Stereotypically Speaking

As I strolled past a magnificent display of world’s most remarkable and ridiculous Lego houses and miniature squeaking dragons, I could picture my father thanking the heavens for not bringing Hamely’s to India when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have tempted my inner kid so cruelly had it not been my mother’s grandfather’s youngest brother’s grandson’s daughter’s birthday. So, there I was trying to experiment with as many bright and bustling little machines as I could before I found the right one.

My public manners are usually immaculate but when I saw her, I could only stare. What was it about this salesgirl that made her seem so outlandish – was it her acid green hair or the sequence of red tattoos right above her eyebrows, I couldn’t decide. What stumped me the most, however, was how comfortably she got along with the children. (In retrospect, I reckon what really stumped me was the fact that in person she was exactly the opposite of what I had stereotyped her to be.) Possessed by relentless curiosity I began shuffling through the shelves closest to her without making myself conspicuous. It was right then a stout old lady reached out to her and asked if it was the right place to buy toys for boys. Gazing over the huge shelves crammed with all varieties of funky looking cars and fake spiders, the woman continued distractedly, “I need a birthday present. For my grandson. 4 years old.” The salesgirl smiled generically until something the grandmother said pissed her so much that you’d have to be blind to not see it. “So, what do boys of 4 like? Boys like cars, don’t they? I should get him a car. Blue car. Boys love blue things.” She kept rejecting all the suggestions the salesgirl gave her under the pretext of the toys being ‘too soft’, ‘too pink’ or ‘not boyish enough’. Evidently irritated the salesgirl finally presented the grandmother with exactly what she wanted – a miniature remote-controlled blue sedan car. I don’t think I imagined the spring in the grandmother’s step as she made her way to the billing counter, with her idea of a perfect gift in her hands. It was while finally handing over the wrapped gift to the woman that the salesgirl quickly hissed out the words she had been biting back. “How fun would it be if you spent your time actually knowing what your grandson liked than lazily following the stereotype?” The woman was offended to the extent of speechlessness. I couldn’t help but guffaw as the salesgirl undauntedly walked away.

On my way back, I kept thinking about the salesgirl and her comment. While I do concede her aggression was slightly uncalled for, I don’t think it was misplaced. How often have we let all the raging stereotypes make our decisions for us? Why have we so subserviently allowed clichés to rule over our niches? The more I thought about it, the more strongly I felt about the need for a rebellion. And maybe a children’s toy is the perfect place to start. Of course boys don’t play with dolls; not because dolls are girlish but because we never gave them a chance to play with dolls, and over that we constantly told them that only girls should play with dolls. Stereotypes have been passed on like inheritance, spread like a plague and mindlessly accepted like weather forecast. I wonder what apocalypse would strike upon us petty humans if we let the kids choose what toys they’d like to play with, without being narrow and judgemental about it. We’ve seen people fight more passionately against old age than stereotypes because it is a common and supererogatory stereotype that old people are senile and boring; hence, no one wants to look old. And where does upholding such miserably senseless typecasts really get us? Let me venture a guess – stereotypically, nowhere.

(Thanks to Teresa from The Importance of Being Reese for the featured image)

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