I recently took a trip to the wilds of Small Town, AZ to visit a friend. One sunny afternoon, we stopped by an adorable “Old Town” city center eatery. Organic, eclectic, and local, the menu was an amalgamation of Southwestern inspiration layered atop comfort food classics – yum! Halfway through my poblano-and-some-kinda-squash soup, when I didn’t think I could be more in love with the place, I noticed this amazing sign:


(pictured: the best ever!!)

My goodness, what I had just done by eating was everything I wanted to do every day, always! Keep commerce and trade in the community – check. Consider the environment – check. Create local jobs, invest in entrepreneurs, and localize tax dollars – check, check, check!!

The sign’s titling – If you just purchased something from Old Town Mercado, here’s what you just did… – alluded to a wider, collective movement going on in Small Town, AZ. From what I could tell, it seemed like the locals had been takin’ the power back. As I finished up my soup, my mind’s eye saw community activists and organizers working to reclaim their autonomy within the context of a global, big box marketplace… I envisioned forward-thinking entrepreneurs investing in the future by giving back to their town’s infrastructure. Awesome.

My now-empty soup bowl symbolized the power of grassroots resistance, and I knew that the prickles I felt behind my eyes weren’t just from the spicy poblano…

But it was time to move on – my next adventure in Small Town, AZ awaited! I got up and ventured to the back of the restaurant, looking for the facilities and a place to wash my hands. Not unexpectedly, I came upon two-and-only-two doors at the end of a short hallway. And though the doors themselves were quite ordinary, the signage that spelled out the options available through each respective entryway just wasn’t.

One door was labeled “Cocks” – cocks..? Ohhh, cocks! (I get it, hehe) What may have been construed as a slightly vulgar attribution was balanced out by an image of a realistic rooster, an adult male chicken also known as a cock, on the door of what was presumably the men’s restroom.


(pictured: cocky signage)

Unsurprisingly, the second door was also doing the whole gender/chicken double-entendre thing. But, taken in conjunction with “Cocks” and roosters, this door’s attribution and its accompanying image delivered a far more offensive message. This door was labeled “Chicks.”

My immediate response to this signage was confusion – was this a restroom for children, for little baby chicks? How… progressive? The picture of a hen where the other door had a rooster, in lieu of a fuzzy newborn fowl, however, let me know that this second door led to the women’s restroom.

Ahhhh ok.


(pictured: ladies…)

First off, set aside reductive heterosexist pairings and the gendering of public spaces, including restrooms. Further, set aside who’s left out of normatively gendered women’s and men’s public facilities. These issues, though significant, are beyond the Sociology 101-level issues that were clucking right there in the hallway.

Why newly hatched baby birds, why “Chicks”? Why not adult female chickens, why not “Hens”? Why signage, why attempt to erase gender while simultaneously infantalizing women? Is it because “Hens” has some sort of negative connotation to it, while “Chicks” sounds kinda sexy and fun? If so, why glorify youth and marginalize mature womanhood in such a manner?

I felt my social-justice-and-poblano inspired bliss melt away as my feminist-informed hackles got more and more riled. And when it dawned on me that the signs were handmade – handmade such that a representative from this “progressive” and “transgressive” local community establishment had to actively reify gender inequality in such a way …well, I almost marched my way up to the counter to complain.

But then I realized something that, in the midst of spicy soup and signage, I had momentarily forgotten – humans and human society are a mixture of both/and. There is no such thing as a purely radical community fighting 100% perfectly for the good of every authentic experience all of the time; nor is there a purely evil empire looking only to maintain power inequality and crush the souls of others. Most people and places and spaces are multifaceted and complex, a mixture of both radical community and power inequality. Most human social creations are a balance of both good signs and bad, and this awesome little restaurant in Small Town, AZ was no different.

I bought a tea for the road and got back out there.

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