Gender roles

by Neil Rickert

This is a bit off the beaten path of what I usually post here. I thought it might be interesting to add perspective to a recent blog post by Jason Thibeault.

I was shopping waiting in line at the checkout cashier of Toys R Us.  This was many years ago, so I do not even know whether that particular store (in Melrose Park, IL) still exists.

Not far from the cashier lines, there was a large basket of balloons.  And, at that basket there was a boy at around 4 years of age with a young woman whom I presumed to be his mother.  I probably would not have noticed, except that the boy was beginning a tantrum.  He pointed to a balloon.

“I want that one,” he yelled.

“You can’t have that one,” said his mother.  “You can have this one (and she pointed to a different balloon).”

“No, I want that one,” yelled the boy.

“Pink balloons are for girls,” said the mother.  “I’ll buy you a blue balloon.”

The boy’s tantrum got worse, as he continued to insist that he wanted the pink balloon.

“You can have a blue balloon.  You can have a green balloon.  You can have a red balloon.  You cannot have a pink balloon,” said the mother.

Fortunately, our waiting line reached the cashier where I could pay for the items I was purchasing, and leave the store.  So I don’t know how that eventually turned out.  But I doubt that it turned out well.

I would never have considered insisting on balloon colors for my children.  The mother’s reaction seemed way over the top.

I guess training for gender roles begins early, and parents are some of those who promote such roles.

Note:  according to some linguists, I should have titled this post “sex roles.”  They tell me that “gender” is a grammatical classification.  But then other linguists tell me that words get their meaning from the way we use them, in which case my title seems correct.

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