I sat in a coffee shop minding my own business. My overpriced espresso kept me vaguely alert as I avoided homework by complaining about how much homework I should have been doing via twitter. Not exactly prepared to delve into the growing mountain of schoolwork tucked into my backpack, I chose instead to awkwardly stare at my fellow coffee shop patrons. The girl sitting next to me looked as though she was avoiding just as much schoolwork as I was. I mentally congratulated the woman ordering drinks at the counter for somehow managing to quell the screams from her child and carry on a conversation with the barista simultaneously. There was an odd grouping of gentlemen sitting crammed rather close together in a corner, each with an open laptop in front of him. I couldn’t tell from my position whether these men intentionally chose to sit together, or the unfortunate layout of the tables in the coffee shop had forced their union.
But, among all of the coffee shop patrons on that day, by far the most interesting was the man sitting right across from me. A rather unassuming sort of fellow, he looked like someone my father might have played golf with on a Sunday afternoon. He seemed a rather genuine, average middle-aged man. Except for the fact that he was actively working on completing the most elaborate cross-stitch I had ever seen. Cross-stitch man sat, circle frame hoop in hand, and calmly worked his pattern despite the frenzy of the coffee shop bustling around him. I’m incredibly relieved that the cross-stitching held his attention so well, otherwise he might have noticed my blatantly staring at him for far longer than is normally socially acceptable. Cross-stitch man had a bag full of colorful threads at his feet, and I marveled at how he had managed to weave so many of the colors into the elaborate pattern in his hands.
I stopped for a moment and pondered at my own ponderings. Why was I so enthralled by this cross-stitch man? Aside from the fact that I was actively trying to find anything to distract from my schoolwork, I couldn’t deny a truth staring me blatantly in the face: It was due to the fact that you do not normally see men doing cross-stitch in public. I’m sure that there is some sort of grand, underground movement of men who enjoy doing elaborate cross-stitch in their free time, but until this moment, I had never actually encountered one of these men personally.
In an effort to keep my homework avoidance tangent going a bit longer, this got me thinking about gender and typical gender roles and expectations. Quite simply, cross-stitch man seemed out of place because he was a man. Had cross-stitch man been a woman, I doubt I would have found the behavior quite as enthralling. I still however would have marveled at the skill, because cross-stitching is not as easy as it looks. Lots of tiny knots. Requires more patience than I care to muster. Anyone who attempts this pastime will forever earn my respect. Yet, I remember when I used to work in a bookstore and a group of knitters, all women, would have regular meetings in our café. I never thought of these meetings as odd. But, had the knitters been men, I might have giggled at the novelty.
I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed at the fact that I had found the sight of cross-stitch man entertaining. In my mind, I tried to find an appropriate gender-flipped scenario in which it might have been odd to see a woman doing something normally attributed to a man. The feminist inside me cringed as I pictured a group of women sitting at a bar wearing matching football shirts and yelling at a game on the big screen while sloshing beer around as they gave each other congratulatory chest bumps and high fives.
I shook the image from my mind and cowered a bit at my own self-induced sexism. Gender really shouldn’t be a deciding factor in choosing pastimes. If cross-stitch man enjoys his needlepoint, then I commend him in his efforts. Likewise, if a group of ladies wants nothing more than to go to a pub and watch a game on Saturday afternoons, then may the beer flow freely and the flat screens be large.
Aside from cross-stitch man giving me a newfound appreciation for people choosing to do activities that might be outside of the stereotypical “norm” for their gender, I learned another important lesson that day in the coffee shop: I do not have the attention span required to study in public. I accomplished a good amount of people watching that day, but neglected to actually finish any homework.