Skipping Double Dutch With A Y Chromosome
“When I was born, they looked at me and said,
'What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.'
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
'What a good girl, what a a smart girl, what a pretty girl.'
We've got these chains that hang around our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.”
— What A Good Boy, Barenaked Ladies
I have to admit I cringe a little every time someone says, "It's a girl thing" or "It's a guy thing." Unless we're talking about menstruation or prostate glands, the phrase feels like a claustrophobic generalization, one of those subtle little things that help keep people hemmed inside pink or blue boxes. And then there are the articles that profess to tell us "What Men/Women Want." Huh? *All* of them? Is humanity really that easily pegged? Certainly the advertising industry and its clients are happy to define us in this ridiculously simplistic XX and XY way. If they can convince us who we are, then they can also convince us what we need in order to be that man or woman. Ka-ching!
But that division—manly things, female things—is a fiction. There are women and girls who prefer pursuits (careers, hobbies) that have traditionally been considered male and vice-versa. Girls can be tough. Guys can be sensitive. Girls can be techies and guys can be fashionistas. Girls can be competitive and guys can be nurturing. It should go without saying, right? But as a society we're still hung up on old ideas. We're living in a time that likes to think of itself as progressive but still largely defines people in terms of pink and blue. Hell, it was practically just yesterday (and no doubt there are people who still believe this) that society believed boys were naturally better at math than girls. Who knows how many women have been persuaded that they likely won't succeed at math oriented careers because of these ideas? And how many men have avoided more 'feminine' careers because of attitudes evidenced in the Nike ad on the right (printed in the latest issue of CMYK magazine)?
Yep, that's right. It actually says “raise a champion” (not a loser ballet dancer son!). Heaven forbid if on top of raising a ballet dancer son, your daughter becomes an auto mechanic! How would you ever live down the double whammy shame?
But thankfully there are people out there who see through the whole gender as binary pretense and have the guts to be themselves, even when that means facing down social pressure and/or bullying.
Thanks to Feministing, for pointing me in the direction of this New York Times article on fifth grader double dutch competitor ZeAndre Orr.
ZeAndre was often harassed at his Brooklyn school for joining the Jazzy Jumpers team ("At any given practice, there can be as many as 60 jumpers. Of those, only two are boys.") and was even kicked down the stairs on one occasion. Even his mother's initial reaction to ZeAndre joining the team was, “Oh, no, Double Dutch is for girls!”
However, ZeAndre wasn't easily dissuaded. Last month he performed at the Holiday Classic Double Dutch Competition at the Apollo Theater. Holding his trophies in the lobby afterwards, a beaming ZeAndre said: “This was my time to shine.”
ZeAndre's story reminded me of a Shameless Magazine article by sixteen-year-old Trevor Dunseith in which Trevor discusses the common (incorrect) assumption that he's gay because he happens to like knitting, the colour pink and isn't a sports fan. It also reminded me of nine year old Nova Scotia girl Lydia Houck who sought to attend a boys-only summer day camp which included activities like fishing, hiking and golfing (meanwhile the only camp created specifically for girls was called "Glamorous Girls" and featured spa visits, manicures and pedicures).
Thanks to ZeAndre, Lydia, Trevor, and the family and friends who support them in their efforts to show their authentic selves to the world. You all make it that much easier for other young people to do the same.
Following their example, together we can strive to create a society where happiness, health and having respect for others is paramount—and labels and constraining expectations (whether they be based on gender, race, sexual orientation etc.) can be relegated to the past.
According to CMYK’s publisher, Curtis Clarkson, the "Raise a champion" ad isn't actually Nike's. “The 'advertisement' is actually the work of an art design student.” Nike had no part in its creation. Read more details here.