“I have never babysat my children and I never WILL!” my friend was ranting, so I was quiet allowing him to defuse his emotional bomb.
What could I say? I was unsure where the outburst came from and more importantly what it meant. So like John Keats’ naughty little boy, I stood in my shoes and I wondered.
He was livid which was unusual. ‘Tom’ is a peaceful, mild-manner soul who up until then I thought was impossible to provoke, but I had done so; I hit his emotional anger main. So I flipped through the mental pages of our conversation looking for the point in the script that led to this outburst, which I was now fighting hard to crowd out.
A few moments ago, I was talking to him about the rewarding learning experience I had as part of a small supportive group that attended my friend’s defence of her doctoral thesis. She had researched love-power and its effect on gender roles in contemporary middle class relationship. My female bias was evident as I emphasised that society had slotted certain domestic chores under the female category and even top middle-class ranking career women in the Caribbean were still following this categorisation. So, why was he getting so upset?
“Women are just as responsible. In fact, you are the chief offenders, I hear it every time one of you says it and it grates me!” he said.
Yes, that is it! In a small footnote during our conversation, I mentioned that people, men and women used words that keep the culture going but I had not gone into detail rather I had ploughed into other evidence.
“My children are mine as much as they are hers; I cannot physical carry them before birth, but I do afterwards. I am not a hired hand!”
I knew he was calming down because he was zeroing in on substantive bits of his argument. He was logical. I was pleased because he confirmed that I never referring to him performing his fatherly role as baby-sitting. Perhaps I never did because babysitting isn’t part of my culture. In my lower-class rural Barbadian upbringing of extended families, when parents, usually a single mother, were going out, children remained at a home with an older sibling or went to a relative or a neighbour –whose relationship with the family was so close that you did not know that you were not blood relatives. The script used was “You gine by Aunty X or Momma G, she keeping you till I get back.” Keeping by practice meant caring and loving as if you belonged to that family unit. Babysitting is therefore not in the forefront of my vocabulary; it is one of those words popularised with cultural penetration through movies and books. It conjures up in my mind teenagers earning pocket-money.
Some of us therefore in Caribbean, particularly Barbados, use words that reinforce these stereotypes. Without deep thought, we choose words to suggest that men help us in the kitchen or in the laundry room for example, as if it is exclusively our duty.
Watch your speech and see how actions will follow suit and stereotypes changed.
Do you use words that encourage role stereotyping? What are they? Do you think women and men should have society prescribed roles?