When Jane was in the fourth grade she wanted to play football. What you may or may not know is that within the private schools in Los Angeles there are intramural sports starting in fourth grade. During the fall season the boys play football and the girls play basketball. Three years ago Jane wanted to play football with the boys. I said no.
I love sports. I play a lot of tennis, I’ve coached Jane’s soccer, before I was a soccer mom I was soccer girl. Sports matter for their own sake. I’m the mom that gets it.
Maybe I’m the mom that only sort of gets it.
When Jane wanted to play football with the boys I could see what she wanted. She wanted to prove to them that she was equal, she wanted to show the other girls that she was faster, stronger and smarter than the boys and the girls, everyone really. Jane wanted to physically dominate. I said no. Mr. G. said no to Jane and we didn’t offer her an answer, we just vetoed the whole football notion and sent her off to play a crappy game of basketball. Jane’s fourth grade teacher said I should fight for her to play football. We didn’t reflect on this, as we were pretty sure we did the right thing.
Alexander is in the fifth grade and he is on the football team. This year there is a fourth grade girl on the team. At the dinner table Alexander would talk about how there was a girl and at practice he had to block her. “You’re not allowed to hit her.” I’d say. Mr. G. would roll his eyes and ask why there’s a girl on the team. I’d be unable to answer, Alexander would be unable to answer, and Jane would just glare at us and say, “I wanted to play football but you wouldn’t let me.” I’d smile and say, “You’re not allowed to block a girl, tell your coach your mom won’t let you.” and then we’d move on to another topic.
Alexander would occasionally revisit how awful it is to practice football with a girl on the team. He’d moan about how it sucks when you can’t block the person you’re practicing with. I’d nod, Mr. G. would remind him to be nice to her.
They played a game today. It was a good game and the team dominated but I felt conflicted about it. I liked the little girl being there and I felt like her very presence was a victory for little girls everywhere. At the same moment I felt like her very presence ruined the experience for the boys.
I understand wanting the world to be equal. I understand wanting all the same opportunities. I also understand wanting boys to play boy games.