Tag Archives: gender

Integrating Sports


Organized sports have been in the news an awful lot lately, and not in a bowl/pennant/series kind of way. It’s been all about sex. Sexual orientation, sexual (mis)behavior, and gender orientation in team sports has been popping up like kernels in a Jiffy Pop. The accumulated effect of these pops is to force us to look at sports with fresh eyes. Why are teams gender-specific? Well, because (we sputter), because…men are biologically larger. Sometimes they are, and that is an ancient argument that we used to keep women out of the police force, the firehouse and the military.

If a standard of physical skill and strength is set for a team, why does it matter the gender of the player? Organized sports have never been so popular amongst children. Free-range play for every age of child has been replaced by team sports. During the K-12 years, boys and girls are often the same size, and in some cases the girls are bigger. There are unisex teams for children, but usually they only lasts until middle school. Most sports do not legally allow full body tackles. So if a girl/woman has an equal skill to that of a boy/man what is the issue exactly? Why are we hanging onto this gender specific paradigm? We let go of most gender specific curriculum years ago (show of hands for those who remember being tracked into sewing/cooking or mechanical drawing/shop.) The “Boys” and “Girls” engravings on old school doors while quaint are ignored. Title IX opened up an entire world of athletics to girls. And that was good. But it has been almost two generations since the initiation of that progress. Team sports have become as routine an endeavor for girls as ballet once was. So why aren’t boys and girls playing on the same team? Well, (ahem) what of the locker rooms, you ask?

Why in the world do we design locker rooms in which there is no privacy, particularly in schools? Is there ever a life stage more rife with body image issues?! Why do we subject any person to such a thing? Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, transgender; everyone deserves a little privacy. That aside, the short answer to the locker room question is; build locker rooms with private showers equipped with a small vestibules (with hooks and shelves.) Lockers can be in a communal setting and dressing/undressing can be done privately.

Any organization, which by definition is for only one segment of the population, cultivates a potentially unhealthy camaraderie. The less diverse a group the more myopic their orientation. A group can easily influence even the most open-minded individual, particularly when they’re coached that there is no “I” in team. It is in closed societies that we often find misdeeds towards others. Opening up the teams to any person with the skills/talents to play the sport will create a better environment for all.

As more young people openly identify as transgender and/or L(esbian),G(ay),B(isexual) we will be faced with privacy and equity issues. And this is good. When we change the way school athletics is handled we will (eventually) see the effect on professional sports. It took years of Title IX to get us to the WNBA, and we certainly have a ways to go in other sports. But it is progress, and that is good.

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Education


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The Math/Science Divide

Why don’t girls excel in math science? Well, for one thing what does excel mean? I’m a (mature) girl and I’m good at math but don’t find it to be particularly compelling. I much prefer studies involving people and social behavior. I quite took to college Physics (as let’s face it, it explains the whole freaking universe) but never loved it enough to marry it. I do know female mathematicians, programmers and scientist (rocket and otherwise.) They exist in moderately significant numbers. Are there still a lot of lockers available in the lady scientist dressing room? Yes, and it’s a good thing attention is being paid. But what about boys?

If we’re going to engage in conversations that generalize gender why do we focus on girls’ deficits? Why is it we never discuss the gender discrepancies in the social sciences? Where are the boys in studies of philosophy, exposition, psychology, and sociology? Do they measure up? Why is it that the top (public) high schools in New York City are for math/science studies only? Do math and science concentrations lead to better paying jobs? Sometimes, but when did public high schools revert back to their roots of workplace preparation? I suspect that what’s really at the root of the exultation of math & science is the very fact that it has been a male-dominated field.

We have a long rich history of imbuing male centric endeavors or behaviors with positive attributes. It is immaterial for this argument, to dissect what gender behaviors are learned (aka socialized) and which are innate. Any parent of a baby will share with you their surprise when his/her yet to be socialized tyke exhibited gender stereotypes. Is it that the parents are looking for gender specific behavior in their child (and fail to be impressed by gender atypical or gender neutral behavior)? It doesn’t matter. Gender is very very important to people. It’s the first thing one asks when hearing about a new baby. It’s the first question on almost any form. We’ve decided it’s important and part of how you elevate a concept is to attribute it with certain characteristics.

Fine. But why are characteristics long associated with boys some how more desirable than characteristics attributed to girls? When did we decide that expressing emotion is a weakness? Was it at the same time we decided that an affinity with numbers is more admirable than an affinity with language? Why do we think that understanding machines is more valuable than understanding people? While it is true that as a cultural we are becoming slightly less rigid around gender issues. We have quite a ways to go. At the heart of much of our rigidity is our sense that boys are strong (which equals good) and girls are soft (which equals bad.) This core belief colors much of what we do as a society and traditionally has left little wiggle room for boys who enjoy a softer side and girls who enjoy a stronger side.


Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Education


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Everybody’s Fancy*


Everyone is entitled to be the person they wish to be; adults, teens, children; everyone. As long as you are not hurting anyone, you can live your life exactly as you see fit. Society does expect some level of conformity of course, mostly to avoid utter chaos. We can stomp our feet or roll our eyes at the notion of conformity, but we look rather adolescent doing so. The world is large and diverse; there are a lot of us living on this relatively small planet. We make certain accommodations to ensure a modicum of tranquility. Nobody enjoys waiting on line but as a society we’ve decided it’s efficient. We’d probably prefer if the bus took us directly to our front door, but that’s not how a public bus works.

Public education is just that; public. No one person’s rights are more important than that of anyone else. Yet recently there was a report of a public school being pressured to behave otherwise. A transgendered elementary school student’s parents wanted her to use the girls’ bathroom. This arrangement worked until it didn’t. As the student got older there were parents (and perhaps girl students) who grew uncomfortable. A gender neutral bathroom was provided by the school, but the parents found this option ostracizing. Teachers and administrators had always used the (adopted) female pronouns for the student, which would indicate efforts of inclusion.

On the surface one might think; “They’re kids! Let them use whatever bathroom they choose.” But there’s a reason that bathrooms are divided by gender. Sometime around age 5 (otherwise known as; school-age) children become aware of gender differences. If we asked the parents of the transgender student they would probably recall their child expressing frustration at having boy parts (versus girl parts) at around age 5. Children develop a (healthy) curiosity about gender (both physical and social) at this age. Role playing games start around this age (ex. house, office, etc.) They often explore their own and other’s bodies. There’s nothing perverse about the curiosity. But like all behavior in children, it needs to be monitored. Children have much of the same physical anatomy they will in adulthood, but that doesn’t mean they should be engaged in adult behavior. They also have the physical ability to smoke and tie one on. But even the most precocious child is not equipped for adult situations.

It is easy to think of a child (at any age) feeling coerced and/or frightened by situations. It is also easy to imagine a bathroom frequented by children of all grades and unmonitored by adults. All kinds of things happen unbeknownst to adults in a school bathroom. This in no way is to suggest that a transgendered student is any kind of aggressor. Far from it. But why should a girl child be exposed to a biological boy child in the most private of ways? What if that girl child is significantly younger than the transgendered child? What if the girl child has been victimized at home? In other words; how are the rights of one student more valid than that of another?

The fact is that they are not. No one person is entitled to anymore than anyone else. Equal opportunity means just that; equal. Sticking to the bathroom motif; anyone who has stood on line for a public restroom because the people in the front of the line avoid the handicapped accessible stall, know this to be true. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted so that people had equal opportunity, not so that there was a private unoccupied bathroom stall available at all times. Everybody’s fancy, everybody’s fine and everyone is equal. We need to accept (not tolerate) all people. We need to allow for all points of view. But we also all need to live together, and sometimes that means not getting every last thing one wants. Sometimes we need to consider how others are impacted by our behavior. Sometimes we need to use the private bathroom.

*Some are fancy on the outside.
Some are fancy on the inside.
Everybody’s fancy.
Everybody’s fine.
Your body’s fancy and so is mine.

Boys are boys from the beginning.
Girls are girls right from the start.
Everybody’s fancy.
Everybody’s fine.
Your body’s fancy and so is mine.

Girls grow up to be the mommies.
Boys grow up be the daddies.
Everybody’s fancy.
Everybody’s fine.
Your body’s fancy and so is mine.

I think you’re a special person
And I like your ins and outsides.
Everybody’s fancy.
Everybody’s fine.
Your body’s fancy and so is mine.

Fred M. Rogers (1967)


Posted by on March 19, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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Race From The Top


It’s delicate to talk about race. It’s downright incendiary to do so about a race outside of one’s own. Of course it’s the 21st century and we should have matured beyond this point by now. We think nothing of discussing religion, politics or sex at the dinner table or loudly into our phones on public transport. But race? Well, that’s a horse of a different color.

Race matters, as does religion. Many people define themselves by, well by their people. When asked to describe themselves in three words, many will default to; race/religion, gender, politics (or romantic affiliation depending on context/election year.) How we define ourselves is based somewhat on our affinity to a minority group. If one is a white Christian male, he may define himself in terms of profession or hobby. For truth be told, the majority venture through life a bit differently than anyone in an underrepresented group. (It can be confusing to consider women, who are 51% of the population as “underrepresented” but when we do so, we are referencing their position in society.) In the broadest terms, a white Christian male experiences, on the whole, fewer incidents of exclusion. They likely don’t have shop owners looking at them askew, or taxi drivers refusing their fare. They don’t have people assuming they’re the nurse (versus the surgeon) or the flight attendant (versus the pilot.) They don’t look upon the White House Christmas/Easter celebrations, year after year after year, and think; “Where do I fit into this Christian country?”

Almost any minority narrative is peppered with “where do I fit in.” We look at the culture as represented in entertainment, commerce, and leadership. We seek something familiar, someone with whom we can identify. With each decade our popular culture becomes incrementally diverse. If we were to grab the television remote today, and try very very hard, we could probably find positive depictions of more than the majority race. We may even find gay and lesbian people/characters who weren’t playing the perennial punch line. Women are more prominent in serious roles on television. But without a lofty film career or British citizenship on their resume, they are still mostly (two packs-a-day, dabbling in harmful behaviors) underweight and equipped with perfectly symmetrical faces. But they do vary in shades (if not body type.) The lighter darker skinned woman is much more prevalent on the small and sometimes larger screen. Many primetime dramas have a principle cast that includes women of (near of far) eastern, Latina or African American background. Most (if not all) are quite light. You can’t say the same for men of color in television or film. We could all probably rattle off at least a dozen high-powered/profile big box-office actors who are on the darker side. Some of these accomplished actors also wear the mantle of sex symbol. Can we think of even one actress with dark skin who is a) big box-office or b) a sex symbol? (This question is not rhetorical, please post comments.)

Recently the casting of a (n unauthorized) film about Nina Simone was leaked. Ms. Simone was a breath-taking talent (and civil rights advocate) and a dark skinned woman. The actress selected is Dominican/Puerto Rican and quite light skinned. While color blind casting can work, it does not when the subject matter is inextricably linked to race. Most likely there is no grand conspiracy at work here. More likely it is a general industry consensus that lead actresses need to appeal to the majority white male. Walk into any hair salon in any neighborhood and ask the women of any race, religion, and ethnicity if they would throw Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx out of the bedroom. Go ahead, I’ll wait. But women, to be considered desirable by popular culture, must look somewhat related to Barbie. She can be Barbie’s tanned cousin, but her features (i.e., hair, face) must still look as if they belong on the Mattel family tree.

The good(?) news is that we have made some progress in the area of dark skinned leading men (no doubt Sidney Poitier was getting very lonely.) But the much more disturbing news is that women must still conform to a perceived majority male ideal. Is there any market research to bear this ideal out? Or is it simply that there are just a handful of people in any real power in Hollywood and what we see is in fact their own personal preference? Dark skinned actors are fine, because these male producers (probably) don’t want to sleep with them. They want to hang out with them (because in their worldview of race, this will make them cooler.)

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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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Vive Le Difference!

I am a feminist.  I do not waiver pronouncing that fact, and do not understand people who do.  “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I do enjoy the right to vote, work, control my fertility, etc.”  Good G-d, just say you’re a feminist.  It’s not a dirty word, and it is not synonymous with man-hating.  But I digress.  I believe that women are much more than the sum of their parts (augmented or otherwise.)  At times, I have resented the male to female reassigned peoples that equate womanhood with wearing make-up and high heels.  I am about as femme as they come, but it is a choice not a condition of my gender.

Here’s the rub.  I live in the world.  My beliefs aside, I know that as a woman I am judged on my appearance far more than my male counterparts.  I also have no doubt that I have used that inequity to my advantage at times.  Like cheese and fish, the gender-physicality-inequity phenomenon, becomes more pungent with age.   One need only turn on the television to confirm that more 60+ actors are considered swoon worthy then 60+ actresses.  Thanks, in no small part to the baby boomers, the pendulum has swayed just a bit in the past decade.  For their part in this incremental change, I’d like to personally thank Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton.  (If anyone had ever told me I’d be thanking an actress for getting naked on screen…)

I doubt the gender-physicality phenomenon will ever be anything other than unequal (on the screen and on the streets.)  It’s just not how we are wired.  One need only walk through an art museum to be reminded that this disparity is not a new phenomenon.  Women (for reasons I won’t attempt to argue) have always been the preferred vista.

Personally, I have made my peace with this situation.  For quite some time actually.  I believe it all balances out.  I don’t take any particular pleasure in pointing out that (socially) men often get the short end of the stick.  Women have far more freedom in expressing themselves.  We have latitude in our attire (if you don’t believe me, try to remember the last time you saw a man going to work in a dress.)  We (mostly) walk through life with an air of perceived innocence (has anyone ever looked askance at a woman alone in a playground?)  We are not viewed as undesirable dating material because we a) don’t have a degree b) live with our mother or c) don’t own property.  We are expected to express ourselves emotionally and physically, and might even live longer for doing so.  For me, the social benefits of my gender far outweigh the physical bias.

I have no issue with the fact (yes, it is fact) that men and women differ biologically.  Having differences is not a license to be treated differently however.  I enjoy and expect equal rights.  I have not a doubt in the world that many many will take issue with all I have expounded upon above.  (Some) women in particular, are very angry at having their appearance be acknowledged in any way.  It’s not a constructive use of anger.  We live in a world of mostly sighted people.  Like most mammals, we use our sight to learn about others and our environment.

So as I age, and hopefully I will, I accept that unlike Mr. Tom Selleck, I may not become increasingly dreamy.  As long as I also get to chide people for cursing (in public) with impunity, talk to unknown small children without being mirandized, and hug and kiss my friends in public without notice, I’m not complaining.

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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