I may be the only student at Mercer who does not have a picture with Toby the Bear, and this is no accident. Confession: mascots kind of freak me out.
This mild fear may potentially be rooted in a repressed childhood trauma but go ahead and add it to the long list of things I cannot explain about myself. However, when I first laid eyes on the new and “improved” Tot uniform, I did not experience the same minor trepidation I feel when I see Toby. I was confused and angry, but mostly confused… or maybe mostly angry. I am not sure.
Although gifted with the nice, silky fur and big blue eyes similar to Toby, the parallels stop there. Whereas Toby is typically dressed in an athletic uniform mirroring the sports team he is cheering for, Tot only ever wears an unflattering dress with an indistinguishable sequin bow centered on her head. Whereas Toby is slim fitted with a muscular build, Tot has disproportionately wide hips in figurative space pants (you know the joke) and can barely maneuver up and down the aisles at sporting events. Worst of all, whereas Toby has a beautiful set of pearly whites, Tot has… absolutely no teeth. At all.
Unfortunately I can understand the sentiment that maybe a fierce set of chompers for our first lady may not be the most inviting for photo ops with children (I can think of no other reason for her not having any teeth), yet it is the picture perfect representation of a double standard in today’s society. Is it somehow less fearsome for a lady bear to have no teeth? I am actually more terrified by a toothless bear. Is a girl supposed to be more approachable and nurturing for children? If this is true I would like to know what sort of gender roles catalog Mercer subscribes to.
To add to the ridiculousness of the issue, the traditions page on Mercer’s website dedicates an entire paragraph to the history of Toby the Bear as our mascot. This is understandable since he has been around longer but it is only in the last sentence that Tot is mentioned as Toby’s “lady friend.” Really? What does that even mean? I would much rather have it say she is his girlfriend, sister, or fellow athlete, but instead we are left with a non-descript innuendo.
Maybe it is not fair to make this a matter of comparison between the two but this begs the question why exactly do we even have two? Mascots are supposed to be an embodiment of school spirit and a source of energy to connect the audience or student body to the school. Most universities only have one, so what purpose does Tot serve if not to be a projection of the women’s sports programs and the general female population here at Mercer?
This is a rather progressive concept, yet it is ironically paired with an affront to the efforts of women, as fans and athletes, fighting for equitable support and representation. I am not claiming that Tot is not feminine enough for me. I wholeheartedly believe women come in all shapes and sizes, she-bears too, and so this is not a complaint based on sizeist discrimination. Tot’s uniform, not at all determined by the size or gender of the student inside, is a huge way the athletics program could be encouraging and connecting women to the sports environment. Yet the uniform alone is visibly distancing girls from the realm of athletics by representing Tot as a wide-set, tame, and non-athletic fan.
One counterargument may be along the lines of the following: Tot matches the anatomy and body shape of a bear, so Tot is actually a more accurate representation of our mascot. What is the issue? The issue is many students pleaded on Tot’s behalf for an upgrade in her uniform so she could better match Toby. She had brown, tattered fur and crazy, orange eyes that mystically breached the structurally sound barriers of your soul. Tot is Toby’s partner in cheers, in class, and in crime, so does it not make sense that Tot also visually matches her counterpart? If this is not correct, then what purpose does she serve?
If she is supposed to be an average, but probably smarter, bear. Then make her look like one. If she is supposed to be a cheerleader, then make her look like one, this would involve adding biceps because our cheerleaders are built. With the intention of Tot’s presence in question, the confusion and frustration incited by her new uniform makes her role clear as mud, as my mother would say.
The question I want to leave you with is this: what role does our school believe women have in the realm of athletics, or dare I say society, if it is willing to allow for such a stark difference between the two mascots? You may believe I am blowing this way out of proportion, and that’s okay. However, I ask that no matter how much weight my opinion carries in your life that you deeply consider why your concerns are passive or passionate and how this affects your expectations, tolerances, and conversations, both in general but specifically regarding gender roles.