As a mom of three boys in a sports-loving household, I am no stranger to discussing the day in sports at the dinner table: the Top 10 plays of the week, the wise picks for fantasy football and predictions for upcoming games. Last month, I found myself unprepared for a discussion that came up about Mo'ne Davis, the 13-year-old Little League female baseball phenom.
"Isn't it great that Mo'ne Davis is kicking butt at the Little League World Series?" I said with enthusiasm as I poured the milk. "Not really" said my 9-year-old. A bit surprised by his lack of interest, I went on, "Really? Well I think it's pretty cool that a girl with a 70 mph pitch is one of the best players there." My 9-year-old was not biting and frankly ready to move on from the conversation to other exciting plays of the day. Puzzled by his lack of enthusiasm, I pushed once more for a response. He finally said, "What's the big deal? You just think it's great because boys are usually better at sports."
Wait, did my child just say that?
My child, who has been raised in a home with an equal division of labor in and outside of the house, where liberal and feminist views abound, believes that boys are better? I couldn't help but wonder if this belief transferred to areas other than the sports arena. Did he think that boys were better at all sports? At Lego building? At math? After my attempts at casual questioning, it appeared that this opinion of male superiority was circumscribed to sports. I would be lying if said I wasn't a little surprised and disappointed by his reaction. I guess I had assumed all along that our family values would automatically translate into the kids adopting similar values. I thought they were raised to believe that boys and girls were equal, in all areas.
The phrase, "You throw like a girl" is heard all too often in sports, from little leagues to the big leagues, usually with a negative connotation to shame boys' performance. In contrast, it has been refreshing to hear Mo'ne Davis' coach and others in the media say "she throws like a girl" to describe her outstanding skills. Just last year we started a new family tradition of attending the Little League World Series held annually in Williamsport, Pa. Given my boys' love for baseball, I think it's no coincidence that they have roots in Williamsport, where their father was raised. As we made this year's pilgrimage during the last week of summer, my hope for my aspiring baseball players was that they throw like a girl, like this girl.
There has been a lot of focus in the media and on parenting blogs on the importance of emphasizing girl power and empowering girls. There has been much less attention on raising boys to appreciate this viewpoint too. As a mom of three future young men, I see my job as raising my boys to embrace this notion of girl power. Subtle or not so subtle messages in society and the media are hard to overcome. Though we have made a lot of progress regarding women's equality in the last several decades, we are not yet there. This discussion came up in the context of baseball, but the message is one that should transcend sports.
It's my opinion that dinner time discussions are some of the most important in a child's life. They are potential opportunities to have exchanges like the one I had with my son. This dialogue is a process, not a one-time conversation. As a parent, it is my job to start this conversation. I can't wait to see how it ends. On one particular night late in the series, my 9-year-old said, "Hey Mom, too bad Mo'ne isn't pitching tonight." There's a start to a discussion I think I like.
Terry Lee-Wilk is a psychologist who lives in Columbia with her husband and their baseball-loving boys. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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