Whether you have a son or a daughter, one of the joys of parenting is supporting your child in the things they love to do. My third grade son has always loved to dance, and his enthusiasm for the activity has always been just as important if not more so, than his actual talent. However, his zeal was recently thwarted when we enrolled him in a hip hop class where he ended up being the only boy in sea of twenty girls in sparkly Converse shoes demanding to dance to the latest Katie Perry song. Feeling out of place, he left in tears and has not wanted to go back since.
Our experience in the class really got me thinking about my own experiences as a competitive athlete growing up, and how this has influenced my role as an advocate for girls, a teacher, and a mom. I am in my early 40’s and I vividly recall my experience as the only girl under the supervision of a sexist tennis coach. I was always put on the last court and it was clearly a punishment for the boys if they had to play with me. I hated that coach, but it also contributed to my intensifying dislike of tennis. Today it’s much different. If you have a daughter and she likes to do things that are typically “boy,” you are probably prepared to look for a class or a program that makes her feel comfortable. Not only that, but the coach or teacher is usually aware of the particular challenges of being one among many and goes out of their way to make her feel comfortable. I can think of countless soccer teams with ten boys and one girl where the adults make a point of including the girl and treating her equally. And even as the girls get older and move into single sex teams, there’s still recognition that if a girl wants to participate, they have the right to be there.
But apparently, this is not the case if you’re a boy. What amazes me is the lack of care and consideration we have towards our sons in similar situations. “Boys don’t like to dance,” “Boys don’t like to read,” “Boys don’t like to be in plays,” are just a few examples I have heard repeatedly as a teacher, writer, and parent. As if we, the adults, are not the ones responsible for creating the very environments where our boys would feel comfortable and included.
In my son’s case, he lasted two classes. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes as he was excluded and ignored by the teacher and not surprisingly, therefore, the students. He sat by himself fighting back tears. When I talked to the staff, they informed me that they have problems with boys all the time. When I asked if they even think about why they are having problems retaining boys, the person shrugged and said, “Boys don’t like to dance.” Well mine did. That is until he took that class.
So the question to all of us is why we are so committed to forcing boys out of arenas that are typically reserved for girls?
At least with girls, it is understood that the world can be an exclusive place for them and they have the language and voice to speak out against it. Boys usually don’t know this, and in their ignorance learn to feel ashamed for anything they do that is remotely girl-like.
As my son and I drove home after the hip hop debacle and I told him we would withdraw him from the class, I asked him to think about this experience if he was ever in the situation where there was one girl with a group of boys. He nodded and then said, “I just want to go home.”
I waited to reinforce the lesson another day, and instead just went home to listen to Grandmaster Flash and Mary J. Blige so he could reclaim the music he loves.