Especially in the United States of Hypersensitivity. A country where the president has to apologize for complimenting a brainy, beautiful woman on being -- brainy and beautiful.
Well, "brainy" is OK. It is the "beautiful" part that put him in the compliance hoosegow.
But there appears to be as much danger on the other end of the spectrum.
Target -- the American department store -- has long tried to escape its reputation as the tiny sister of Walmart. Often by touting the "designer" lines of faux celebrities. And if you want to upgrade your image in America, what better way than to clambor onto the ecological bandwagon of lovable mammals?
So, Target invented a color that would make any consumer ooo and aaa. Manatee gray. Named after the endangered gentle beasts that are involuntarily tattooed by the propellers of Florida cigarette smugglers. Rumored by lovesick sailors to be the origin of the mermaid myth.
Target then slapped the color on place mats, rain boots, towels, and countless other products -- including clothing. Men and women's. And with that last application, trouble was set a'brewing.
One of several pieces of clothing that were offered in this Greenpeace-like color was a dress. In what is now called, in the language of the politically correct -- "plus size." A rather stylish dress.
But the petite size was called "dark heather gray." The plus size? Yup. "Manatee gray."
An eagle-eyed reader of Target's site tweeted: "What the. Plus sized women get 'Manatee Grey' while standard sizes are 'Dark Heather Grey.'"
Target pumped up its PC radar and went into corporate overdrive. In quick succession:
- "Manatee Gray" disappeared from all plus sizes
- Target issued a mea culpa for "any discomfort" caused by its mistake
- And then earned its PC chops with a smarmy: "We'll use this instance as a learning experience so we can do better moving forward."
But it is sad that the whole exchange had to occur. Target was wise to act as it did because someone would have turned an imagined insult into a broader attack upon women.
In my former working life, a team of us were tasked to teach a course on new legislation concerning workers' compensation coverage. If you read that without yawning, you have more stamina than our group.
Early on we decided we needed a hook to make the topic more interesting. So, we wrote a little play -- complete with well-defined characters and witty repartee. If you did not get the hint, I wrote it.
At the start of the first "performance," I stood up and announced: "Welcome to our little theater. If you attend one of our local stages, this is the point a self-important, overweight actor will step forward and tell you about the performance you are about to see. Today, that is me."
The presentation went as well as we expected. But, the moment I got back to my office, a supervisor from another division called to tell me see needed to "talk with me." In that same tone of voice my mother would use whenever I brought the car back with a nearly-empty gas tank.
When I got to her office, she asked if I was aware I had jut insulted several women in the audience by calling them "fat."
I hadn't. And I told her exactly what I said.
She then suggested that I send out a written apology to improve the "self-image" of the employees who had conjured up the fantasy.
Unlike Target, I refused. And I will skip the remainder of our exchange other than to say that I, the overweight actor in question, kept the line in our play.
Several bloggers have written on what is happening with thought and language control in Canada and The States. I cannot say it is the reason I left, but it certainly figures into it.
I cannot imagine a Mexican woman taking umbrage at a color. In fact, the Target story would most likely be the center point of many a Mexican woman conversation in the street.
Me? I will continue wearing my stage black. It is so slimming. Doncha know?