…If You Don’t Believe in Gender Norms

On occasion I think about the time I was shopping in an Adidas store at an outlet. Or maybe it had been a Nike store. Anyways, fed up with the designs available for tops in the women’s section, I ventured over to the men’s where my mood immediately improved; I liked the designs available on this side of the store much better.

A kind looking female employee rushed over, convinced I was lost, obviously clueless in the vastness of the store, incapable of recognizing the incongruity between my body and the gender of the shirt I held in my hands. 

“The women’s section is back on this side,” she gestured, smiling, and I registered her genuine desire to assist me.

“Yes, I know,” I said, mirroring her expression. I wasn’t sure what else to say. She was confused, but understood my intentions; she told me to take my time and to let her know if I had any questions, any at all, before retreating back to wherever she had sprung from.

I was maybe on to looking at the third shirt when a happy looking male employee sauntered over. “The women’s section is actually back that way,” he gestured, a movement in a direction that had become all too familiar in the matter of minutes.

“I know,” I said, and I heard my voice betray my irritation.

I don’t know if it was an attempt to appease my evident discomfort or one to flirt, but the employee complimented my cap and began an endeavor to engage me in a friendly conversation. I don’t remember the content; maybe he had asked if I was looking for something for my boyfriend, but I might have imagined it to try to give the guy some credit. I was too busy thinking, this is how people are kept in their appropriate boxes, labels helpfully stuck back onto places where its original owner had intentionally tore them off from.

Gender is a social construct, I thought, and defeated, the words “I think I’ll go look at the women’s section after all” left my mouth, as if I hadn’t been there already, as if I hadn’t known exactly where I was, as if I hadn’t just recognized another instance of the reinforcement of institutional gender normativity.

I left without buying anything.