I Had No Idea A Pack Of Gum Could Be So Controversial

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Image credit: Darren England / Getty Images Jessica Kleinschmidt / Twitter

There are news stories that break the internet. Often times they involve a Kardashian or someone related to a Kardashian. Other times they revolve around the dumpster fire that is currently the White House. They are the stories everyone talks about—for a day, or even a couple hours, before moving on to the next big thing.

Other stories don’t make waves nearly as big, but still deserve our attention. Because they matter. They matter to our girls. And to moms of girls, even if they aren’t internet-breaking news. They may even be about something that seems small, like what picture is on a pack of gum.

But that doesn’t make them any less significant.

Recently, one such news story broke, revealing that Big League Chew, a gum that’s been marketed to kids for 40 years, will feature a girl on its packaging for the first time.

“Yes, a female ballplayer,” reports. “There to represent millions of softballers like Jennie Finch, Japanese knuckleballers such as Eri Yoshida, the Sonoma Stompers’ Kelsie Whitmore and Stacy Piagno or, you know, Little League hero Mo’ne Davis.”

And, as a mom to a three children—one of whom is a girl, but all of whom should see equal representation as often as possible, I celebrated this event by sharing this story on social media with a “yay!” and a clappy hands emoji. I know this isn’t front-page news. I know it’s only a kids’ chewing gum. But still, it’s pretty awesome.

What wasn’t awesome, however, were some of the comments I received in response—from WOMEN. (Thankfully there were plenty of “Yes! It’s about time!” and “As a mom of girls who play softball, I love this!” responses.)

But sprinkled in, were comments like these:

“Who cares?”

“It’s just a pack of gum. (Eye roll.)”

“I never cared growing up that no girls were on the package and my kids don’t either.”

“They are just going to throw the wrapper away.”

One commenter was angry enough to respond, “Who cares? People make the biggest deal over the dumbest crap. Lol! It’s a stupid gum wrapper. Please find something more worthwhile to pour your time and energy into. smh.”

Who cares? Well, I fucking care. But to be honest, I probably didn’t notice as a kid either. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s a problem when we get so damn used to seeing only boys, or only men, or only white people, or only heterosexual, cisgender parents, or only families with a mom and a dad and two kids and a dog on TV, in movies, in books, on cereal boxes, and on candy wrappers that we don’t even think twice about it.

Growing up in the ’80s, I probably didn’t bat an eye when I saw wrappers with athletes and they were all men. Or read a book about industry leaders who were all white. But now that I am an adult, I see it. And when someone from a group that’s ever been marginalized breaks even the tiniest barrier—even if it’s on a pack of gum that will end up in the trash, you’re damn right it matters.

Here’s why.

Somewhere there’s a little girl who loves softball or baseball. She lives it and breathes it the way my son does. It’s the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up, and she falls asleep clutching a ball at night, just like him. When you ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, she says “play ball,” the same answer my child gives every time.

Here’s the difference. My son watches professional baseball on TV every chance he gets. He attends professional baseball games as often as we can score tickets. He can watch guys like him live out their dream and get played millions of dollars doing what they love.

Can she?

No, she can’t. Not as easily anyway. She can probably find some professional softball games on TV if she looks hard enough. Or some kick-ass college players battle it out on ESPN once in a while. She can attend a local game at a university nearby and see athletes she idolizes throw the ball 75mph and hit homeruns over the fence. But it’s different for girls, and she knows it.

That little girl will see lots of images in her lifetime—many are on things that will be thrown away, like gum wrappers, magazine covers, cereal boxes, and flyers that come in the mail. And as she gets older and her dreams and ambitions start to formulate and she begins to figure out who and what she truly wants to be, she’ll notice. She’ll notice that society tells girls to be pretty, small, quiet, and well-behaved. That they should be mothers first and put their careers second. That they are emotional, irrational, and need a man to take care of them.

And all these messages and all these images will swim around in her head, confusing her, frustrating her, trying to block her hopes and dreams, as she navigates her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

But one Saturday afternoon at the softball field, maybe that little girl’s coach tosses his players some Big League Chew and she sees an image of a gritty, tough athlete on the packaging. And that athlete is a girl, just like her.

And maybe that one image helps clear out the clouds of confusion and forges a path for her, in her mind, reminding her that each day, it gets better. Each day, women continue to break down barriers and clear the way for her future. Women like Jennie Finch, Eri Yoshida, Kelsie Whitmore, Stacy Piagno, and Mo’ne Davis. Women who refuse to accept the way things are, the way things have always been, and who prove to little girls that there is no ceiling they can’t break through.

Also, you know who else will see that image? Boys. Boys need to see that girls can be leaders, politicians, and athletes, so that they grow up supporting women. So that they fight alongside their sisters and daughters, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all.

So yeah, it’s just a pack of gum that will end up in the trash. But every time, EVERY FUCKING TIME someone breaks any kind of barrier, it matters and should be celebrated. And if my “spending time” on this annoys you or you think I should find something “more worthwhile” to “put my energy into,” well you can go ahead and have a seat. I’ll just be over here showing my daughter what shattered ceilings look like and proving to her that there’s nothing she can’t do.

And maybe I’ll buy her a pack of gum while I’m at it.

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