This year’s Superbowl featured a commercial from Always talking about how “Like a Girl” should not be derogatory, but praise. I agree. “You fight like a girl” has always been an insult when told to young men. Let me tell you – women are tough.
However, with all the media trying to lift the self-esteem of young girls, shouldn’t we be trying to lift the self-esteem of all children, regardless of gender? Young boys need self-esteem as much as young girls. Girls have all these programs to lift their self-esteem and get them interested in math and science. What do boys have? Sure, inner city and at risk youth have athletic programs to put them in touch with mentors, but what if your child isn’t interested in traditional sports?
Through my connections in the dance world, I know several studios offer partial scholarships to boys to attend their dance classes. They are often paired in a mentor-type program with an older boy who encourages the younger in his pursuit of dance. But not all studios offer this and in many communities, boys are bullied when they show an interest in dancing, even though some classes are just as physically grueling as a football or soccer practice. Go watch an advanced tap or clogging class.
Young boys are often bullied if they don’t fall into the “normal” sports world, ie football, soccer, hockey, baseball, etc. My community is big on hockey, and despite being a show choir community as well, if you are not involved in hockey or another acceptable sport, people look down on you.
How about instead of looking down on these families, you encourage them. So a son isn’t interested in traditional sports – what if he is an amazing artist or chef? Encourage this. Chess club or mathlete? Mind you, these two activities can be very cutthroat, just as any other competitive sports, but why don’t we have a mentorship program for these? High school student athletes often help out in younger recreational leagues as assistant coaches or referees. Why can’t the same be true for other activities?
Why can’t we just encourage a child, regardless of gender, to follow their dreams? If a young girl wants to play football, what’s stopping her? She will work just as hard as any other player on that team, sometimes harder, just to make the team and earn the respect of a coach. I tell my son every day, “You have to practice more and dance better than the girls on your team, because the judges’ eyes are drawn to you being the only boy.” Encourage a young chess player, regardless of gender.
Here’s my challenge – ask your child what they truly want to do. Not what you think they should do in order to be accepted by the community around you. What do they want to do? What do they want to be when they grow up? My son wants to be a zookeeper. He loves animals of all shapes and sizes. I encourage this. We broke down what he needs to do in terms of school so he can be a zookeeper. He needs to get his science grades up. He needs to read books on different types of animals. He will need to go to vet school and get an MBA. When he’s 16, he will start interning at a local vet clinic, helping clean cages and take care of animals. It is what he wants to do and I support him 100%.
He wants to dance as his after school activity. I take him to every single class he needs to take, extra practices. I watch his classes so I know what he needs to work on at home. I encourage my son in his efforts to be the best that he can be. If he were a little girl, I would be doing the exact same thing.
We shouldn’t pigeonhole a child into an activity because of their gender. A little girl who would rather mix chemicals in her EZbake oven instead of baking cookies or brownies should be supported. A young man who wants to play the flute or cello should be celebrated because he has a dream and the gift of music at his fingertips. A child who wants to go out for the local wrestling team should be given the opportunity, no matter the gender.
Celebrate the child and all their possibilities.