Girls Can’t Play Baseball

12 years later and I still remember the day my Eldest child climbed her first mountain. She and I were hanging out at a local indoor playground where she was exploring the colorful structure in the toddler area. I was about six feet away as I watched her struggle to get over a one-foot high foam wall focused on reaching the colorful pile of blocks in the middle.  She would get a little stuck just as she was at the top of the wall and start teetering on her belly like a stranded turtle. There was no way to know what would happen next . . . maybe she would fall face first onto the other side or maybe she would fall back on to her heavily diapered behind.

I watched. I waited. She teetered.

Oh . . . the parenting suspense.

As I sat there watching her determined self try to conquer, what for her was a mountain, I remember thinking to myself, “Go little girl, you can do it!” And then just like that, a well-intentioned mom swooped in and, with a gentle “Here you go sweetie!” lifted her up and over the wall.  I thought nothing of it at first, but then it happened again and again and again. When she would get a little stuck, struggling to get over the wall, someone would come in and help her out.

Three times, back and forth she was not allowed to do it on her own.  Now, I cannot be certain, but every time someone lifted her to the other side, I am pretty sure that Eldest gave them the “Hey lady, I can do it myself!” stink-eye. Eventually I moved a little closer and just as the next parent was about to make her rescue move said, “It’s okay, she can make it on her own.”

The sociologist in me widened my observation lens to see how other children were being treated and, yep, you guessed it, the only kids getting this kind of help were the girls.  Now I am sure that no one was thinking, “Poor girls, they can’t make it without some help” but that is the message that was being sent to my daughter. The message of what can be expected or assumed of girls was being sent loud and clear: boys can be left to overcome, girls must be helped; boys can be rough and tumble, girls must be pampered; boys CAN, girls canNOT.

As the father of three girls and living in a home where all of the fish are probably female as well, I fully admit that we have no idea what it means to raise boys in today’s world of messed up expectations of masculinity and maleness.  In the same vein, as a the parents of girls, 7, 10 and 14, we have a unique view into various stages of girlhood through our own daughters and their friends.  Most of the girls we interact with are confident and thriving, but, sadly we also see girls as they begin to doubt their abilities, take on skewed images of self and start to expect less of themselves socially, academically and physically.

Simply put, the messages we send in word and deed about our girls have an impact on their ability to dream, struggle and thrive. [Retweet It]

It does not help when these kind of expectations still exist on the playground.  Our Middle child, naturally athletic, has started playing baseball during recess.  Recently she has become more determined and vocal about developing her game, including letting me know that her teacher thinks she has a “sweet swing.” Turns out that some boys have recently begun saying that girls can’t play baseball.  While she may not be destined to be a 6’2″ slugging third baseman, there should be no reason to think she can’t play a little ball in the 4th grade and beyond.

Progressive school, good kids and still we hear, “Girls can’t . . .”

We are fortunate to have a great school environment that will get all over these kinds of interactions before they get out of hand and my girls are surrounded by strong females, so we are confident that our daughters will be okay.  But, as we know, not all girls are so fortunate.  Girls that have these kinds of expectations reinforced at home, church or other formative contexts will inevitably own these expectations that are not born of reality, but of society’s continued view that somehow women are less than men.  And as we know, when girls begin to think less of themselves academics fall, unhealthy body imagery emerges and they accept and perpetuate abusive situations of all kinds.

To avoid these situations we must be diligent in avoiding placing empty expectations upon anyone, but especially our girls. Whether it be in the subtle messages we send like needlessly offering help when none is needed to the more dramatic ways that we direct their social, academic and physical lives, we adults must do our very best to raise girls who have expectations about life and the world that are driven by possibilities and hopes.  The world will present our girls with plenty of struggles and obstacles as they live life so the last thing they need is for those who have the privilege of raising them to add to the mountains they must overcome.

And in case you were wondering, when left to her own devices, Eldest did conquer the treacherous foam wall multiple times . . . and has been leaping over, around and through life ever since.

17 comments

  • Pingback: My 2011 Blogging Year in Review « Bruce Reyes-Chow

  • Pingback: My 2011 Blogging Year in Review | Bruce Reyes-Chow

  • Jim Nemerovski  

    I see that you do have “can” in the URL: great touch, Bruce!
    I recently discovered that in our SFYBL league a team of girls is quite a presence.
    Not having any idea of my own drive to support her own daughter, When I approached one of the team parents, asking if the team was a Softball or Baseball team she irreverently responded, “Well, what do those uniforms look like to YOU: they are certainly NOT softball!”
    I like discovering the passion and commitment other parents demonstrate about their own daughter’s right and fight to play in our National Pastime.
    BTW: did you notice that yesterday, TWO landmark events occurred by and for two separate women’s baseball careers:
    Woman throws historic batting practice in Oakland | oaklandathletics.com: News:
    http://girlsplaybaseball.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/woman-throws-historic-batting-practice-in-oakland-oaklandathletics-com-news/
    California girl earns college baseball scholarship – MaxPreps News:
    http://girlsplaybaseball.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/california-girl-earns-college-baseball-scholarship-maxpreps-news/

  • Gabe Lozano  

    Hey, Bruce-
    Noticed you switched blogs 6 days ago, so hope you still check the comments on this :-).
    Ran across this post originally on sfgate.com. It caught my attention; excellent thoughts.
    Have you heard of Justine Siegal? Thought you might be interested to know that she just launched the Baseball For All Network – her goal is to connect the 100,000+ participants in girls baseball. It’s live at http://baseballforall.lockerdome.com.
    Would be happy to chat about, if you’d like. I can be reached at gabe [dot] lozano [at] lockerdome [dot] com.
    Cheers!
    Gabe

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Thanks so much not just for the comment/critique but for the obvious passion with which you have raised your daughter. As a blogger, the “titling” of posts is always tricky. Balancing the “search” needs versus the “draw” is always difficult. I actually went through a couple. If you take a look at the actual URL you will see that it is girls-CAN-play . . . Thanks again for stopping by.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Thanks Sareen – Maybe you and our Middle should get together sometime and you can help her navigate that place in life. I have no doubt that there would be different assumptions and struggles should we have had three boys.

  • Jim Nemerovski  

    Correction: Donald Collins – CIFSF Section Head (Dennis Collins was the founding Head of School, San Francisco University High School, where my daughter, Jessica, was a member of the Varsity Baseball team until her Junior year, let go with no detailed, reasonable explanation, despite the excellent quality of her playing ability as demonstrated in the video, linked, below.)

  • Jim Nemerovski  

    Specific to San Francisco Unified School District Middle School Baseball: Gender Her-story:
    When our daughter played baseball on HER middle school team, in the San Francisco Unified School District, Athletic Director, Karen Hadley, and Principal William Hack, took decisive steps to purge the city’s baseball program of sexism: first, Mr. Hack deemed the sport, on the Spring and Fall photocopy-hand-out, “Baseball”, removing the word “Boy” as of 2007. Next, in 2008, when the school team won its first, ever team sport city-wide trophy, for an undefeated season, Ms. Hadley and the District’s Sports Director, Dennis Collins, agreed it was time to remove the age-old plaque from the city-wide trophy, which deemed the baseball league a Boy’s Baseball Association, replacing it with a gender-nutral brass-colored plate, replacing its precursor of 45 years.

  • Jim Nemerovski  

    As the father of the only girl recognized, (until two weeks ago, currently) playing Varsity-level Baseball in San Francisco, I suggest changing the title from “Girls Can’t…” to “Girls Play Baseball”
    While it is clear what your intention is, in focusing on the negative and providing support to leverage out of the social norms that negatively impact our children, by stating the negative you reinforce it: all a Google, Yahoo! or Bing! search sees is “can’t” when searching for “girls play baseball”
    As the publisher of the only, global, blog site dedicated to opportunities and reflections on girls and their supporters who do prefer baseball, girlsplaybaseball.org, as I search for the story to lift a little girl’s spirits, in the face of un-daunting rejection, your negative affirmation of the status quo fails to launch.
    Each women I know to be a passionate if not exceptional Baseball player, formerly a little girl who was rejected by her Little League, Middle School or, dare they had tried, High School coach, for the rest of their lives they have struggled and in many cases lead to successful careers, still, in spite of male dominance and prejudice.
    Sustained, regular input affirming a girl’s intention, will and drive to thrive in ANY area of interest, is the ONLY way towards change.
    To watch my daughter playing baseball, well, including 1-2-3 pitched outs on the mound:
    http://vimeo.com/jimnemo/jessicanemerovskiplaysbaseball
    As a volunteer T-Ball coach, I support each player on the field, boy and girl, as they get their first taste, sent, and feel for The Game, OUR National Pastime. So far, no one seems to be at all focused on the gender or length of hair under their respective baseball caps.
    Despite my critique: THANK YOU for your blog post!

  • Susan Phillips  

    My antenna went up a couple of weeks ago when my healthy third grader made a comment about her weight in regard to a nutrition unit at school. I know obesity is a growing problem, but if healthy kids hear messages about weight v healthy diet, we need to talk with our teachers.
    I also remember my eldest as a toddler creating her own obstacle course through the legs of a chair and going back & forth, over & over until she could do it well. “Do it myself, me!” she’d say emphatically. :)

  • Sareen  

    hi bruce, as the “middle” of three girls, i always love reading your parenting posts/perspectives on raising 3 girls. i sometimes wonder if by being a family of all girls, this point is emphasized more… versus if there were boys in my family we might subtly fit into our gender roles? not to say i would be an extreme female stereotype (i give my parents more credit than that), but i think about that a lot.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    @hayley – It really is funny how “helicopter parenting” has become so widespread. Let the kids explore and skin something for darn sake.
    @melanie – thanks for commenting. Yeah, the idea that we ALL help to raise “our” children is so very important. Thanks for being part of that for many!
    @janet – Thanks for the link!
    @rhiannon – Very welcome and blessings on your own parenting adventure.
    @libby – Amen to the power tools. Yep, pretty much adhere to the some process as your parents. Not everyone will take to everything, but everyone should get a shot!

  • libby  

    as a youngest of three girls i say, “bravo, friend”.
    my dad never thought twice about placing the same demands on us that he would’ve with boys. so we learned to pour concrete and drive heavy machinery and use power tools. we are also classically trained pianists and cry at the drop of a hat. my dad- who once expressed concern before my eldest sister was born that he hoped he didn’t get any “women’s libers”- was always the first to say “they can do it”, to allow us to ask for help when we needed it, and expect us to know the difference between 12 different kinds of saws.
    i’m a better feminist for it. a better woman for it. and probably a better pastor for it.

  • Janet L. Bohren  

    You are so correct in all you say above. Hope many read it and follow your very good advice. See also aauw.org to follow a national organization that has been speaking up and supporting women and girls for 125 years. (American Association of University Women). Thanks for your post Bruce!

  • Melanie Jongsma  

    Well said, Bruce. And it’s an encouragement to those of us who are not raising children but who may be influencing kids in ways we’re not aware of. Choosing to say, “You can do it” versus “Let me help you, Sweetie” can make a huge difference!

  • Hayley  

    Yup… have you heard of learned helplessness and stereotype threat? Both psychology terms that are applicable here. Very interesting studies have been done that show a very real difference in the way we treat girls(or insert minority group here) v. boys (or insert majority group)
    Though it’s amazing how many times P has gotten help from others on the slide at the park. I tend to hang back more than most, and last week he tumbled down unexpectedly – man the judgey looks I got from the other adults! WHY was I not 2 inches away from my child at every nanosecond?!!

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