Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Gymnastics and Gender Roles

I’m starting this post with a big huge congratulations to gold medal winner Gabby Douglas and to the whole U.S. women’s gymnastics team.  I was so proud to watch the beautiful artistry and athleticism of each and every athlete, and I was happy to be part of history.  An Olympic three-peat for the U.S. in women’s individual all-around, the first black individual all-around gold medalist, and the first year the U.S. won both the team and individual gold medals.  And I watched every moment of it!  Why did I watch every moment?  Because I loooooooooove gymnastics!

And here comes the gender roles discussions.  Gymnastics is typically considered a “girly” thing to like. (Even though men’s gymnastics is equally impressive, especially events like pommel horse which don’t even exist in women’s gymnastics).  It would be easy to say “Oh, Marian likes gymnastics because she’s a girl and girls like gymnastics.”  It would be easy to say that, but it wouldn’t be all true.  Why do I like gymnastics?
Because when I was seven years old, I watched the Magnificent Seven bring home the first U.S. women’s team gold medal.  I watched as Kerri Strug sprained her ankle, then bravely performed that beautiful vault and stuck that landing one-footed, and then had to be carried off because she was in so much pain.  My imagination was captured, inspired, and ever since that day I have been unapologetically in love with gymnastics.  A lot of people like gymnastics.  A lot of people my age probably like gymnastics for the same reason I do—the 1996 Olympic gymnastics team inspired them and ever since then they’ve just enjoyed the sport.  But this is my story, and this is why I like gymnastics.  If you assume it’s just because I’m a girl, you miss out on getting to know the real me.

It’s wrong, I think, to limit things by gender.  Sure, a lot of girls like gymnastics, but behind every person’s likes and dislikes there’s a story.  It’s not just because they’re a girl, or because they’re a guy.  It’s because there’s history, stories, passion.  I find it simplistic to say, oh so and so likes such and such because they’re a girl or because they’re a guy.  No, so and so likes such and such because it’s part of the inherent make up of their one of a kind, unique personality.  I don’t like gymnastics because I’m a girl, I like gymnastics because I’m me, Marian, and because I was inspired in 1996.  I don’t like lots and lots of fun shoes because I’m a girl, I like lots and lots of fun shoes because I’m me, Marian, and because my grandmother always had a different pair of shoes for every outfit, and I loved and looked up to my  grandmother.  Even though I’m a girl, I like video games.  I don’t like video games because I’m trying to be a boy, but because I’m me, Marian, and because when I was little and stayed home sick from school my husband and I would play video games all day long (though he wasn’t my husband yet, of course.)

What I’m saying is, don’t put people in a box.  When someone likes something gender typical, don’t assume it’s because they are that gender.  When someone likes something gender atypical, that doesn’t mean they aren’t “girly” enough or “manly” enough.  People are people, and every individual is unique.
But one thing that I think is especially tragic is when parents go so far to push their children out of the gender role boxes that they inadvertently put them in a new box.  Parents who will dress their little girl in any color but pink.  Parents who will let their little boys play with anything but dump trucks.  Or parents like my dad who pushed me to play soccer and softball but never let me try out for cheerleading.  I didn’t like softball at all.  I liked soccer marginally okay, but I was never very good at it.  I love watching gymnastics and I like watching cheerleading, and I would have liked to try those things to see if I was good at them.  I didn’t get to, though, because my dad didn’t want a girly girl.  He wanted more for me than to be trapped in a gender role box, but he ended up stopping me from trying things I liked.

So I say, let’s let kids be kids.  Let’s let them try everything, and let’s let them like what they like.  If a boy likes sports or drama, either way, it’s okay.  If a girl likes cheerleading or wants to play basketball, both are fine choices.  Let’s make it about their individual likes and dislikes, and take gender out of the conversation altogether.  What do you think? Is that a realistic way to handle gender role boxes?

Much Love,

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