Recently I was out shopping in my community for gift-wrapping supplies. I was trying to decide between plain kraft paper with glittery gift tags and velvet ribbon, and beautiful, intricate wrapping paper with a simple bow. I take choosing my gift-wrapping supplies very seriously. I also look forward to it each year. What I don’t look forward to is when gift-wrapping and rape culture collide, but that is exactly what happened as I searched for the perfect gift bag to go with a gold, sparkly bow. “Better results than mistletoe” read the text on a hot pink background. As the words began to register, I noticed that the gift bag was clearly meant for a bottle of wine. Wine gift bag plus “results” plus “mistletoe.” It all came together and I suddenly understood what was being implied. I looked around expecting to make eye contact with someone and share in a moment of eye rolling and disgust, but that didn’t happen. Instead I stood there asking myself, “What should I do?”
Looking back on that moment, I feel silly. People intervene and speak up in situations all the time that are much more difficult than one involving a gift bag. Many people go as far as to risk their own safety to interrupt a violent or hurtful situation. I have even been that person in the past so why did I actually have to think about what to do in this situation?! I have many theories about this, but also truly believe that I have a responsibility to speak up and speak out when I see injustice. As someone who believes that violence is preventable, I am constantly thinking about the role I play in changing culture and creating safe environments for all people. This is not always convenient and definitely not usually comfortable, but that is the point. Change happens in discomfort.
I ended up asking to speak with the manager. I asked her what her impressions were of the gift bag and then shared with her mine. What unfolded was a rich conversation about consent, norms, culture and what happens when violence becomes normalized. We also talked about bystanders and the importance of speaking out, but acknowledged how difficult that can be. In the end, the store manager removed the bags from the shelf and alerted the district manager. I was reminded that the opportunity to interrupt rape culture presents itself even in the most unlikely of places. Next time I hope I won’t hesitate.