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Every year at this time, right-wingers from all over the country gather round the warm hearths of poorly thought out thinkpieces in order to celebrate the birth of Christ and also list the many ways that those in the service industry have failed them. Did a store clerk say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Well fuck them and their inability to psychically determine the religion of each customer! Did a barista serve coffee in a cup that was not quite festive enough? Then why not, when they ask for your name, tell them it is Merry Christmas Jesus Is The Best YAY JESUS and glare at them as they write the whole thing out on your peppermint mocha. They know what they did.

This year we have a new tale of consumer woe. The aptly named Maureen Mallarkey, who writes for The Federalist, went to a toy store to get Christmas presents for a three-year-old boy, when a clerk had the gall to offer her a thing she did not want to buy. Can you imagine? And worst of all, the thing this clerk wanted her to buy for this boy -- this manly, manly three-year-old boy -- was a tea set. A.

Tea.

SET.


Would you buy a tea set for a three-year-old boy? Neither would I. But the saleswoman in an upscale toy store recommended one to me. I had told her the age and sex of the giftee when I asked her to point me to a suitable section in a tumble of displays. Reluctant to let me browse alone through fake mustaches, wooden puzzles, and Fisher-Price gear, the clerk insisted on being helpful.

What? A sales clerk who for some reason thinks it is her job to sell you shit? Oh, do go on!

She held up a boxed tea service. Inside was a round-bellied polypropylene pot and four miniature cups and saucers in watery pastels. Considering the sex of the recipient, even the washed-out color seemed emblematic.

"It's quite adorable," she purred.

"No, thank you. Not for a boy."

"My son has one."

Poor kid! Did I imagine it, or did she deliver that in a tone that signaled superior consciousness? Tea sets are paraphernalia for playing house, the hallowed pastime for girls. Was this mother of a son taking a stand against "gender apartheid," the still-kicking bugbear of Gloria Allred and co.? The whiff of it rankled me.

This was a very difficult situation for her. I cannot imagine it is easy to go around being constantly rankled by the "whiffs" of people you suspect think they are better than you but actually are just people trying to do their damn jobs and sell you some shit.

But she was not about to take that kind of guff from some shopgirl on a mission to castrate this young boy! No Sir!

"No, honestly, I'd rather get him a cap pistol."

I just had to say that. Churlish of me, maybe, but who did she think a preschool boy would be serving tea to?

Uh, I don't know. Who does Mullarkey think a preschool girl is serving tea to? The Queen of England? And who is a preschool boy shooting?

Wait. Pretend I didn't ask. That is actually a thing that happens regularly.

Anyhoo, Maureen Mallarkey will not take this assault on this child's obvious masculinity.

I have known this little fellow from infancy. As soon as he could stand on his feet, he loved a rumpus, kicking balls around, and throwing stuff. Effects of that prenatal testosterone bath were in full view from the beginning. If he ever gave a tea party, it would be a rambunctious event, guaranteed to purse the lips of donors to Gloria Steinem's Ms. Foundation for Women.

I don't actually think anyone, least of all donors to Gloria Steinem's Ms. Foundation for Women, actually cares what kind of tea party a three-year-old boy would throw. Unless he was having one while in the "testosterone bath," which could be dangerous. He could drown!

In order to spite this store clerk, Mallarkey then decided to buy a bunch of stuff she didn't even really want that much. I bet that really showed her!


The clerk turned back to the counter. I settled on a combative-looking Schleich hippopotamus, and a surly crocodile with moveable jaws. These two finely detailed avatars of "nature, red in tooth and claw," were, I confess, a reaction to the ideological tinge of the clerk's selection. They were not quite what I had come for. My choice was a quixotic counter-statement to the tenor of the woman's aggressive guidance.

Buying vengeance hippos to own the sales clerk. Clever move, Maureen.

Did it stop there? No, it did not. The store clerk definitely continued to judge her even as she rang the poor woman up! Clearly, she was very invested in this woman's inner monologue about how very manly this particular preschooler is.


Her suggestion carried the scent of the current notion, entrenched in elite pedagogy, that boys need to be liberated from masculinity. It is never too soon to sensitize the male of the species, subdue him. Away with snips, snails, and puppy dog tails! It is sugar and spice for everyone nowadays. Socialized to be more like girls, boys will grow into mild, unassertive, non-competitive subjects of the utopian gynocracy that is the ultimate ambition of militant scolds planning next year's Women's March on D.C.

I did not say a word of this at the register. Did I want these animals gift-wrapped? Yes, please. The woman was silent as she tied them up in tissue and ribbon. But my muzzled irritation must have communicated somehow. As I was headed out the door, she sent a parting shot: "These are hard plastic. They hurt when they're thrown."

Oh, Maureen, Maureen, Maureen. Calm down, put down the Roget's, and have a cup of tea. It doesn't even have to be served to you by a three-year-old boy if you do not wish. You can make it yourself. This is too much thought to put into a brief interaction with a store clerk. You cannot go on like this. Do you really wanna die on this molehill?

For real though -- kids can and do play with all kinds of toys, and they only know what toys they're not supposed to play with if someone tells them so. If this kid isn't the kind of kid who would want to play with a tea set (I was not really a tea set kid either, honestly), it's fine to not buy that kid a tea set. It doesn't have to be "because he's a boy and if he plays with a tea set his penis will immediately fall off and he will become 'mild, unassertive and non-competitive' like some kind of woman." It can just be "I don't think that's his thing." It can be "No thank you, I'll continue looking." Like normal.

But I digress! Mullarkey realized that this boy might not actually be delighted to get presents she only bought to spite a lady working in a shop, and decided to continue shopping elsewhere for some additional gifts:

A present for a young child is always, in some indefinable way, a gift to parents as well. My toothy hippo and crocodile did not quite rise to the task. So I kept going, stopping next at a bookstore. I did not know what I wanted, only that I would recognize it when I saw it. Sure enough, there it was: Peter Spier's winsomely illustrated version of "The Fox," an old English folk tale that dates from the 1500s.

"The fox went out on a chilly night, / and he prayed to the moon to give him light / for he'd many miles to go that night / before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o."

Blessedly, Spier's 1961 edition remains in print. It includes the musical score of Burl Ives' 1945 arrangement of the tale, perfect for a bedtime sing-a-long. An adventure story scaled for the nursery, it is particularly delicious for boys.

With gifts, it's the thought that counts, and for Maureen Malarkey, that thought is spite.

Hopefully no one tells her that this fox, being a British fox, is probably quite fond of tea himself. She goes on and on about this damned story for several paragraphs before going on a tangent about "toxic masculinity," a term with which she is obviously unfamiliar:

It has been some 20 years since Christina Hoff Sommers published "The War Against Boys." That war has not subsided. Instead, it increased in fury. The lunatic phrase toxic masculinity has seized our attention and entered public discourse as if it existed on the World Health Organization's shortlist of emerging pathogens. Masculinity is something to be combated, like the Ebola virus or a hemorrhagic fever. Its epidemic potential is becoming the basis of "male studies" courses in colleges and universities.

Then she talks about the damn fox some more:


What has "The Fox" to do with all of this? Everything, really. Children respond to stories differently than adults do, a matter J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis took seriously. Progressive grown-ups—feminist psychologists, gender theorists, assorted epicenes—can read the tale as one of violence, theft, competition for resources, and an illustration of that dreaded thing, the "patriarchal voice."

By contrast, a child sees in "The Fox" only a father taking risks (farmers have guns!) to provide for his family. And doing it well.

Children root for the fox. With the ruthlessness of innocence, they applaud his valor in the chase. His indifference to the eighth commandment does not apply. This is a beast fable and he is, after all, a fox—exempt from certain human imperatives but exemplary by any vulpine measure. And by some higher ones, too. Trust a child to know the difference.

And that's where she leaves off.

I gotta tell you. I listened to that damned Burl Ives song. I don't feel quite as worked up about it as she imagined I'd be. It is a kind of boring story about a fox. It's no girl dancing in cursed red shoes until her feet bleed all over the place and she begs an executioner to hack them off, at which point the shoes continue dancing with her severed feet in them; it's no mermaid turning into sea foam after selling her voice to a sea witch in order to try to bone a human, I'll tell you that much. But, of course, those stories are for girls.

Poor Maureen Mallarkey must be exhausted after this tempest in a tea set. All these store clerks and feminists out to get her, reading her thoughts, judging her, forcing her to buy spite gifts for three-year-olds. It's such a sad life. Maybe next time she should save herself all this distress and just do her shopping on Amazon. Surely, store clerks across America will be grateful.

[The Federalist]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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