Little girls often grow up protected from injuries and danger in a way that boys aren’t. We swaddle little girls in cotton wool and teach them to be fearful of dogs, wasps, bugs, cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
The boy version of this treatment isn’t much better. “Toughen up buttercup.” Worse yet, “Man up,” or “Have some balls.”
Boys can hardly ever cry without scorn and derision. I’ve seen seriously injured young men be afraid of showing pain or fear and that can’t be healthy either.
The worlds of boys and girls are radically different places, even for infants.
I recall when my six month old daughter was wearing a red onesie an air conditioner repair guy once punched her in the arm, in a friendly way, and said, “Way to go Tiger, Grrr.”
If he knew she was a girl he’d have apologized and so I didn’t say a thing.
My daughter turned out pretty fearless and I’d like to take some credit for that.
Of course athletes can’t have these fears of scrapes, bruises, and broken bones. And so goes the mismatch between ladylike values and the norms athletic performance which I’ve blogged about before. See Do ladylike values clash with the norms of sports performance?.
Women’s bodies are supposed to be all soft, without signs of wear and tear. See On the wearing (or not) of gloves and the care and feeding of calluses.
Of course, having soft hands is also a class issue, a sign you don’t do manual labour. Lots of women are socialized to not even get their hands dirty. I am often the one called on–when riding bikes with a group of women, in a mixed group some guy always volunteers–to get chains back on. Yes, your hands will get bike grease on them but I’ve always thought that was one of the reasons bike shorts usually come in black. The other reason is here. Apologies if that was new to you.
My son plays rugby and it’s a rough game. It’s rare he emerges from a game without a new bruise or cut. No ambulances this time around but two players have been bandaged and the medics have made a half dozen trips out on to the field. (I’m writing as I watch a game, bad rugby mother but I’ll be blogging about being a sports parent later!) If I had a daughter who wanted to play I hope I’d encourage her just as much. Certainly, I regret that I didn’t get a chance to play rugby. It looks like a lot of fun to me. (See Indoor Soccer, Team Sports, and Childhood Regrets.)
I’ve written a bit about the value of dangerous sports and about gender and risk here.
I loved the Warrior Dash in part because it flew in the face of traditional feminine values. (See A few words about the Warrior Dash.) Let’s go run in the mud and our mothers won’t tell us not to get dirty! I think that’s certainly part of the popularity of the Dirty Girl races. We’ll have a guest blogger writing about the Dirty Girl race in Buffalo at the start of September. I’m looking forward to hearing her perspective. The Warrior Dash also had lots of mud. At the end of the Warrior Dash we were covered in it. And I haven’t checked in with my Warrior Dash companion and cousin but for me washing off the mud revealed some pretty serious bruises and scrapes.
Sometimes I feel the need to tell people I’m not a battered spouse. I have Aikido bruises, rowing scars, soccer bruises, and now Warrior wounds.
Some people wonder how you could even like an activity that results in bruises and scrapes. But there’s a kind of physical toughness that athletic activity requires. I ride my bike in the rain and although I struggle now more than I used to when young, I try not to let the cold put me off the outdoors.
I’m not saying I enjoy getting hurt but truth be told when I’m playing I don’t notice. I’m not proud of the battle wounds but I am proud of my physical toughness.
Here’s some video footage from Dirty Girl and Warrior Dash and the Stanford women’s rugby team. Does it sound odd to your ears to hear young women saying “I like to hit people” or “Tackling is fun”?