Earlier this week a woman I know online posted on Countdown’s Facebook page to ask why the supermarket continued to use the terms ‘girl sprinkles’ and ‘boy sprinkles’ to advertise certain brand of cake decorations, even though the manufacturer of the sprinkles had long ago stopped marketing its products in such an antiquated way.
This woman’s post was perfectly polite and civilised – so gentle that you’d barely even describe it as a complaint:
“Hi Countdown. I was intrigued to see boy and girl sprinkles in your Hobsonville store the other day. How do these work? I sprinkle the ‘boy’ in the air and a boy appears? Or a girl, if I sprinkle the suitably pink version? Or do I sprinkle the ‘girl’ ones onto my boy to turn him into a girl and vice versa? Could you explain? I’m curious about the relationship between sprinkles and gender. Maybe, just maybe, it’s old fashioned everyday sexism. Perhaps you could revise your labels.”
Nearly four thousand people decided to respond to a complete stranger’s post with howls of derision, calling into question the woman’s intelligence, life skills, and general attitude. Many people claimed that she was complaining about a ‘first world problem’, and plenty of them also remarked that they’d love to have as much time as she had, to be able to use it by complaining about things that they didn’t like. Yes: with no obvious sense of irony, people took the time to complain about somebody else having sufficient time to complain. And several people also chose to further vent their spleen by sending the woman insulting and abusive private messages, just in case the deluge of abuse on her original post hadn’t sufficiently made clear their displeasure that she dared to ask a question of COUNTDOWN. Not Countdown, for God’s sake! How can anybody ask a question of a supermarket?! It really is shocking, isn’t it?
I just can’t understand what is wrong with people. What would possess you to read a stranger’s comment on a supermarket’s Facebook page, and hurl abuse at them? And actually, what would possess you to casually read a supermarket’s Facebook page in the first place? If we’re talking about people with too much time of their hands, how about those who spend Monday night browsing Countdown’s Facebook page for things of which they disapprove?
In case it needs to be said (and apparently it does): there is no limit to the number of things that a person can care about. We can care about issues like the unnecessary gendering of cake sprinkles, and also about other issues. I care about cake sprinkles, AND about the awful phenomenon of people abusing total strangers online! Truly, I’m amazing.
It’s fine if you don’t care about how supermarket sprinkles are labelled. There are thousands of things that I don’t care about, but here’s what I don’t do: I don’t abuse total strangers if they have different cares to mine. I just get on with my day, not caring. More people should try it. And to be crystal clear: I couldn’t care less whether anybody reading this post has strong feelings about the fact that this woman chose to communicate her concerns to Countdown, or what she said, or how she said it, or whether you think her concerns are valid. I’m concerned about the feral response she received from the general public.
It should also be noted that anything – ANYTHING – that involves people challenging gender norms, however gently, attracts a vast amount of shit from the general public. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain it. After all, 99% of the world around us remains resolutely gendernormative, particularly with regard to raising children. Finding a ‘girl’ top that isn’t pink or purple remains a cause for celebration for those amongst us who actually like the idea of our kids having a choice about what they wear. And it’s nearly impossible to find any underpants for boys that don’t feature bloody dinosaurs. In other words, there is no imminent danger of society failing to separate boys and girls for arbitrary reasons. In light of that, is it really so confronting if an occasional parent speaks up and asks that we don’t keep needlessly gendering things?
The trigger-happy response of weirdos on Facebook to anything gender-related also attracts the attention of the wider press, which is unfortunate. Stuff chose to cover the story of a woman making a gentle enquiry about sprinkles and the subsequent torrent of abuse she received. This keeps alive the story of that woman’s online abuse, and because Stuff shares their story links on Facebook and doesn’t moderate the resulting comments, they’ve ensured that a whole new group of halfwits who missed out last night can now join in and add their abuse. Heaven forbid there should be a single halfwit in New Zealand who doesn’t get to tell this woman how foolish she is, for caring about something that matters to her! And yay for the responsible journalism of Stuff that has enabled it.
The one good thing that came from their coverage was Countdown’s acknowledgement that the woman’s query was totally valid, and the situation she described will be remedied. Countdown’s spokesperson said:
“We absolutely agree that these shouldn’t be gendered. We are in the process of changing the ticketing as quickly as we can.”
This calm and reasonable response runs slightly against the views of Dr Bodo Lang, ‘University of Auckland marketing expert’, who thinks shoppers are too quick to complain on social media. I’m not a ‘marketing expert’, but I’m fairly sure companies have Facebook pages precisely so customers can interact with them, just like this mother did.
And I know that most of these people will justify their bullying awfulness by claming that this woman ‘brought it on herself’ by saying something. Apparently, if you choose to speak up about anything these days, it’s open season. This is what’s known as victim-blaming. Are we OK with that, as a society?