Back in 2004, when my son was three years old, I accompanied my wife and son on one of our regular trips to the mall. Our usual routine, before we headed home, was to visit the food court ‘s McDonalds (a place my wife forbids us to visit now). As my wife and son found a seat I went to order him a Happy Meal. When ordering, the cashier asked if the meal is for a boy or girl, once I answered he placed a “Dragon Ball Z” toy in the box, opposed to the other option of a “My Little Pony” toy. I then brought the Happy Meal back to my son and wife as I then left to window shop.
Once my son finished eating they walked to meet me at one of the toy stores, which is my usual hangout. When they approached, I saw my son carrying a “My Little Pony” toy in one hand and a small toy brush in his other, and not the Dragon Ball Z toy. As my son gets near, the words out of my mouth will have a significant impact on how my son experiences the term “gender specific”— whether or not there is such a thing as a “girl toy” or “boy toy”.
In our world of dealing with racism and sexism, my wife and I trade off on who deals with the assault when in public, on this occasion my wife was the brave soul who resolved the issue because I was just not up to explaining to McDonalds that my son loved animals. He loved jungle animals, barn animals, street animals and when he saw a snow-white pony with long purple hair and a purple brush, Dragon Ball Z did not stand a chance; so why in the world would McDonalds not ask us what our child likes, or would prefer:(? But now the situation was on me; my reaction when my son approached, with his new piece joy, was my usual affirming voice of cheer as I said, “Heyyyyy, where did you get that snazzy pony from,” along with a wink of thank you to my wife.
On many occasions I have observed parents, or adults, speak adamantly about what is appropriate behavior and activity for boys and girls. I often feel we miss the impact of our own behavior as we operate in the gaze of children. I could have five bulleted points that I drill into my son’s mind about girls and boys being equal and toys are just toys, but what has a bigger impact, in most cases, is what he observes when looking upon me as I interact within the world that surrounds us. The “Dragon Ball Z vs My Little Pony” situation is a good example of “Social Cognitive Theory,” a theory developed by Albert Bandura, and one I have become fond of in the past two years. The theory simply says when we (adults, but especially children) see a behavior over and over again, and that behavior is rewarded, people will then conform to that behavior and mimic it. The significant factor in our decision to mimic is the rewards that we perceive will follow. In the case of my son, he values many of his toys because of my reaction to them when he says, “Dada, look what I got!” There is a clear pattern of my affirming voice as the reward, because in two weeks he doesn’t even care about that toy anymore, but he would definitely pick up on how a cute pony, with candy apple purple hair, does not cause the same reaction from his dad, as does a basketball with the logo of his dad’s favorite team.
This does not mean men cannot love basketball and I do enjoy the game of basketball, especially the college game and March Madness, which is happening right now as I write this. But how has my son experienced basketball in view of my joy of it, that’s the socialization that can impact if basketball has a gender? When we developed our homeschooling program my son’s music teacher happen to be the mother of our local university women’s basketball team. Every lesson she and I either talked about music or women’s basketball. I feel for my son because sometimes we are at the door about to leave and she and I would carry on for another twenty minutes while he patiently waited for a father who struggles to shut-up and is always smiling. Parents have to do better in cutting conversations short when their children are waiting. I do! I definitely do! I also have to work on cutting my blog short. I’m working on it! But there’s more:)
The point is, my son is in view of my enthusiasm of basketball whether it is women or men; young kids or teens, or just talking to the coach’s mom, my enjoyment is seamless between genders. With my personal history as a former player (point guard) he is aware that I loved Kenny Anderson, but also he knows I loved Teresa Edwards and Dawn Staley, who are all guards I mimicked. And he is also aware of other female players I loved to watch.
I became a fan of Lisa Leslie after I heard her say (in an interview) James Worthy was her favorite player. I said she must be cold if she’s patterned her game after “Big Game James.” And she was all that, plus some! I didn’t meet Sheryl Swoopes until the 1993 NCAA tournament when she scored 36 points in her semifinal final four game and then turned around and scored 47 points as she led her Texas Tech team to victory in the Championship game. And Cheryl Miller was magic to me because she and Cynthia Cooper are the first female basketball players I can remember watching on television back in the early eighties. So in my son’s life, all he has heard and seen are basketball players I love.
And this enthusiasm continues as we both watched University of Portland’s Cassandra Brown win the college three-point competition last year, beating all finalist, women and men. And in this year’s competition, Minnesota’s Golden Gopher guard Rachel Banham won the three-point contest, beating all involved, both women and men. Rachel even scored 60 points in a game this year.
But one of my favorite teams has two of my favorite players, and that’s Syracuse University and their backcourt tandem of Alexis Peterson and Brianna Butler. Alexis, is very simply a point guard quadruple threat. She can dribble, pass, shoot and pick your pocket. And Butler, her game is so deadly she scored 20 points in one-half, and I’m not talking about layups or mid-range shots—- three pointers. Specifically, I’m saying she shot six times from behind the 3 point line and hit all six 3 pointers in the first half of the game. She leads the NCAA in career three-pointers made and this season Syracuse University’s Women’s team is in the sweet sixteen, elite eight, and Final Four for the first time in school’s history. And I might as well say in the finals too because they are going to beat Washington and most likely face Connecticut (UCONN).
Alexis has been so good Vice President Joe Biden shouted her out in a message to the team on their accomplishment, and before last week’s regional semifinal game against Tennessee, Brianna has been so great the commentators showed a picture of her and NBA 2 time champion Ray Allen side by side, saying her form and accuracy is like his. I told my son “she’s actually one better because Ray never could dribble like her.” Her ability to dribble, pass and shoot “lights out” makes her un-guardable when she catches fire. And here is the socialization; this season she and Steph Curry have been two players you hear me yelling to my wife or son to come see the replay. My wife never cares, but when my son comes he witnesses the reaction of amazement as I say “watch where Steph shoots this from,” or “hurry up, hurry up, wa, wa, watch, watch Brianna,—- Bottom! See what I’m saying, they ain’t ready.” All she and Steph have to do is glance at the rim and opponents leave their feet. That’s how much teams respect their shot from anywhere on the court.
So what sparked this blog piece–two things. ONE– the wage discrimination lawsuit filed by the Women’s National Soccer team. Even if I consciously create an atmosphere where gender is not an issue in my home, we are raising a son who will understand how Race and Gender still plays a central role in the inequity we see within a system that does not reward women for their skills on the field, which plays a major role in perpetuating gender specific roles for both women and men. Our attitude as men toward women in view of our children’s gaze is only half the battle, especially when our dollars explicitly speaks to how and where we value women’s participation.
TWO–Vice President Joe Biden is alum of Syracuse University and this year both the women and men’s team are in the Final Four and he opted to go to the men’s game in spite of the fact the women are the better team, can definitely win the national championship, they are making history, and for the most part seldom receive the fanfare the men do even though they are the best ticket in town. He did send supportive messages to both teams, but again, what we DO has a far greater impact than what we say on ending the gender specific ideology.
What message does having the Vice President of the United States come to your game say to boys about basketball; it says it’s important and you will be rewarded for your participation with meeting your nation’s leader. And not going to the women’s game overwhelmingly says, their talent, performance, hard work and multiple first-time accomplishments is less valuable, and if they remain Nvizabo it is only more evidence that the Women’s National Soccer team wear their lawsuits and not their soccer uniforms.
Love & Harmony