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grasshopper

Third or fourth grade is the best time to separate the boys and girls into separate soccer leagues. But life is NEVER going to be fair, Lance. Every once in a while, a girl develops into such a strong player, the boy's coach will recruit her. And the girl is generally thrilled (her father certainly is), because to play on the boys' team, she really needs to be conspicuously better than most of the boys. The argument circulates that she would present unfair competition to all the other girls playing because she's light years ahead of everyone. That's how some people are. But right away, then, the other girls realize that the girls team is basically a "B" team. And rather than be relugated to that division, they decide it might be fun to try ballet lessons this semester. At the ballet class, much less often than the girl so good she gets to play with the boys, but nonetheless every once in a while, a boy enlists. He usually doesn't practice ballet unless he has an innate talent for it. But he never, ever is required to deform his feet by wearing toe-shoes at age ten. Seriously striving girl dancers are. And most of them crave those toe shoes. They fight their mothers who describe the toe shoes as grotesque.
And yet, if after ten weeks of bleeding toes and torn toenails, they decide to try soccer again (and few do unless their parents exert undue pressure), they return to the field at a disadvantage: all those games and drills, all that experience they've missed.
My cousin was the first, leading girl pitcher on her high school's baseball team, ever. And she was terrific. But the parents mostly groused that as great a player as she was, bettering that high school's historic all time record, the sad fact was: she would never make the major leagues as supposedly some of their sons--just might. For anyone knows to this day, she may have robbed who knows how many budding Dwight Goodens from their day in the sun.
Many times communities knock themselves out trying to level the playing field for girls. These communities go to significant lengths to make sure the girls get the same attention and encouragement in science and math. But life continues to be unfair. Prejudice against females pervades our lives so thoroughly we can not see half of it, or maybe more--ever. My younger sister was reared in a time and at a place where the parents worked strenuously to ignore any and all differences between male and female. Boys and girls wore the same overalls. They sported the same haircuts. Even by sixth and seventh grade they were expected to be the same playmates they were in Kindergarten. And you know what happened? The girls still turned into women and the boys into men, and life was still grossly unfair.
This does not mean I'm a defeatist. Some things are better. More women are doctors now than a couple of generations ago. Many unspoken subterranean prejudices have long since been rooted out. My point is merely how unfair everything is for everyone all the time. Male or female, some people are born with talents and assets and all the love anyone needs. And some must live without any of those advantages. And if we're so busy spooning up equal amounts of sugar for every child, if we don't acknowledge how different (as well as similar) we all are, we'll learn to live with graditude, or begin to recognize the unique beauty in everyone who crosses our path.

Sab

I enjoyed this piece, perhaps because I remember very clearly the first soccer game where my son (then third grade) played on a regular team with "girls" -- imagine that said with disgust. It took about three minutes for him to figure out that a couple of the girls were really, really good. He likes winning, so he became the instigator of a lot of points by passing to those girls who could score. At that point, they were teammates and all that girl/boy nonsense was forgotten for the duration of the game.

Bill Altreuter

I was in the stands today, watching my middle daughter play soccer. She is a high school senior now, and these will probably be the last soccer games I will see her play-- I doubt that she'll even bother with intramural soccer next year, although she might play rugby. It's been a long time with CLA, who just took to the game, and was, for a long time, usually the best player on her team. You know, the one about whom the other parents say, "Whose kid is that? She played co-ed ball a lot longer than any of her friends did, which might have hurt her game, but she enjoyed the physicality of it, and liked playing with boys. When, at 14, she was told she could no longer do it, she went the travel team route, and I think may have been frozen out in the girls team politics that had time to develop in her absence.

Or possibly that's just me, projecting. Certainly her athletic career has, to this point, been more storied than mine was in high school. She is now a dependable sub, good off the bench, a smart ball handler who seldom makes mistakes and who never flinches from contact. She was good today-- she looks lovely on a soccer pitch, if I do say so myself.

My oldest daughter will, at the conclusion of this school year, have completed eight years of single sex education: four years of high school, and four years at a woman's college in Western Massachusetts. While I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, for some girls, and for some women it is exactly the right thing, just as, I think, the "historically black colleges" are also exactly right for some young African Americans. Would I fell that way in a perfect world? Oh, man, I don't even understand the question. What would a place like that be like? My daughter-- the one in Northhamton, actually, might be able to tell us-- she is a Logic major, and apparently her chosen field allows her to speculate mathmatically about possible worlds. In my profession, speculation is a basis for objection, so I seldom indulge. I will say, however, that I like choices, particularly when it comes to my children. I'd have never attended an all male high school, but my friends that did (it is the norm for Catholic schools here in the Queen City of the Lakes) seem to have emerged unscathed. Choice is good.

Lex

Our local league is same-sex down to the 5-year-olds, and I suspect that's a good thing. My daughter, now 8, has been the shortest girl on her team four years running; she has enough problems without having to deal with Y-chromosome blindness as well. (She also has the rep of being the toughest on the team, and drama queen/hypochondriac though she can be the other 167 hours of the week, during the game it's absolutely true. She takes shots to the face at point-blank range and complains about nothing except her glasses getting bent. I should have been half so tough at her age.)

But even same-sex teams don't solve all problems. I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article about UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance in which, among other things, Dorrance talked about the psychology of coaching women and dealing with things like, "I don't want to pass it to her." "Why not?" "She's a bitch." What I found interesting about his description of the exchange, even though it plays into some unflattering stereotypes, is that he didn't pass judgment on it; he simply treated it as one more coaching obstacle to overcome. Put another way, he seemed to be saying that he just accepted his team members as they were and proceeded from there.

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