As one the older children in my family, I have been taking care of my younger siblings for years. The age gap from oldest to youngest is just over 20 years, so it was not uncommon for the child I was taking care of for my parents while they worked, or went out on a date night was anywhere from a couple years to a couple months old. Now kids, in my experience, have the attention span only slightly longer than that of a goldfish and an energy level that knows no bounds. It took every part of my creative side to find ways to entertain them, we would go to the park, arts and crafts groups, museums, library etc. Now I said I was one of the older children in my family, I have 3 older sisters. Like me, they to had been helping take care of the little ones and in general just filling in to give my parents a break from the chaos that is 9 children.
Recently while talking at a family get together, we got on the topic of all the times that we had each taken the kids out to all the strange interactions that ensued. This is where my contribution to the conversation happened. As a 16-17 year old guy with a 1-2 year old kid at the museum or the park I was never given any strange looks, or had anyone say anything to me other than how old i your sister/brother, he/she is so cute, etc. The experience however, was not as smooth for my older sisters. As an 18-19 year old girl with a 1-2 year old the stares and hushed comments and glares were seemingly never ending. My sisters each could remember a time when someone would just look and shake their head, while they summoned all their self-control not to yell at the at the accusers that they were siblings. How strange is it that two people roughly the age, in the same situation are instantly judged to be a caring brother or an unfortunate mother based solely on their gender.
Even with this knowledge, we all still fall victim to this stereotyping. I can’t count the number of times I used to walk around the museum where I worked security with my coworker and see young men and women with small children. Were they mother and daughter, father and son, cousins, siblings? Really there was no way of knowing, yet there was never a comment made about a guy and a child, but the consistent comment that arose with a woman was “Wow, she seems a bit young for a kid”, instantly jumping to a conclusion that we would have never made about a fellow male. So does this link back to something more, a greater underlying condition in society? Maybe, but one things for sure. It’s and interesting observation.