Free to Be You and Me

June 23, 2010

in Parenting

triathlon body marking

Triathlon mom on race day

“Boys are more competitive than girls.”

“Boys play more sports than girls.”

These are comments made by my son (Monkey) last Friday while we were having lunch with his sister (Princess Daisy). I know my son said these things because I saw his lips moving and the sounds were coming from his mouth. Otherwise, I would not have believed it.

How could Monkey say this when the woman raising him is super competitive and a triathlete? How could he say this when, in our home, I have been consistent that there are no limitations or stereotypes we place on any group of people?

I explained to Monkey that there are boys who are not competitive and who don’t like sports and there are girls who are competitive and compete in many sports. In Monkey’s 7 years of life, he apparently sees things differently. I was making no progress with my argument.

What he said was shocking, but sticking to his position was really upsetting to me. I was concerned because I don’t want Monkey to accept and perpetuate stereotypes. I also didn’t like Princess Daisy hearing from her brother there are limitations on her simply because she was born a girl.

But I knew this was an argument that I would win (note the competitiveness?).

I shouldn’t make a comment that this is a win/lose situation for my son. And, it is important to note that my son was not in trouble for expressing his opinion. Everyone is free to calmly express an opinion in my home and we then have dialog around the particular topic. I approach things more intellectually than emotionally as I think it is a better environment in which to learn life lessons and build core values. To communicate, introspectively explore, and come to an opinion is a healthy approach. That said, I was going to really work through this issue  with Monkey. Mother/son time the next day was needed.

Monkey was informed Saturday morning that he would accompany me to packet pick-up and to rack my bike for my upcoming triathlon. He would see all the women preparing, alongside men, for race day. Maybe this would help him understand that competitiveness (or lack thereof) and interest in sports has nothing to do with gender.

I didn’t mean for our outing to actually be a punishment for his comments. It was meant to be a bonding moment where he would also be enlightened. It turned out to be a punishment. It was at least 95 degrees and there was no parking near the transition area, where I needed to rack my bike. If you are a Washingtonian, you will understand what I am about to describe. We ended up parking by the Watergate and Kennedy Center and walked to the Memorial Bridge. In the heat. With my bike. Oh, and I didn’t put any money in my pocket so we couldn’t stop by the 10 ice cream stands we walked by in the 95 degree heat. It was miserable for both of us.

Overall, did my son walk away thinking on his own, “Wow, girls can do anything they set their minds to, just like boys?” No, I think the lesson was that mom is crazy to be competing in the heat. He did seem impressed to see I would be swimming in the Potomac River and we were there in time to see a practice swim. But I don’t think a larger understanding that we should not place limitations on people was reached.

Monkey did ask on the drive home why I wanted him to come with me and I told him. Exhausted from the heat, he answered, “Mom, you are right about girls. Let’s just say there are more professional baseball players that are boys.” I feel I got that response because he was tired and dehydrated, but the door is at least open to discuss. His mind is open to receive. Maybe the field trip wasn’t a huge failure. NOTE: I did buy him an ice cream on the way home too.

Did I make a big deal about this? Probably.

My reaction to my son’s comments is something I have contemplated as well. Why did it bother me so much? Why is it so important to me? Where does this come from in me?  I came up with three very good reasons.

The two biggest reasons:

  • There were strong female role models in my family.
  • My mother raised me as a single mom with little involvement from my father.

The third reason:

  • Marlo Thomas

Laugh if you want, but I loved Free to Be you and Me as a kid. I listened to it every day for several years. Maybe it was brainwashing, but if it was, why do we still have these attitudes about women? Am I the only one who listened to this record in the 70′s? Where is the progress?

Here’s an example of lack of progress: This season I heard a baseball coach yell at a kid on his team that he “ran like a girl.” With girls on the team listening. With an irate avid running mom listening. It was so frustrating, knowing I could outrun the coach in pace and distance.

Why are people continuing, in 2010, to  instill this backwards thinking in kids?   These limitations placed on certain groups are never factually based and there is no need to place a limitation on anyone for any reason. We should be building people up, not tearing them down.

I will get down off my soapbox and let you enjoy something from the past. Maybe someone reading this will keep their thoughts in check about someone based on age, gender, physical ability, or race as a result of this story. More important, maybe my kids will grow up believing what I still believe. That William can play with a doll, we can like each other regardless of our physical appearance, that gender difference isn’t a handicap, that we are all free to be you and me.

Didn’t I say I was getting off the soap box?

Thanks Marlo!


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Libby June 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I think sexism is alive and well, but couched in being “funny.” Well, I don’t think it’s funny I make 70 percent of what my co-workers make. Until we start fighting again though, it won’t end.

And I love Free to Be.

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T June 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

You freakin’ GO girl!

And a fellow triathlete at that. Awesome. I will be reading.
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Alex@LateEnough June 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm

No one in my family can say, you throw like a girl, and not mean AWESOME because I throw a football spiral better than anyone in the family. And my fastball isn’t so bad either.
But when I hear people say it? I can’t decide whether to confront them or just peg them with a baseball.
Alex@LateEnough recently posted..Average MomMy Profile

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Christy June 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

Kelly, LOVE your blog. I can see how blogging must be therapeutic in a way. What a great way to digest, reflect and document life! Thank you for sharing…I will definitely be following!

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avigail74 June 27, 2010 at 7:56 pm

There’s a land that I see, where the children are free, take my hands, come along and we’ll liiiiiiiiive!

I grew up on that music too! In fact, it was my aunt who edited the album and book!

Good going! I should pass this on to my aunt!

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Naked Girl in a Dress June 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Avigail :I do hope you pass my post along to your aunt. That would be really neat is she visited my site! If you go to YouTube and do a search, you can see other videos from the tv special.

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Avigail74 June 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm

She wrote back a short comment to me—if you want, I can forward it to you (where shall I do that?)

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Alexandra July 31, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Hi followed you here from red dress club. This is an excellent post, and wish it would be passed out to girls at the Jr. High level. Yup. Your words are essential to all young women as they grow from girls to women. This was wonderful, and very thoughtfully written. It is a great post.

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Naked Girl in a Dress July 31, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Thank you Alexandra!

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Cheryl @ Mommypants July 31, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I feel the same way you do! I would be very upset if my son said that boys were better at something than girls Sounds like you handled it really well! Also? I’m impressed w/ your triathlons! I only run – can’t swim and don’t like to bike!
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Kathryn July 31, 2010 at 10:29 pm

I loved this post – I have two boys and a girl and all my children have different talents and abilities. I am very careful what to say and show my children. Their Dad is a great example, he does all the cooking – and he teaches which ever child is interested. MY Dad? He just learned how to use the grill at 70. I think you are being a good example and your child taking the opposite point of view was probably more about showing their independence than anything else. Kids love to do or say anything that is different than their parents ;-)

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Naked Girl in a Dress July 31, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I agree that it is important to let children develop interests without expectations based upon gender. Good to hear your husband cooks and anyone is welcome to learn in the kitchen with him.

Thanks for visiting my blog too!

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Rachel Cotterill August 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

Maybe you should explain to him that there are plenty of girls who’d like to play professional baseball, but until people stop having these outdated ideas, sportswomen mostly won’t attract the same level of coverage and advertising revenue as their male counterparts.

I think you’re setting a great example, though. I’m considering signing up for my first (super sprint) triathlon…… but I’m a bit nervous!
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Naked Girl in a Dress August 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Go for it!

It is such a thrill to compete in triathlons. Sprints are not too scary so it is the perfect starter triathlon. You can even stick to sprint distance and be challenged by picking longer and more challenging courses. With the challenge in my personal life (divorce issues), I have less time to train so I am sticking to sprint only this year. I have really been enjoying this distance.

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Kate September 24, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Just coming across your blog via Studio 30+, and I love it! This post resonates with me bc my 6 year old son has a very similar attitude. I run, I bike, and I’m far more active than my husband, so why my little boy looks at things this way, I don’t know. He’s a little delusional in general when it comes to his own athletic ability (“I’m the best one on my soccer team!” “…uhhhh, you haven’t scored a goal in three years, but OK” <–clearly, on the inside!).

I think some of it is developmental, because I know it doesn,t come from the men in his life. My teenage boys know I rock…they won't admit it, but I know they think it because of the comments they pass on that their (female) friends have said about me. His attitude towards women, like your son's, will be shaped through his childhood with a strong, active woman…and that's pretty cool. :)
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Naked Girl in a Dress September 25, 2010 at 11:58 am

Kate,

Thanks for stopping by from Studio3+!

Yes, the people in their lives will shape their attitude. I hope seeing a mom participating in sports and who is independent will help. I have a duathlon in October and I was trying to figure out a way the kids could attend to cheer me on. I think it would be good for my son to see me competing.

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