The instructor greets me as I walk into my quilting class. I introduce myself, she smiles and shows me a sewing machine to sit at. A minute later, my partner Hunter walks into the class and introduces himself. The instructor stares at him, a 6-foot-tall man with a beard and a bun, and asks, “Um, you’re here to sew?” as if she has never seen a man in her sewing classroom before and is sure he got lost in the wrong store.
After Hunter assured her he was there to quilt, and the instructor seemed a little embarrassed for not greeting him the same way as all the other quilters, he sat at a sewing machine next to me and began to thread it.
An hour into class, Hunter was efficiently on his way to a beautifully quilted table runner—working faster and more precisely than anyone else in the class (including myself, as I’d already thrown away many pieces of fabric I’d damaged). Hunter being the star pupil, although it wasn’t explicitly said, probably wasn’t expected by anyone in the class (except for me, of course). But there’s no reason he shouldn’t have been.
On a large scale, people are often excluded from things they may excel at. And many times, these people aren’t excluded by being directly told they can’t, but because of decades of human-constructed social norms that have excluded them and anyone like them from pursuing certain experiences.
Hunter obviously felt a little out of place and taken aback when he wasn’t welcomed to class as everyone else had been, and a build up of these feelings across populations is destructive to individual freedom.
These social norms simply exist to deny people access to experiences or make them feel outcasted for trying. We need to change this system by opening our minds and others’ to things we may not have considered before.
Quilting can be just as fun for a 70-year-old woman as for a 12-year-old boy. The problem is that we don’t tell the 12-year-old boy that quilting is even an option. We need to give him, and everyone else, that same option. Not just for quilting, for everything.