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Tot's Hat Triggers Slope Spat

How one Brooklyn mother’s attempt to return a child’s lost cap roiled a parents listserv with gender politics.


The hat in question.  

A few weeks ago, a member of the Park Slope Parents e-mail forum who’d encountered a stray piece of winterwear in the neighborhood posted a notice to the group titled “Found: boy’s hat.” Typically, discussions of parenting issues on the 3,500-member list are characterized by the kind of earnest decorum one would expect from people who give their children names like “Atticus,” with threads following the ins and outs of “lactation consultants” and other features of contemporary child-rearing. In this case, though, subscriber “Lisa” went public with her problems regarding the gender-specifying description of the hat. Wondering how such a categorization would feel to a spiky-hat-wearing girl, Lisa wrote, “It’s innocent little comments like this that I find the most hurtful.” A third member responded soon after, saying such political correctness drove her “up the wall,” and a heated discussion ensued. Lisa’s supporters questioned their opponents’ commitment to “the free interchange of ideas and questions”—said one, “I have found in life that when the subject matter is difficult, there is always someone who wants to stifle the conversation”—while an opposing faction expressed facetious dismay that the original poster, who had described the hat as likely belonging to “an older child,” was not more considerate toward “younger children who happen to have large heads.” Personal experience with gender-identity issues was a common thread between the two sides: “Both of my daughters have taken their sweet time growing a full head of hair and are frequently mistaken for boys,” wrote one of seven mothers to mention such difficulties. In the end, the first poster conceded that her “eyes had been opened,” while Lisa acknowledged the hat-typing as “admittedly innocent language.” (The real losers may be the girls of Park Slope, for whom one poster suggested a stereotype-battling regimen of “games which enhance love of math and science.”) The identity and gender of the hat’s original owner remain a mystery. Six days later, a different list member reported a light-blue knit cap with a pom-pom missing. In her e-mail to the listserv, she declined to identify which of her twins (boy or girl) it belonged to, describing it merely as “an infant’s hat.” In response, one poster questioned the use of “hat,” asking if the object might be more sensitively labeled a “soft, porous bowl.”


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