The thing about Jackie was, she was kind of a tomboy, too. She played sports and liked to spend recess running around just like I did. And I remember this one conversation we had on the way to school more than anything else we ever did together. There we were, 7 years old, talking about why the boys in our class seemed to not want to talk or play with us and how we didn't always feel comfortable hanging out with the other girls. (At the time, I didn't realize that particular conundrum would become a theme in my life.) So, we devised a plan. Our devious little minds decided that if we were to actually walk into Mrs. DelGrosso's class talking about the Yankee game the night before, the boys might actually let us play with them. It wasn't hard for either of us to talk about it, both our dads were pretty obsessed with baseball and the games were always on at home. We'd both been to Yankee Stadium(the old one in the Bronx) and seen games in person and genuinely enjoyed the game. I think the plan even worked for a time. The boys couldn't resist chiming in on our, I'm sure, startlingly poignant observations about the most recent matchup. We had moved over to their turf, the world of sports. We were interesting. We were ok. For girls, that is.
It's interesting to me how often this memory comes back to me. For years I remembered it just as a silly story, as a small triumph in manipulation, in the power of becoming all things to all people. But more recently it reminds me of a deeper issue in our world, this way in which the "things of women" are often portrayed as less interesting, more silly, certainly less worth the time for most of us than the "things of men". I use quote marks because I hate that we put these interests into gendered categories at all. It's the same problem that labeled me, an athletic girl, as a tomboy or that makes people worry when a little boy likes dance or art more than his soccer games. The same issue that made me proud of being a tomboy and terrified of being a "girly girl." That made me struggle with feeling thankful that I was born a woman. Yes, I confess it. I've added to the problem just as much as the next person.
Don't hear me wrong. I am not trying to argue that there are no differences between men and women. I think there are beautiful ways in which we often approach life from different angles and we need each other to understand the world more fully because of that. But when my son says things like "I can't get that, it's a girl color" or tells me that the girls won't play with him at school, I wonder why it has been so easy for this divide to take root. I wonder at which point his friends will start to make fun of girls for the things they like to play. I wonder if they'll say things that I heard from boys growing up, things about my general inferiority or silliness or those backhanded compliments along the line of "you're different from other girls, you like sports" or "you can be one of the guys".
Now, as a parent, I want my little boy to feel free to be who he is. To not feel bound by certain things, like the color of a toy or shirt, to learn how to respect the differences between him and the little girls he plays with and to not grow into the perspective that one gender is inherently better than the other. I want the little girls he is friends with to be given the chance to be themselves and not be at risk of being called a tomboy or girly-girl or needing to say or do a certain thing so the boys will think they are cool enough to hang out with. I want toy manufacturers to think hard about ways to engage kids that don't just play into stereotypes, challenging kids to explore all facets of their imagination, to put things on the market like this new female-oriented engineering toy, GoldiBlox, you can read about here or watch the video below. . If I had a daughter, you'd better believe I'd be pre-ordering. I might just get it for my son, in spite of his aversion to pink as a girl color.
Mostly, I don't want my kid to ever have to feel like this is a battle, that there is some inherent war going on between him and the girls in his life. I lived like that for way too long myself. It's a whole lot easier to just go ahead and be yourself and love the people around you for who they are than to constantly fight. To speak truth when necessary and to refuse to go along with the status quo when it's wrong, to take those parenting moments when you have the opportunity to impart some huge piece of wisdom on the subject and use them well. To refuse to get into those conversations, seemingly harmless, that jokingly bash the opposite gender or perpetuate harmful stereotypes on either side. To be light in one area in a world that still has a long way to go to be a just and safe place to live for all people.