Let me preface this by saying that it's not much about knitting. But because I'm still thinking about this episode a day later, and because it ties in to some themes that have come up for discussion before, I'm going ahead anyway.
A customer (let's call her "Customer A") was in the shop browsing, choosing some yarn, looking through some books. A second customer (let's call her "Customer B") came in to look for some buttons.
Customer B wasn't sure whether I was the same person who'd helped her pick out the yarn on her last visit (I wasn't). She asked my name, and I said, "Lisa." She looked more closely at me and asked my last name. I said, "Myers." "Oh!" she said. "You wrote the book! I've seen it in the library."
"Yes," I said, "that was me."
"You have a Ph.D. in English!"
"Yes," I said, "I do." It's difficult to know what else to say to a comment like that.
"Wow. A Ph.D. That's hard."
Now, at this point, I'm frankly groping. On the one hand, she's correct; graduate school is incredibly difficult and the achievement of completing a doctorate is one I'm proud of. On the other hand, I was raised to be modest, and I'm just not comfortable saying something like, "Yes, it was, and I worked like a dog to do it." Also, I'm not sure that it's more difficult than lots of other things--like owning one's own business, or giving birth, or writing a book--not to mention any of the very difficult things I have no firsthand knowledge of, like running a marathon or having a life-threatening illness or being a nun.
But while I was struggling for a reply, Customer A chimed in, "Well, but it's not like math."
Take a moment to consider your own response--spoken or unspoken--to that.
I'm afraid you can't compare your response to mine, because I said nothing at all. I was completely stuck. And frankly, it wasn't the rudeness of it that hit me first. It was the hypothetical Barbie-style sexism of it. (Remember the talking Barbie doll that was re-designed after people protested that one of her sentences was "Math is hard"?) Do we still all assume that math and science are inherently more difficult than the humanities? Or are they just assumed to be more difficult for women?
In a comment on a post not that long ago, I was taken to task for belittling women's achievements by claiming that knitting is easy. I disputed the specific accusation (there's easy knitting and there's hard knitting, and I don't think saying "We're all smart enough to do this" is dismissive of the effort involved in it), but I'm right there with the overall point: many girls are taught that modesty is becoming, and this can lead to an unwillingness to claim credit when we deserve it.
And I guess I'd have to say that the score was Sexism 2, Feminism 0 here yesterday--once because I couldn't find a way to acknowledge my achievement without feeling like I was bragging, and once because I couldn't say, "Hey, you don't really think advanced math is harder than advanced literary studies, do you?"
Why am I blogging about this, which has so little to do with knitting? Because I feel bad about not being able to speak up yesterday--and about hiding my silence behind some phony idea that, as a shopowner, I'm prohibited from saying anything critical or unpleasant to a customer. I also think that's why some people around here didn't want me to blog about it: the point is not the anonymity of the customer(s), but the taboo against saying anything negative to or about any customer, ever. It's fascinating to me the way traditional retail policy dovetails with a traditionally "feminine" upbringing.
Sorry, no tidy insightful conclusion is forthcoming. But I promise that the next post will have knitting, and pictures.