By David Harris-Gershon / Tikkun Daily
I used to wake up early on Sunday mornings to play pickup bastketball with a group of 30-something men in Pittsburgh. This ‘over-thirty’ game comprised a collection of largely successful men still young enough to move without creaking, but old enough to show up to a gym knowing teenage phenoms and college-age athletes were not welcome.
For months, as a 39-year-old, short Jewish guy, nothing about me really stood out. That is, until I brought my wife’s pink water bottle after misplacing my own. Suddenly, I was noticed.
Taking a swig before our first game, one guy sarcastically said, “Nice bottle,” while lacing up his neon-green Nikes. It was the first word he’d ever spoken to me. I wasn’t amused.
“Where’d you get that thing?” asked another man as teams were being chosen, tipped off by the sudden conversation.
“At the store,” I replied, surprised by such clear and overt machismo in response to nothing more than a color from this group of 30-something business men.
When, after several games, a third man during a break in the action said, “You need to get rid of that thing,” I knew that I would not be returning to play with these guys.
After the game, I told my wife about what had occurred, and she encouraged me to keep the bottle, to carry it with me at all times as a defiant, yet subtle, display of opposition to our culture of male domination and machismo.
But there was another reason for her suggestion: I teach elementary and middle school. She thought that carrying the bottle could create occasions to, as an educator, combat those male stereotypes with which my students are being bombarded on a daily basis.
These cultural pressures for males to be dominant, aggressive and tough not only place destructive pressures on young boys, but have tragic implications for women: One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and someone in this country is sexually assaulted every two minutes.
I agreed. The bottle was now mine.
I made sure to place the bottle prominently on my desk each morning, and to carry it around with me, along with my coffee mug, when traveling around the building.
Remarkably, it didn’t take long for the first conversation to be sparked. On Monday morning, only 30 minutes into the school day, a 5th grade boy looked at the bottle in homeroom and asked, “Why do you have a pink water bottle?”
I smiled. “Why shouldn’t I have a pink water bottle?”
“Because pink is for girls,” he replied, laughing.
“No it’s not. I love pink.”
“You like pink?”
“Yeah – it’s a cool color. Stands out. Looks good with black.”
He paused, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away, then walked back. “With black?” he asked.
He thought about this as I held the bottle up against the black backdrop of the bulletin board behind me. “Would make good colors for a football team, eh?”
He didn’t say anything. But he didn’t say no.
I’ve been carrying this bottle around with me for so long, that I’ve myself come to forget that it’s (remarkably) an unusual site. Which is why I’m always surprised when someone makes a comment about it in public, as happens on occasion. In fact, it happened this morning, hiking through our local park to the coffee shop where I’m now sitting, writing this piece. Carrying it in an outside pocket of my backpack, a group of high school students ran by, likely associated with a sports team. As they passed, one yelled out, “Nice fucking bottle” as the others laughed in the distance.
I cupped my hands and yelled back, “Thanks!”
One of the boys turned his head briefly as he passed to give me a look of surprise. I nodded, and he smiled.
It wasn’t a smile of amusement, nor a smile of disdain. It seemed to be a smile of both recognition and thanks. For what, I cannot say. But in that smile, I felt an inkling of rebellion, of not accepting what we’re told to believe.
A smile that said, Forget those other guys.
Only, it’s those other guys who we must remember as we combat, each in our own ways, those male expectations of machismo that cause so much pain.
For me, it’s carrying a pink water bottle.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications. Follow him on Twitter@David_EHG. Originally posted at Tikkun Daily
bob dorn says
Two thumbs up.
I got used to wearing a particular kind of sandal made in Spain — living there a while — because a shoemaker in the nearest big town made them and all the men wore them; they were simple things, with one strap that could be placed around the ankle or in front, depending on how sloppy they got once worn in. The last pair I bought were a tomato red.
Once back home, I found that men were looking at them, then up at my face, then down at the shoes. These were practical, cheap and long-lasting devices, the product of a peasant’s world I’d been admitted into, and everyone wore them, including stone cutters, carpenters and out and out murderous mean truckdrivers. But over here they were gay. I hate to admit it, but I put them away in my closet. I keep telling myself it’s because the ankle strap is just too screwed up.
The kicker is, I saw them in the window of a Coronado women’s boutique a year ago, for a cool $80, about 8 times the price in Porreres, theSpain. They’re called Menorquinas here. And there.
Anna Daniels says
My Beloved has worn high top Chucks as far back as I can remember (40years!) but he stopped buying them when sweat shops over seas started producing them. Mother Jones offered a sweatshop free Chucks knockoff as a fundraiser for Code Pink. M.B. can be seen sporting a pair of size 13 PINK high tops around town. He never gives them a second thought and I never stop smiling.
This may have been a “big deal” a few years ago, but just watch a Charger game. Most of the players are wearing pink shoes; were carrying pink towels, etc. until the NFL stopped it. With October being Breast Cancer month I would be surprised if anyone made a comment about the color of your water bottle. Pink is a show of love; of support; it acts as a remembrance of all those people – men and women – that have had breast cancer; have died from breast cancer; and who are battling the disease now. As a breast cancer survivor, I admire your carrying the pink bottle. I think it may have more meaning than you realize.
Well said judi.
David – Those basketball dudes certainly don’t sound tough if they are intimidated by a color.
“Those basketball dudes” weren’t intimidated by the color, they were — and probably still are — just indoctrinated into “the way things are.” It begins with blue blankies for boys and pink for girls. Those who manage to progress beyond the stereotypes are few and far between.