When boys are young, parents and others seem to be a little more lenient when it comes to the activities they choose to participate in; however, the majority of boys are registered in hockey, baseball, football, and other male-oriented sports. Some do register in dance or gymnastics, but they represent a much smaller group of boys.
But something interesting seems to happen by the time those boys reach a certain age. People start to raise eyebrows when they’re still dancing, and good luck finding classes for them.
My 19-year-old took recreational gymnastics about 8 hours a week for seven years, and would have stayed with it if we had a better club; the club he was in was coached by a couple whose boys became quite successful in the sport, just about the time my son wanted to get serious and start competing. Classes became almost exclusively focused on their own children, and the rest of the kids stood in line while their kids were corrected over and over again until they got it right. To my disappointment, despite living in a large city, no other gym club coached male gymnasts. The other clubs were for girls only. My son was devastated, but we had no options, so that was the end for him.
We ran into a similar issue with ballet. My two younger boys participated enthusiastically in ballet, and my 12-year-old absolutely loved the idea of being the only male dancer in the troupe, who would eventually have to be strong enough to lift girls. He was proud of the strength and flexibility he would require to be able to do it. My youngest absolutely loved everything about it, and really wants to dance this year, but there is absolutely nowhere within an hour’s drive for us that will take boys in ballet classes. Having talked to other parents of boys, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in wishing that there were more classes for older boys in both gymnastics and dance, particularly in ballet. There are some troupes that offer hip-hop to boys, but where we live, we just can’t find a class that will take boys.
This infuriates me. Why does sport have to be specific to gender? As young kids, they’re already segregated into boy’s soccer and girl’s soccer. Boy’s hockey and girl’s hockey. It’s perfectly OK to combine girls and boys in dance, gym, and swim classes—but for some reason, even those become segregated in most clubs at a certain age (with the exception of swimming.)
Worse yet, those classes disappear completely for boys, with dance and gymnastics clubs for boys being nearly impossible to find, while girl’s hockey, soccer, basketball, and so on are everywhere you look. Girls are patted on the back when they sign up for traditionally male-centric sports such as hockey, football, and rugby. To make matters even worse, boys are openly discouraged from participating in these activities, and teased endlessly if they continue in dance, gymnastics, or even figure skating.
My 19-year-old couldn’t have cared less when he was in gymnastics — he was ripped when he was in gym, and he knew he looked good, and was good at it. That was all that mattered to him. But my 12-year-old, G, decided firmly against going back to ballet, despite his enthusiasm and love of the dance last year, because he felt it was socially unacceptable for a boy to be in ballet. His teacher had assigned a dance project to the kids last year near the end of the year, and he was so excited about it. We even got a pair of ballet shoes signed by the Principal Dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for the project, and he was almost finished with the project when one of his peers did a presentation on hip-hop, which resulted in the class bully teasing him, labeling him with rude nick-names, and reducing him to tears. My poor G was devastated, scrapped the whole project, and refused to do it at all. Now he refuses to sign up for dance classes again. Even hip-hop, which he really wanted to do this year, is off the list now. I’m heartbroken for him as he has come to believe that he has to conform or be scoffed.
The message we, as a society, are sending is that if you’re a girl and you are interested in male-centric sport, you’re strong, bold, and willing to go after whatever you want. The message we’re sending boys is that if you are interested in female-centric activities, you’re ‘girlie’, ‘gay’, and weak.
Things need to change. Our sons deserve to be able to express themselves in every way they wish. Raise your boys and your girls to be open to all things in life. Girls participate in martial arts, rugby, soccer, and hockey, wear blue, and have been wearing pants for decades. So let’s open up our boys’ worlds too.
Yes, it will take time, but we have to start somewhere. Curb comments from your kids that refer to gender roles, and talk to them about the fact that pink and blue are only colors. Offer dance classes, gymnastics, art classes, and other stereotypically ‘girlie’ activities to your young boys. Let them lead the way in expressing their interests, and allow them to explore a wide variety of activities and interests. Let the kids be kids! We need to change their world into one that’s less inclined to slot males and females into neat little gender boxes, and into one that’s open to allowing boys the same opportunities that girls have to explore all of their interests without judgment.
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