A Sociologist Attends Exclusively New Albany [Southern Indiana]

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Yesterday's Exclusively New Albany event at the mayor's house was a fantastic success. Almost 450 people came to see the displays of more than 70 local businesses, artists, and organizations. The weather was hot but not oppressively so. The food was delicious and bountiful. Drink flowed, music played, bellydancers danced, and art was proudly displayed. The sense of community was running high, as the dense network ties among festival-goers was frequently evident...and now I'm slipping into sociology talk. But see, that's not the kind of training one can just turn off. And this festival was a constant reminder of gender norms and gendered displays. Exhibit A: the silent auction items. 

ladie's day out

First, we have the "For Men Only" basket. While I was busy photographing the "Girls' Day Out" basket, two men approached this one. They read the title, laughed, and one said "Well, let's see what we're supposed to like."

Exactly. This is an example of gender norms in action - a distinct cultural statement regarding how men should be and how women should be. These can be extremely strong (men don't wear skirts) or relatively weak (beer is a manly drink). In the case above, men (and only men) should be interested in a package containing pizza, golf, cigars, pens, and beer. What really gets me is the pen set. I mean, women don't write, right? What women would want a pen? Hardly feminine. 

So what do women want? To be pampered, of course. 

Girl's Day Out 

Oh, wait, I mean girls. Diminishing titles aside, the ideal women's day is about shopping, sandwiches, and beautifying. Men want to write and play sports, women want to shop and look pretty. 

Now, that said, I totally wanted that "Girl's Day Out" package. I love to shop. I love Mariposa and Thorpe Woodworks, and I've been wanting to try Toast. I've never had a manicure or pedicure, but I'm open. However, I also would have loved the "For Men Only" package. I love Wick's Pizza, and fancy pens, and tastings. I've never tried a cigar, and I've only ever golfed once, but I'm open. 

But isn't that the point? Shouldn't we get to decide what we want and like? The sad thing is, by early childhood, most kids have already figured out what they're supposed to like and adjusted their tastes accordingly. My daughter, at 7 already refuses to go down the "boy's" aisle in toy stores.  Which is particularly vexing, because the boy's aisle is where all the toys that socialize kids into science, and building, and experimenting exist. The girls aisle is filled with toys that socialize kids into cooking, cleaning, and caretaking. And so it begins. Where does it end? And how do we stop it?

I looked around at the festival attendees, and I see men sweating profusely in clothes that are not made for summer heat - heavy fabrics, long pants. Women have much more breezy options. But then I see women tottering precariously on high heels, trying to navigate the semi-rough terrain in shoes many were having trouble walking in.  

Gendered displays aside, everyone seemed to be enjoying the festival. As did I. I appreciated the opportunity to hobnob with other enthusiasts of all things local, while exploring what New Albany has to offer in a fun, festive environment. 

About Angie Andriot
I'm a sociologist. Mind if I watch?
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