A few weeks ago, we posted a picture of caution tape to Facebook:
For the caption, we wrote:
Wow, did the comments ever come rolling in!
“Someone a long time ago said "we need yellow tape to warn people that there is a work crew ahead. Work crews are comprised of men, so we will make a men working sign"
Years and years later, work crews are not comprised solely of men, so that person's decision no longer applies.
No panties in wads, no sticks in asses, just recognizing that "men working" should be updated to reflect actual working conditions and be inclusive. It doesn't need to be anything angry, just fix the damn tape to what it should say and go back to work.
Or you could get pissy and quit ordering from this company, I guess?? That's helpful and inclusive too? 🤷” -Tricia
“I cant worry about such things in my life. The caution tape I have is in English and Spanish should we all freak about that too?” - Anne
“You are getting way too feminist for me. I might stop ordering your clothes. Chill out.” -Coren
“There are many more important things than something so minuscule with absolutely no context to focus on. It is possible to live your life without being offended by minuscule things.” - Monica
"I guess when I see things like this, I just see the word "men" as meaning people. Like "mankind" 🤷♀️ it doesn't make me feel devalued or excluded." -Danielle
“Does this REALLY bother people? Like, seriously? 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔” - Cassey
“Why do we care? It's caution tape, heed caution and move on.” - Jessica
No, we were not commenting that caution tape should literally reflect who is working, although having spoken to female construction workers, they do care - it’s just one more thing they have to deal with in a line of work that is already fraught with sexism. No, we aren’t so worried about caution tape that we are going to mount a protest over it (yes, we immediately moved on after noting the tape). Yes, we will continue to be a company founded on feminist principles. No, the caution tape is not really that important because nearly everyone knows that “caution: men at work” just means “look out, work is happening here.”
NEARLY everyone. And now we need the explanation for why we do care enough about the stupid caution tape to post about it on Facebook and write this follow-up explanation.
There’s a population out there who will see this caution tape and draw incorrect conclusions from it - conclusions such as “Men are the only people who work” or “construction sites are where men work” or “women don’t work in construction.” They will do this because they are very good at seeing things adults ignore (like words on caution tape) and they are very bad at understanding when something is important and when something is unimportant. They also have not lived long enough to have the amount of contextual information they need to process sensory input accurately. This population is children ages 5-8 years old.
These little people, just like adults, read words and look at things and then draw conclusions based on the information they have. They are really good at the former - try handing out a card that says:
Mari eats corn but but Marco does not.
Little kids catch the repeated word more often than adults. Again - terrific observers.
But ask a kid to draw conclusions based on that information, and sheesh, do you ever get some doozies. For example, based on the information above, my daughter figured out all by herself that corn is for girls. That is some pretty terrible interpretation of data for you.
Sometimes their inability to draw the conclusions we adults draw is a gift to us and them, like this cartoon illustrates:
But more often, those conclusions contribute to the subtle indoctrination of stereotyping. When kids read “Men at Work,” they may assume that men (not women) are working. They may not yet have internalized the patriarchal linguistic notion that "men" means "all people" whereas "women" only refers to women, and so think literally that only men work there (which may or may not be true). They might extrapolate and wonder whether women should be or are allowed to be working in a construction site - or whether women work at all.
The things that children observe inform their assumptions and prejudices, which we all have. Children develop these insights both from their own observations and from adults actively teaching them. When they see an aisle full of pink toys, and they “know” that “pink is for girls” - because they only ever see girls wearing pink - then they also “know” that all those pink toys are “girl” toys. When they see every boy wearing dinosaurs, diggers, and fire engines, and no girls wearing them… you can see where I am going with this. It’s the entire reason that we founded Princess Awesome & Boy Wonder.
What children see informs them as to what others are like as well as what they personally can be and do. They will draw those conclusions based on the visual information they observe every day - and no amount of active adult teaching to the contrary will change their assumptions. It’s what THEY see, not just what we SAY, that informs them as to how to interpret and understand their world. How often do we repeat to girls, “You can be anything!” only to see girls’ interest in science wane starting at age 6? We need to back up what we say by changing the world around us - so that their walk matches our talk.
So the words on caution tape do matter. They matter enough that we should be conscious not to use it if it presents an inaccurate worldview - especially when, in this case, it’s being used at a school.
Yes, I agree. It’s such a tiny, insignificant problem. That makes it the kind of problem that’s easy to solve but which can make a huge difference in how children see themselves, and how others see them. Change the caution tape. Change the world.