Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two Thoughts on Gender Presentation and Youth Sports

Yesterday was Little League Day in my town, which meant Thing 2 and I spent much of the day doing baseball-related activities -- team photos early in the morning, the big parade through town at noon, and then a game at 2. And I found myself thinking about boys and girls along the way, since our Little League has separate but equal baseball (boys) and softball (girls) programs once the kids get out of the integrated T-ball years (for five- and six-year olds).

1) Actually, that's not strictly accurate -- there's at least one girl in the boys' minor league, since she's on Thing 2's team. (I think she's the only one, but I'd be quite happy to be wrong.) I noticed her last year, when their whole age cohort was one division down, in the "farm" league, and was thrilled to see she was one of the best in that league. (As, of course, she would be -- outliers like that always have to be better.) This year, she's on my son's team, and I'm proud of that for reasons I can't entirely explain. She's still better at the fundamentals than my (somewhat dreamy) son is, but this league is more competitive to begin with, and the level of play is definitely stronger than in "farm," so she's just in the middle of the pack now. Still, I'm happy to see her there, and even happier to see her family cheering her on. I don't know if she's going to go anywhere with baseball besides having fun in this one town's Little League, and I have no idea why she wanted to play baseball rather than softball. But I'm glad that apparently there was no fuss about her doing so, and that she's as much a part of the team and the league as my son is.

And, again, there's a weird indefinable pride to knowing she's on my son's team -- perhaps it's the glow of being able to feel morally superior without any effort. Or maybe it's just that Americans love the underdog.

2) Boys wear a traditional baseball uniform: cleats and long socks under three-quarter-length gray pants, with short-sleeve two-button (thus pullover) collarless jerseys and hats in the team colors. (Thing 2 is maroon, as he has been for each of his four years in the league. I suspect this Means Something.)

But the girls in softball have what looks to me like a much sillier outfit -- their socks are the same length, but striped, as if to call attention to themselves. They wear shorts rather than pants, which are shiny like basketball players', and don't reach all the way down to the socks. Their jerseys have no buttons and no sleeves, making them essentially muscle shirts. And they wear visors (without tops), all in the same color (dark blue). All in all, it looks (to a man who has read too many comic books) suspiciously like what superhero companies do when they make a distaff version: give her the man's uniform, minus at least 25% of the fabric.

Presumably, the reasons for putting a mass of 7- to 13-year-old girls in this softball uniform are very different from the reasons for, say, Star Sapphire's peek-a-boo costume. At least I hope so. But I don't see any obvious reason why the girls are saddled with such silly variations on a perfectly good uniform -- the gap between socks and shorts alone will clearly making sliding into a base much more difficult in softball. It looks to my suspicious mind like someone decided that the girls' uniform had to be different -- because heaven forbid they be mistaken for real baseball players -- and then changed everything in arbitrary and dumb ways. But then I am a noted cynic -- perhaps there is a great reason why softball players need to have naked knees, shoulders, and crania, and I would love to know that reason.


Terry said...

I hope you'll report back when you find out. I think I'd take great pleasure in raising unholy hell about it, myself. But that's just me.

KLWilliams said...

When I was a girl in the seventies girls' softball* teams weren't allowed to slide, so not having proper pants wouldn't have been an option. However, they did have the same kind of uniform as the boys' baseball teams did.

A few years back my company had a picnic at which officers of the company were put in a dunk tank, and if you threw a baseball and hit the target the guy would get dunked. There was a particularly fellow I really wanted to dunk, but my first two attempts at throwing the ball went wild. Then I realized that I was a girl, so I threw the ball underhand (software style), and dunked him. Yay.

* I almost wrote "software". Heh.

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