Childhood Memoirs: Gender Roles

As a young child, I read Tom Sawyer, and became jealous of boys.  Gender roles were still very much a thing back then: Just look at the Brady Bunch for proof.  The girls did ballet and their mom taught them how to take care of the house and cook; the boys did sports and got jobs.  You also had the idea that boys were into cars and tinkering, so they could get an old beater and make it work.  Meanwhile, girls weren’t into stuff like that and had to get their boyfriends to help them if they needed car repairs.

Well, Tom Sawyer made me wish I were a boy because climbing trees and playing pirates sounded like lots of fun.  Of course it didn’t occur to me that I could’ve been doing those things all along, but the only real barrier was living in a big city with few kids nearby and no park in reasonable walking distance.  I just accepted it as a given that boys did those things and girls didn’t.  (I’m not sure if I had read the Little House books yet, where Laura went against gender roles.)

I decided to rebel against gender roles.  I asked for a toy car, which surprised my mom, but she got me one anyway, and I played with it.  I recall having it on display in my room for many years after I got too old for such things.  I also got a storybook about boys playing sports, from the book club that sent books to every classroom every month.  (Scholastic?  Troll?)  I read that book from cover to cover and enjoyed it.

I eventually went back to my usual interests, but fondly remembered my “rebellion.”  Heck, I never stopped rebelling against ideas of femininity which seemed appalling or useless.  No, I wasn’t into shopping or spending lots of money, a stereotype of women that persisted well into the 90s and probably later.  I wasn’t into being “crazy” (a concept which nowadays we know is actually misogynistic).  I was against cleaning up while the guys watched football.  I was against the idea that a man couldn’t cook or clean or help with kids, or that I had to “obey.”  I wasn’t into cooking.

(Even now in my Greek church, the predominant idea is that women like to cook and men aren’t really into that, so women do the hospitality stuff.  The church newsletter, written by the priest in the mid-10s, used to say any “ladies” who wanted to bake/do coffee hour/make prosforon/etc. may do so.  I think that finally started to change after I quietly edited “lady” to “person,” and men started signing up for coffee hour.)

It’s also true that as a small child, playing in the dirt “bank” (as we called it) next to the house, I made large stones into cars and played that way happily many times, with no thought to whether it was a “girl” or “boy” thing.

When girls started playing sports at school, I didn’t “get” it.  Sure they’d play some things, like tennis, but basketball? football?  I didn’t understand those girls–though some of them did seem “boyish” in the way they walked or talked or dressed.

Not that nobody female ever liked playing these games recreationally instead of in a sports team.  Playing volleyball or shooting hoops (which I did) or tag football were also things that girls did in the eighties at, say, church youth parties.  I couldn’t get the hang of team sports, though, which got people mad at me during gym class.  It was too fast for me, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening or what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t know back then that it was because of NVLD.  I may have thought it was just that I was a girl, or that I didn’t watch those sports to know what I was supposed to do.

In college, the early 90s, my girl friends and I still didn’t get girls playing the rough-and-tumble team sports, even though some of the girls were into watching the Packers, which surprised me.  (Before I started college, I still thought none of my roommates would watch sports because “girls aren’t into that sort of thing.”)

When I became a youth leader around 2001 and girls were just as much into playing sports as boys were, it seemed weird to me.  But over time, as feminists have pushed the idea and more girls have realized they like it, I’ve become used to the change, and even think it’s great.

Though I still hate sports.

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