Who can own a football?

A recent family conversation about gender brought to mind a touch football game from the late ’50s. We were visiting relatives in Georgia. As I recall, we were there for Thanksgiving. On Friday or Saturday afternoon, some friends of my aunt and uncle came by. While the adults chatted, the kids went out to play. This included the visitors’ son and daughter, who were about my age, as well as my sister, my cousin and me. My sister is nearly five years and my cousin a couple of years older than I. We probably were joined by a few other kids in her neighborhood.

It was a lot of fun. The daughter of the visitors seemed especially to enjoy it.

At this point, let me throw in a background anecdote. A few years before this, my sister had asked for and received a football for Christmas. It seemed better than any of the two or three that belonged to me. At least it was newer. It was used by my sister and the other big kids. So I rarely got to play with it early on. But that’s really beside the point. The point being that in my world, boys and girls both played touch football, and either could own footballs.

I’m not sure I realized that was anything other than the norm. But there were pressures to conform to society’s gender roles. We, no doubt, acquiesced in certain areas. I think we’ve made some progress, but my use of the past tense two sentences back may have been wishful thinking.

There was the time when my wife was upbraided by some random older woman because our then-infant daughter was wearing blue.

Not long ago, I sat in a medical waiting room, a young father was looking at a magazine with his pre-teen daughter. At one point he asked, “Is that a boy’s room of a girl’s room?” She guessed “girl’s.” So he gently pointed out items (he) associated with boys, concluding that it was a boy’s room.

Anyway, back to that Thanksgiving game. When we returned to the house, the visiting girl said to her parents, “I want a football for Christmas!”

The reply, from her mom: “Well, that’s too bad.”

The girl was about the same age my sister had been when she got a football for Christmas. Her mom’s reply shocked me then and continues to annoy me to this day.

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