Girls’ Sports, Sexist Dads, and Mean Girls

When I was a girl, only the tomboy had created for herself a space to be good at sports. Being a tomboy was a privilege–the best of all worlds; you could wear both Chuck Taylors and rabbit fur muffs. But while being a tomboy won you grudging respect and a few secret admirers, in my day, the cheerleaders still got the boys. And besides, the sacred space of the tomboy is temporary–junior high and high school demanded you close that door if you wanted to belong.

My daughter has it better. She doesn’t have to define herself as other-than-girl in order to excel at athletics. And even on the elementary school playground, her reputation was solidified through the open admiration of boys. She enjoys a kind of freedom to be herself that encourages her to move through space as her strength allows without sacrificing her femininity to do so.

I recently read a blog post by a guy who fancies himself quite the father. To be fair, he’s a decent writer and probably a loving dad. But when fathers pass on the stereotypes, it drives me up a wall (right up to the glass ceiling he’s helping uphold). This well-meaning blogger congratulates himself for making his daughter’s two siblings attend her (let’s face it, he says) boring middle school play, the caveat being that at least it wasn’t a girls middle school basketball game. REALLY?!

First of all, a real dad goes to whatever his kid participates in, and if it’s sports, he should have the perspective to know that playing sports boosts self-esteem and that women’s sports have improved tremendously in terms of the ability to play the game over the last decades. Many consider women’s pro basketball to be the pure game and the men’s game an aberration, depending on a few blingy stars but no real Teamgeist.

Secondly, I suspect if his daughter were an athlete, he’d cringe at the air-balls (just like my parents cringed at the squeaky instruments in countless band performances), but he’d revel in the steals and the courage it takes to play a sport in what is essentially a loud fish bowl in front of an unforgiving audience. Fathers should be absolutely supportive of their daughters playing sports–and of the opportunities open to girls in general in athletics (despite the many problems, shortcomings, and inequalities present in girls/women’s athletics)–because sports teach girls to move through the world in a way boys and men take for granted. Women’s sports are on television now because the skill level is far beyond what it was when I was a kid, and this visibility creates all kinds of positive expectations about women’s sports in the future and women’s place in the world that are difficult to measure.

Of course, this father’s post–the topic of which was teaching his son what it is to be a real man–could have easily been retitled “how to teach your kid to be an adult with integrity.” What qualities do we nurture in boys that we wouldn’t in girls? Be respectful of the opposite sex. Keep your word, etc. None of these edicts are gendered.

That said, another phenomena of girls’ sports has cropped up which is distinct from the experience of boys, and that is a level of meanness that boys teams don’t engender or tolerate. Much as been written (and films made) about mean girls in various social contexts; mean girls in sports is a new frontier, a product of girls excelling in athletics and transferring middle school codes of popularity to ideas of who belongs on the field or the court. I almost wonder if some kind of false masculine bravado isn’t an aspect of this girl-athlete persona (see the video Sh*t Soccer Girls Say– is a discussion to be continued, but to my mind, evidence of the fact that we have come a long way in girls’ sports, both for better and for worse. On the one hand, I’m all for breaking through etiquette about sweat (vs. perspiration, “girls perspire, not sweat”) and feminine language, but do we have to go straight to crude? Perhaps the video can be read as a parody. Either way, shame on you dad, for knocking girls’ athletics. Heaven forbid your son should take an interest in pottery or ballet.



Tagged with:

1 Comment

  1. my3tots says:

    Oh, the self-congratulatory, self-labeled “feminist” dads! At this point, I think women can stop going all mushy and fawning over dads who participate in their kids’ lives, and raise our expectations, already! Single dad? We give that man a medal of honor. Dad walks into class at Univ. wearing a 3 month old on his chest, diaper bag in his hand, and a bag of books on his back? Ovaries exploding. And then he opens his mouth and we don’t dare dent his fragile ego for fear he’ll give up altogether (or other women will verbally assault us). Why do dads who do their jobs as parents (go to games, keep the kids while the wifey’s out, etc.) get a free pass?

    As for mean girls in sports, my friend’s daughter has been doing competitive cheerleading since age 5. She’s a wonderful flyer and could probably outperform most college cheerleaders in tumbling. She auditioned for her high school’s team, thinking it would help reduce the bullying she’s suffered. We were all floored that she wasn’t chosen-not even as an alternate. I think it had something to do with a former boyfriend and some gossip. Popularity contests, gossip… Ok, girls, you win. Yey, violence. Equality- and then some!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *