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My little pink headphones

September 13th, 2012

Last May, shortly before boarding a plane for a nine-hour flight, I purchased a pair of headphones. I mean, who would want to make that kind of a trip without music? So I went to the bookstore and bought the last remaining pair of headphones on the rack. Sure, they’re pink; but as long as they work, who really cares, right?

Wrong. For some reason, every time someone sees me with them, they always ask, “Why pink?”

My answer: “Because they’re functional, and I needed headphones.” But after about the 500th time this was asked of me, I started wondering why it was such a big deal for me to have little pink headphones. Could it be that my last minute, pre-travel $10 purchase has completely emasculated me? Are our gender norms so engrained in our thoughts that even the slightest departure from them stirs the pot so much?

Well, by now I’ve realized that everyone is spot on – the headphones were just the first step down a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to confessions that I love to wear Chanel No. 5, think about how dreamy George Clooney is all the time and am contemplating being the season six winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. You caught me.

Or maybe, just maybe, norms don’t dictate how I live my life. If we are so imprisoned in our societal structures that a man can’t own a pair of headphones in the color of his choosing, then this isn’t the America I dream of at night. No, I’d much prefer a place where my gender identity isn’t constructed by the audio accessories I choose to sport.

Perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into a simple question. But to me, it represents a much greater problem. We, as a generation, are afraid to be independent. In decades past, it was expected that people would think freely and accessorize how they please. There once was a time when you couldn’t get your mail without passing someone wearing legwarmers and leotards to compliment their stylish Afro and leopard-print tunic.

Now, we have become such machines that if anyone dares to step out of this narrow path of conformity, we brand them as “indie” or “hipsters.” What a good way to squelch freethinking.

But even the hipsters these days seem to conform to a standard equation: rolled skinny jeans, thick-rimmed glasses, tight vintage hoodies and the classic hipster hat. There’s just no room for independence.

Last year, after I used the railing to scale the side of the atrium steps rather than the steps themselves, my friend observed, “Brian, I don’t think a day has gone by that you haven’t violated some kind of norm.”

Whether or not she intended that to be a compliment, I was flattered. She was absolutely right – I see the world how I want it to be, how it is most efficient, functional or fun (you can’t spell functional without “fun”). Fact is, I don’t wake up every morning planning to be an icon of counterculture at JCU. But if there is a better way to do something, I’d rather try it and ask for forgiveness than ask for permission and be denied.

Another time, when I lived in Hamlin, my roommate and I decided to take chairs into the elevator and do our homework there (our hall was particularly rowdy that day, and we thought the elevator might be a more peaceful study location). But sure enough, most of the people getting on and off assumed we were doing it for a Sociology 101 norms violation project. And those poor, close-minded residents probably had to struggle through noisy neighbors as they tried to do their homework that day, instead of just joining us in our quiet study-vator.

I will admit that I do like to stand out occasionally. As the saying goes, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” And although I’m not a woman, I do have pink headphones; so by society’s standards, I guess that counts.

So this week, I challenge you to do something a little bit out of the ordinary. I’m not suggesting you do anything crazy, like walking across the quad to get to class (that’s simply against the rules no matter how indie you are). But if you have the chance to color outside the lines for once, try it and experience how much fun it can be. Because who knows – maybe all it takes to liberate your mind is a pair of little pink headphones.