What activities did you enjoy while growing up? Did you ever feel shame, embarrassment, or even harassment for participating? Or were you lucky enough to play carefree as a kid should?
Growing up I participated in many stereotypically labeled “boy” activities—jet skiing, gaming, snowboarding, rock climbing, and more. I generally included myself in these activities as my family and family friends were predominately male. If I wanted to play with the group, I had to be willing to try activities that were “not for me”.
While I thoroughly enjoyed all these activities, I generally had to prove why I was in the sport or game, and I had to repeatedly demonstrate that I was as good as or better than the boys who were participating. At the time, I found it to be a slight annoyance for other boys my age or older to continually question the validity of my participation. However, as I grew older the constant questioning also grew more tiresome.
“Oh, so you play video games… which ones? For how long? What’s your K:D (Kill:Death) ratio?” After I responded to the barrage of questions, I would almost always get a response similar to “sure, you ‘play’ them..” that completely undermined my interest and enjoyment in doing something that wasn’t for my gender. While these comments never discouraged me personally from continuing to do what I enjoyed, similar comments have caused others—who feel more pressure to live within society's gender role— to give up some activities all together. I know that other female friends around me did not feel the same flexibility.
After experiencing having to repeatedly validate why I was enjoying a “non-female” activity while growing up, my hope for the future is for all people to feel the freedom to express themselves and participate in whatever they enjoy, regardless of their gender. The barriers produced by confining people to social gender roles are especially at the forefront of my mind as my 1-year old son is growing up quickly. I want him to feel the freedom to try out whatever piques his interest and to be able to fully express his emotions in a healthy way.
The downside of gender roles is that they could prohibit him from healthily expressing his feelings or stop him from trying out a “girly” sport that he has a genuine interest in. He could feel pressured to conform to what is expected for his gender and feel shamed or disappointed that he wasn’t able to try something he likes. My fear is that over time this avoidance could cause him to feel constant guilt over being interested in different sports or activities. To me, this is not a healthy way for a person to operate.
Instead, I want him to be able to grow up as a carefree kid and explore freely. I don’t want him to experience the same embarrassment or pangs of shame for liking something that wasn’t “okay” for his gender. In order to ensure this, I have made a point to introduce a variety of toys and activities to him as he is growing. I hope that my encouragement to explore and learn freely will allow him to truly find what he loves and pursue his interests as he gets older.