Having three daughters has been particularly challenging lately, as the girls move into the pre-teen years. (Spoiler: I know it will get harder.)
Our recent challenge has been the transition out of co-ed sports. We aren’t to the girls-only stage yet, but we’ve been considering it more closely with every passing game day interaction.
Whether it’s the mundane “what are you doing here?” question for my hockey playing soon-to-be-9-year-old to the more problematic physical and verbal targeting of her (and her girl friends) on the ice. Or the casual “girls can’t play basketball” to my soon-to-be-10-year old during recess. (Which she told to me, ironically, as she hit a 12-foot jump shot in our back yard.) Regardless of the intensity, it’s getting more frequent and more frustrating for the girls. (And us, quite honestly.)
My wife and I had a great conversation the other night about this and what to do about the situations. My wife said something like “as women, they will need to learn how to handle people telling them they can’t do something” — how, as a woman, they can’t play a sport, do a job, get a promotion, earn as much, have control over their own health decisions, be President, say no, etc, etc.
That phrasing was the cold, hard slap of reality that I am white, male privilege. Doesn’t matter how liberal I am, how much empathy I have, how much money or time I’ve donated to good causes, or how hard I try to not perpetuate that privilege. The simple fact is, as a white male, I’ve never been told I can’t do something. That is mind-blowing, given how often women and young girls, people of color, people of non-Christian faith, and the LGBTQ community hear the exact opposite. (Or, in other words, the majority of our country.)
Never being told you can’t (for any reason other than pure safety) leads to Trump, to rape culture, to groups of old white men writing health care legislation without a single woman in the room, to white nationalism, border walls, bathroom legislation, slavery, voter ID laws, police brutality, etc. etc etc. I could go on for fucking ever.
Then I think of all the times I encouraged my hockey daughter to out work the boys. I know my heart was in the right place, as my intention was to encourage hard work in general, but my phrasing was problematic for sure… I was perpetuating my privilege. Teaching my daughter that she needs to work harder than boys to simply be considered equal, that she needs to compare herself to boys (or anyone for that matter), was wrong.
Then I read the How to raise a feminist son post on Kottke.org, which focused on a NY Time article of the same title. A key quote:
Even as we’ve given girls more choices for the roles they play, boys’ worlds are still confined, social scientists say. They’re discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They’re told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy.
If we want to create an equitable society, one in which everyone can thrive, we need to also give boys more choices. As Gloria Steinem says, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”
The Times post also contained advice for raising boys (great advice for all children, btw), including encouraging friendships with girls:
Research at Arizona State University found that by the end of preschool, children start segregating by sex, and this reinforces gender stereotypes. But children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem-solving and communication.
With all that said, we’re sticking with co-ed sports (for now), because we feel it will be a growth experience for our daughters. I hope we have better experiences next season and I hope that by our daughters (and their girl friends) showing up and competing, we’ll start to open more minds and spark more discussion between parents and their sons — at least locally. In the end, all it will take is a hard check to change our mind, I imagine.