like, to help with family expenses. She may have felt that she couldn't quit. Many of us now are in this same situation. Not all families can survive on one income., now or then. She seemed stern sometimes. Maybe she felt like she had to be this way, it was a different time. Women where told they needed to be a certain way. She (& my grandmother & I) have a mouth that turns down, at the corners, making it look like she was unhappy when she was not, this just adds to the appearance of unhappiness. That inner child, though is still there. It's in the way my mom  talks to her friends. It was in the generous nature she showed toward my brother & myself, towards our friends, even. Even though we weren't rich, we got many of the things that we wanted & our friends came with us on some of our vacations, at my parents expense, received presents like they where part of the family. She liked making us happy. My mother was stereotyped though & put in a role that maybe she didn't want, just like I was stereotyped the other day. Does this have to be an inevitability? At what point do we have to become old ladies, moms (in the stereotypical way), librarian or teacher 'types?' Is it when we get our first gray hair? First wrinkle? When we turn 30, 40, 50? When we have kids? I hope the answer is never, but after the other day, I'm not so sure & it makes me a bit sad. SAM

My Mom walking on a beach
My mom (way before she was Mom) & a friend 1940's or 50's
My Mom & me 1960/61

Check out this post on Scoutie Girl for more discussion on the subject of labels


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, people still have a really bad habit of stereotyping. Not all stereotypes are bad and can be quite helpful in figuring people out, but some people stereotype without really knowing a person well. I think the only way anyone can get away with stereotyping is have factual knowledge about an individual. I'm sorry the negative aspect of it happened to you.

Writing Without Periods! said...

Stereotyping is so uneducated. We are all different. I love your photos and this post. It made me think and it's only Monday.

Waterrose said...

Great post...and I know that people will always judge...we just need to be whomever we want to be and that will be the truth.

KG said...

I get the librarian stereotype as well. It must be the dark plastic framed glasses.

Great post.

stopping by from sits!

ElizOF said...

Happy SITS Thursday! What a great post on a subject that we should all read. Stereotyping is often thoughtless and the less we do it the better our world will become...
Thank you!

liz said...

that's a sweet post to your mom. i, too, always wore my hair pulled back, in a low ponytail. i ended up cutting it and donating to pantene beautiful lengths. and now i'm forced to do my hair everyday!

thanks for the comments!