Before we get into that, some background: I love comic books. Not exclusively hero comics, but they were my gateway and I still read plenty. One of my favorites is Matt Fraction and David Aja's run on Marvel's Hawkeye. The book follows the titular character's day-to-day when he is out of uniform, when he is Clint Barton rather than Hawkeye. It is a book that, by Fraction's own admission in interviews, should not have worked. But it did. Its sincerity and humor connected with readers on an epic scale, and I am one of them.
In fact, due to my apparent penchant for falling and his tendency to be busted, I've assumed the mantle of, "the Clint Barton of cycling." I think I wear it well, albeit painfully. More often than not, I ride in one of my myriad purple Hawkeye shirts (all from the collection Fraction curates for WeLoveFine to benefit Futures Without Violence). If you see me, say hi. Just be prepared for me to possibly do myself harm in trying to return the greeting.
So, naturally, when I discovered that Marvel Select had just released a Hawkeye figure from the Fraction/Aja run, complete with Lucky the Pizza Dog and alternate bandaged head, I had to make it happen.
I'm a toy person, but this was my first action figure purchase in a while. Budget/space concerns and an irritating but growing sense of practicality have made me much more selective over the past couple years. I don't like the way most are designed these days, and the high end figures - while beautiful works of art - are way out of my price range. So this was kind of a big deal. And you cannot imagine my delight when I laid eyes on this magnificent, lovingly detailed bastard.
Side note: Yes, that is my very professional grown-up workspace. You can also see some of my Avengers Minimates, a Rocket Raccoon Pop vinyl, the Manchester United door poster that traveled from Ireland to San Francisco to Seattle and back to San Francisco (there is a hole in it that I'm in denial about), the Tim Lincecum jersey I got signed at Spring Training in 2010 that I still have not framed, and two bottles of my favorite bourbon. Don't worry. They don't make it anymore. I opened one of those bottles in December and toasted the end of The Legend of Korra with my best friend. It's for special occasions only, obviously.
That should be it, right? Just a fun story about one grown-up lady buying an action figure with her grown-up lady money to put on her grown-up lady desk. But it's a little more complicated than that.
When it was my turn to check out, I handed the package to the cashier. He smiled and cheerfully asked me if I was excited about Age of Ultron. I said I was, and we chatted a little. Then, he asked, "So, you're a big Hawkeye girl? Jeremy Renner and his bow and arrows are your thing?"
I was taken aback for a minute. I hadn't been asked a question like that in a really long time.
"I'm a fan of the comics," I responded, "And Black Widow is really more my type."
I said it kindly and made sure it was clear that I wasn't mad - because I wasn't. This guy obviously had no ill intent - he was trying to make friendly conversation, which is what retail requires of us all. He'd just gone about it the wrong way, and I let him know it.
For the record, my answer to his accidentally leading questions was honest - I was buying the figure specifically because it was comic book Clint, not movie Clint - not knocking him, we just don't have the same connection. And I'm 100% more attracted to the Widow.
The cashier looked at me and made an assumption. Female customer, male character, she must think he's hot.* Let's agree that if the character were female, or if I were male, the conversation would've been different. That, ladies and gentlemen, is sexism. Gentle, non-threatening, probably accidental sexism. But.
We do this everyday - I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. We look at people and we try to sort them, place them, categorize them. We make assumptions and judgments about race, gender, orientation, and so many other things. We impose our own perceptions on other people based on information we think we have, and we miss opportunities to really see them.
Sometimes, we do it on purpose. That sucks.
Most of the time, we do it without even realizing it, usually with little things. That might be worse. It's easier to let ourselves off the hook for these small, seemingly harmless transgressions.
Learning to ask people who they are and really let them tell us is a process. We need to have patience when others make mistakes, but we also need to play some part in correcting them. We need to own that we ourselves makes mistakes and that we can learn from them.
I let my cashier know that I existed outside of the box he assigned me, and he responded in kind. We talked about the comics I loved and his own Widow crush. It was great.
How could we have arrived at the same awesome place with less sexist beginnings? He could have led with, "Is Hawkeye your favorite?" Same friendly interest, no accidental assumptions about my motives or orientation based on my gender.
Easy fix, but it can be hard to get into the habit of resetting your defaults.
I think we're all up to the challenge, though.
*To clarify, there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving a character and buying said character's merch because you find him/her attractive.