Well. That little supermarket story seems to have hit a nerve and generated some interesting reactions.
I feel mean judging the mother like that, and I know that I might have taken what I saw and heard out of context. Like Amy said, it just might have been an ironic statement, though I didn't hear it that way. And like Karen said - and my sister (who has three small children) reacted similarly - maybe she would have said much the same to a boy who was banging inappropriately or annoyingly on the trolley handle.
I would probably buy this explanation, except that the child wasn't just banging or shouting, she seemed to be gleefully and not that loudly saying 'hammer hammer hammer' which makes me think she was actually acting out hammering specifically and maybe had been watching someone do it recently (or someone playing with a toy hammer). And the mother didn't sound annoyed or irritated, she said what she said quite sweetly to her daughter. Maybe she was annoyed but trying to be a "nice girl" or nice mum.
And that's the thing, even if she wasn't really telling her daughter to be girly and not play at carpentry, it's that phrase "nice girls" that really gives me a chill. I hope that was ironic. It's the sort of script that can replay in your head all your life.
Julie alluded to the risks of being brought up to be a nice girl. I've seen this idea in feminist and abuse survivor writing, about the stuff that women and girls will put up with, and the strategies they choose (and don't choose) in response to uncomfortable situations, in order to be nice and not make a fuss. It is ingrained deep in us.
On the other hand, to some extent we should all be nice. Human beings should on the whole try to be nice to each other. Why should it be the responsibility of women?
I agree with Dr K sometimes it seems like we have gone backwards. I don't know if this is just the 'jetpack effect' - that you would think that a lot more progress would have been made by now. I think there has also been an increase in religious fundamentalism in many parts of the world ... but that doesn't have a really large mainstream presence in Australia, so I don't know.
I wish gender didn't matter so much. I often find myself wishing I lived on an androgynous planet. (I read a wonderful story by Ursula LeGuin like that once.) I like and respond better to people who relate to me as a person (which of course does not exclude my gender) and not as some kind of representative of my gender.