Monday, November 12, 2007

Tell Your Girls to Call for the Ball

I was speaking to a young mother of a two year old girl last week. She confided that her daughter hangs out with too many boys; she is not maintaining her girly-girl ways. "What next?" the mother said, "She'll want a baseball mitt for Christmas?" I smiled and checked my watch. What year was I in? I said quietly, "I hope she wants a baseball mitt." My smile confused her.

Over the weekend, Mina had a play date. The mother wanted to come over so I could give her baking tips. That sounded fun to me. She brought all three of her young daughters. The mother then spent a lot of the visit dogging her girls. The middle girl, from what I've seen, is a real kick in the pants; a five year old firecracker with strong opinions and not shy about speaking up. She is secretly my favorite of the three. I think she's special, but her mom used words about the girl within ear shot like "grates on my nerves" and "we'll always butt heads". Taken aback I said, "That's the type of girl that'll do great things." The mom asked sincerely, "You think so?" The oldest girl is in Mina's class and has a mild, sweet temperament. The mom relates more to her personality, which she clearly told me a few times. This older girl is also a stunning height, head and shoulders above her class. The mom told me she hopes she doesn't end up like one of those "amazon women with size 10 feet.” I sighed. "Maybe she'll be a great athlete." Rising up in me was a dislike for this woman that I didn't want to feel. I just wanted to tuck her girls away; maybe keep the middle one for myself. We also spoke about how she was so impressed that I could pass baking on down to my girls. This was funny to me because that hadn't really occurred to me. I think of baking as a love that I developed late. In no way do I look at it as a necessary skill that my girls should learn. I told the mom, "Hmm, you know, I don't bake often with the girls. When they really want then I do." She said that she felt it necessary to pass down cooking skills to her girls. I said the only thing I would make them learn how to cook was beans, but I'd do that if I had sons too. All Puerto Ricans must learn beans, boys and girls. My husband certainly knew how to cook beans when we met. There were a couple awkward silences during the visit. We were cordial and I tried hard to still like her. When they left, she apologized that her girls were so wild. I said, "Huh?"

A few months ago, my company hired an outside sales rep, who has since quit. He was a bulldog of a guy; aggressive with an agitated vibe. He never looked at me in the eyes. During one sales meeting, I asked him questions regarding our customers and he would answer my male higher-up instead, which I thought was astonishingly strange. The discussion switched to strategies of how we would pitch a new, reluctant customer and the rep suggested that they fly me in for a personal visit. The conference room erupted in approving laughter and brow-raised nods. I smiled and looked at my hands. In fifteen years of brokering -- even in the fray of this boy's-club industry -- I had never been talked about that way, to my face at least.

Last month, in Maya's P.E. class, there was an invitation for boys and girls to try to make the Elite Running Club. Runners would have to beat a fixed time for the mile, and if they did they earned an Elite Running Club t-shirt and their photo would be hung in the PE office. The time Maya had to beat was 7:30. On her first try, Maya missed the time by ten seconds, but she was determined about trying again the following week. I said, "That's great, Maya. I think you can make it." Then I asked, "Which girls made the time?" And Maya said, "No other girls tried out." I looked at her as she casually took books and a binder out of her backpack. I said, "Not one other girl tried out?" She said, "Nope." I said, "Did a lot of boys try?" She looked up, "Yea, there were quite a few." I said, "Of all the girls in your school, you were the only one that wanted to make this? Why?" Maya said, "I dunno. They didn't want to get all sweaty before lunch. They thought it was stupid." I felt we were on a greased hill sliding back down. The following week, when Maya ran a 7:28, beating the time, I made a huge deal of the Elite Running Club. I told her she was inspiration to all the girls at her school because not only did she make it, but she had gotten out there and tried.

My heart sank, however, for all the girls I see from her school be-makeup'ed and heeled and fiercely fashionable. They strut around self consciously, masked by a You-Go-Girl era only to be devoid of real empowerment. It's just not the same as speaking well of ourselves, of other women, of our daughters, is it? It's not the same as flipping off our heels and jumping in the game because we're able, because it's fun, because we want to see exactly of what we're capable. I hope we all get a baseball mitt for the holidays.

Here's the sleeping dream I had last night; kind of on topic:

I dreamed that I was in a park playing a pick-up basketball game of three-on-three. I handled the ball most of the time. I drove on my defender to the baseline, pulled up and shot. The ball spun off my fingertips perfectly. I felt the adrenaline of shooting when a person guards you. I felt completely on fire. The ball cut through the basket in a perfect back spin that rubs against the net and make a sound that every shooter craves. On the next play, I drove the lane. I saw the opening clearly. I spurt past my defender and attempted a lay up against a big guy in the middle. I missed the lay up, but I felt so pumped that I knew I'd make the next one. I strutted to the top of the key and called for the ball.

I woke with a start, thrilled. I hadn't felt that good about basketball since I really used to ball the dudes up.


Maven said...

The world is so fucking ridiculous it makes me want to scream. And I think the worst part is when people don't even know what they're doing or saying because they have been instructed (culturally or whatever) to think a certain way and have never questioned it. And then they pass this along to their children.

I was reading the New Yorker at the gym last night, and even in the NYer, in a little blurb about training for young corporate presidents, the article distinguishes between "presidents" and "female presidents." That slowed my roll on the elliptical machine. As did reading about all the recent coverage of Hillary Clinton's "giggle." Really? Are you kidding me?

At least you know you're doing a good job. I have to tell you that I think of you and your girls often when I'm getting gymified, first because I'm such a gym-wuss and second because I think I could've used some more sports-related life lessons when I was growing up. I suppose it's not too late.

Maven said...

Oh yeah. I was going to say something else about "empowerment." There's nothing wrong with empowerment per se, but I think the word is often invoked as a substitute for actual progressive thinking. How about instead of making pink "girls RULE!" merch, you stop marketing any gendered stuff to babies and toddlers? How about you start treating your boys and girls equally as you raise them? How about you get interested in the things they are interested in instead of foisting your own ideas of girlhood or boyhood on them?

I could go on and on and on (and I kinda did. Sorry.).

Julia said...

I hope I can pass my baking down to my _son_

I also hope that he likes sports and rough-housing. Because I enjoy those things as well.

The genders are not identical, but please people, learn to appreciate that being strong, intelligent, outspoken, athletic doesn't mean that you aren't feminine. You make this point so well.

Congrats to Maya on joining the elite running team. I'm happy with a 10 minute mile these days.

Marigoldie said...

I participated in my own oppression for years--gosh, decades--so the men in my life would like me.

This all makes me so sick now, and the power of my anger shocks me. I made it out of my hometown and my old life, and it feels like I narrowly missed being hit by a train.

acumamakiki said...

It's so hard, the hanging out with the parents of our kids' friends. The friends of my daughter pre-school, were the mamas I liked and now, it's not my choice. Luckily most of the playdates are drop-off nowadays but lordy, I get really upset when parents label their own kids.

And for the record, you don't have to be tall to have large feet. I'm good and average and 65 1/2" tall and I wear size 9 1/2 shoes.

Most of A's friends don't play with the boys and have all-girl parties. She still has a few boys for friends but she's very sensitive to say, they are just friends.

I got what I found to be good aadvice from one of my patients, a mother of 4 girls, who said her daughters always had a sport. They didn't have to be the best, but they had to try and they had to do something.

Everytime I think women are moving forward (it's sad that that even has to be labeled), I see how entrenched our society is by stereotypes.

I've been thinking we should have a basketball hoop for our garage, this settles it - a hoop for the holidays!

madness rivera said...

Hi Maven, Hi Julia - preachin to the choir, my people.

But you made it, MG! Here you are, helping the rest of us too.

Acumama - Man, I'm smiling something big about the holiday basket going up. Can't wait to see A in the driveway shooting hoops in striped tights.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I haven't commented before, but this post spoke to me - I am six foot tall with those dreaded size ten feet! I loved track and field, have a masters degree and change all the lightbulbs, mow the lawn and clean out the garage in our little household. I am also married, love being a mother to my little one, adore baking and can sew. It's too sad to see that some people are still trapped into thinking you are either or and seem scared of strength in women. My parents said their goal was to bring up well rounded people who would be of service to humanity, not little barbie dolls. Way to go on your own parenting!

John said...

I think you are 110% correct. However, I think the biggest problem comes from women. Men are just happy if they survive having teenage daughters. Girls should be girly girls, and they should be athletes and jocks, and they should be doctors and scientists, and anything else they want to be. As long as it makes them happy. If you look at some of the professional females athletes today, some of them use their femininity to their advantage, rather than thinking it makes them weaker. In our society, women have all the power because we men are too stupid to realize how easy we are to manipulate. Ask a woman who works as waitress for any time at all how long it takes her to realize that if she flirts a little with the guys at the table how it improves her tips. Women are only limited by the limits they put on themselves.

Oh, as a guy whose mother taught him how to cook, please, PLEASE teacher your daughters your love for cooking. I have seen too many young men and women who have been relegated to a life of takeout by their inability to cook.

madness rivera said...

Hi Mona - thanks so much for your great comment. You sound Renaissance! And I love you and your parents for it.

Hi John, thanks for the comment. I guess I don't want to have to use flirting and my femininity as my strongest advantage. That's why i didn't want to go on that biz trip, y'know? My company was looking to use these things for THEIR advantage. But my sharp mind shoulda done the trick. My strength. My courage. My insight and intuition. Many women are quick to use flirtation because we've been taught and shown that that absolutely is the quickest way to fell a man or get ahead. It is manipulative and dishonest and it often undercuts other women. I don't blame women for using it; usually they're just trying to survive.

I think when female athletes overplay their femininity, it's not their idea. Marketing them that way is way more profitable, don't you think? I'm sure they don't tell LeBron to butch it up so he can make the most of his career. I suppose we just don't want to be told how to act or what strength to use or labeled in any way. Any brave and genuine thing we do is woman-like, because . . .we're women!

That's cool you picked up cooking. I really do agree that for boys and girls it's important to know how to cook and clean, if just to survive the independent years. I guess I don't want my girls to feel like it is a requirement of being a girl. They are interested in cooking and I think that's my style of parenting as a whole is to generate interest and have them seek to learn more themselves and not feel anything is super forced on them.

degan said...

what a lovely, inspiring (and empowering!) post. it's terrible what nasty views end up filtering down, but hopefully the message will get through eventually...

Marigoldie said...

John, you've got to be kidding with these comments. Women in our society have all the power because we can manipulate and flirt our way to bigger tips when we wait tables? Really?

I think I'll cut out the middleman and go straight to selling my body for money. Then I'll really be powerful.

paintrly1 said...

Thank you! Thank you for this post especially! Hopefully I will be a Mom soon and I am going to keep your post today as inspiration. You hit upon the real issues and problems today. If we can't raise our children to treat people with respect and love and acceptance, and to be comfortable and confident in being theirselves, then we have failed.
The woman that was visiting you with her daughters is such a good lesson in how not to think of your own children. I still remember hurtful things my parent would say to someone within my earshot.
And I am sorry for the treatment you endure at work. I think that fear causes such behavior.
Thanks again! I feel stronger today!

madness rivera said...

Hi degan, thank you!

And paintrly, I gotta say you kinda choked me up when you said you remember your parents talking about you. This is what I'm talking about. Will that firecracker 5 year old remember? Of course she will. How long does it take us to shake those things off? Longer than if our parents had spoke only highly of us no matter how (fill in the blank) we were. Thanks for the comment and here's to your future mommydome.

KT said...

Sometimes the world feels precarious doesn't it?

betty boop said...

ha, ha, love how diplomatic you are with john, and then you have marigoldie....classic!
it does seem like we're going backwards sometimes, in this world.
way to go to maya for doing that run.

staggering to the finish said...

One thing I've never understood, is why girls would want to be cheeleaders. Why wouldn't they want to play the game themselves instead of watching sombody else? Here's one for all the girls who shun the pom-poms and shoot the J!

TXphysicist said...

I am completely convinced that every girl should be taught how to cook, sew, keep house, and look good while doing those things. Likewise, every boy should be taught how to fix a car and anything around the house, and be taught that sports and fitness are important. Now, before you call me sexist, let me say that I also think that every girl should be taught how to to fix a car and anything around the house, and that sports and fitness are important, and every boy should be taught how to cook, sew, keep house, and look good while doing those things. ;-) My point is basically that there are some skills that are just USEFUL. And everyone should know how to do those things, regardless of gender. The US Air Force agrees ... that's where my grandfather learned how to cook, sew and do his laundry. They taught him so well that he refused to ever let my grandmother do those things, claiming that she didn't do them right! As far as what happened at your work place ... well, let me say this: I love being a woman, and part of what I love about that is that (many) men will notice if I look good. If I walk into work wearing something that's even a little sexy, the first 5 minutes of conversation with my male coworkers revolves around "You look really nice today! I don't think I've ever seen you wear that, is it new?" It's flattering, and that kind of attention makes me feel great, empowered even. But it's never crossed that line! I think that if someone said to me what was said to you ... damn ... let's just say you have the patience of a saint for not kicking some butt right then and there!