At a Dodgers game recently, my son asked me why I didn’t have to take off my baseball cap. As always, the game opened with the traditional singing of the national anthem. And, as always, the anthem was preceded by the announcement: “We ask you to rise for the national anthem, and we ask that men remove their hats.” It seemed like a logical question - Why don’t women have to remove their caps?
I explained to him that this tradition started when women used to pin their hats into their hair, and it would have been a big production for women to take their hats off. But almost all of the hat-wearing women at the baseball game were donning baseball caps. Same as the men. I told him I honestly didn’t know why we the tradition remained – I certainly think women can handle taking caps off to show respect to the country.
Why make a big deal about this? After all, women can still remove their hats if they so desire. Like so many other things I carp about, it’s the messages sent by this tradition that causes problems. The first message is that women are so different from men, we need to develop gender-specific traditions, even when it comes to singing our national anthem. The second message is that women are somehow more fragile than their male counterparts, unable to remove their cap or afraid to mess their hair. Neither of these messages are good for women.
Believe it or not, Congress revisited protocol for the singing of the national anthem only seven years ago (see 36 USC 301), yet they didn’t modify the men-only cap removal rule. Our present Congress has pledged to address the gender pay gap – that is, they’re figuring out why women in the US are paid less than men for the same jobs. I see these two as linked. If we start treating women and men equally in our social traditions, perhaps the workplace will begin to follow suit.