As I currently do on as many Saturdays as possible, I hiked Stone Mountain today. During my regular trips, I often overhear the conversations of fellow hikers. Mostly, it is chatter that doesn’t do much to engage my interest. Sometimes I catch clever comments or amusing exchanges. On this occasion, I encountered a family who was cruising across the mountain, towards the visitor center at the top. Two young children raced ahead of their adult entourage, competing for speed. A little girl called out to her brother, “You are so slow, like a girl.” I paused to watch them. Again she called out to him, “You are being slow, like a girl.”
Having read an article relatively recently that suggested that this sort of thing was bad, I started thinking that maybe I should say something. As the article suggested, I was thinking that little girls shouldn’t grow up thinking that there was something wrong with being “like a girl.” This seemed like one of those rare times maybe I could make a difference by saying something. I was nervous though. Who wants to hear feedback from a stranger? Nonetheless, I determined that I would say something to the parents.
I circled back, and approached the group of adults accompanying the kids. The two kids hurried onwards to the visitor center, and I thought that maybe I could say something to the adults about the situation. As I got close to the group of adults, I wasn’t sure who to address, so I tried to speak to them as a group. “I overheard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ and I was thinking that she should know that some girls are really fast.”
Basically, the group ignored me and continued walking. Having decided to intervene, and getting past my nervousness about doing so, I wasn’t about to stop now. I addressed the one person who slowed down a bit. Apparently the kids’ mother. “I heard her say ‘You are slow like a girl’ – shouldn’t she know that plenty of girls are fast?”
There it was. The mother stopped, and gave me her full attention. I prepared myself for an angry parent, upset that I was trying to give them parenting advice from some stupid internet article. I was ready to explain that I was just trying to help.
“She said turtle,” the mother informed me. Oh, I thought. “She is just trying to get under his skin,” the mother finished. And there it was. I overheard a conversation that wasn’t my business, and I misread it. I brought my own prejudices to the table, and heard what my own experience had programmed me to hear. The little girl was just comparing her brother to a turtle. She was engaging in smack talk, and I was the one who didn’t understand.