This one might ramble a bit, because it’s been a while and I’m feeling rambly.
I have a 5-year-old niece; let’s call her C. She’s an incredible child (how could she not be, coming from such excellent stock?). Smart as can be, curious, a champion reader (again, natch, given her family), long-legged, prone to shrieking, possessing of endless energy, manipulative, maddening and altogether, well, FIVE.
I was a little sad that she wasn’t into the Women’s World Cup recently, but given her opinion of football – “it’s just a bunch of running and it’s boring” (and that was American football she was referring to) – that’s to be expected. She preferred to create her own parade around the house, only diverting her route away from blocking the TV after repeated admonishments.
But I wanted her to see those women play together – proudly, fiercely, unapologetically – and I wanted her to see them win. In all their purple-haired glory.
Women’s issues…those have been a slow and hard challenge for me. I am wary, perhaps too much so, of being influenced by the unrelenting agendas of the media and the political parties and the corporations in our country, all of whom make it their life’s work to manipulate our thoughts and emotions. But after reading and trying to “do my research” I can’t shy away from the fact that women, as an entity, still have a ways to go to shake off the reigns of a misogynistic history. Sure, there’s been progress. But we still get paid less than men on average, and as for all the justifications of that? They are justifications but that doesn’t mean they are ok. We still die in childbirth at alarming rates, particularly black women. It’s been a mere century since we were “granted” the right to vote…which puts to rest any theory that “all men are created equal” really meant “mankind.” 1 in 4 of us are sexually assaulted at some point in our lives, and based on the experiences of my female friends, I’d wager that number is too low. I could go on, but most of you reading this will have heard all of this before. That’s not my point.
My point is that my niece is 5 years old, and already I can see it at work on her. Or maybe not so much on her, but on her parents, who are trying to raise a vivacious, demanding, bossy little girl who can grow into a strong, independent woman…while also trying to teach her the values of caring, kindness and quiet.
Example 1: I recently gifted C a new toy, donated to me by a friend who was housecleaning. She was exploring the toy, enjoying herself, and then she eyed a piece of the equipment that didn’t make sense. We watched as she puzzled it out. She knew we were watching, and after a couple of fruitless minutes, she set the toy down and huffed “I’m done with that.” We grownups all looked at each other in both amusement and dismay. Embarrassment at being unable to figure it out…at the age of FIVE?! Luckily, she has great parents and they talked her through it, but oh my sweet girl it’s too early to be embarrassed for not being able to figure something out. I’m sure that someone will tell me that’s a part of life, and it is. But it took me decades to be able to be ok with not knowing things, and I just want to fast-forward through all that self-consciousness and self-doubt for her.
To be blunt, part of me wants C to grow up not giving a damn what anyone thinks. Because caring what people think is exhausting. But the rational part of me knows that I also want her to be self-aware, kind and compassionate, because that’s how she’ll find real satisfaction in life.
Which brings me to Example 2. Whenever my toddler nephew comes to visit, all objects within reach of his grabby little hands have to be placed out harm’s way. It’s C’s job to help with that whenever they come to visit. As she was moving things, one at a time, from the TV console shelves to the table, she came across my super old, reconstructed Outward Bound mug. She picked it up carefully and set it safely down, and I heard her murmur, almost to herself, “It’s only a little bit cracked.”
For some reason, my heart gave a squeeze at those words. Because that mug is more than a little bit cracked; it’s a mess, held together with superglue and a prayer. I don’t know if her quiet little comment was for me or just an idle observation. Maybe she really thought it was just a little crack. Maybe not. But what I saw, in that moment, was my little niece trying to figure out how something like that – something broken and imperfect – could be valuable. It was a flash of the compassionate and loving person that I know she will grow up to be. And that our harsh, still-misogynistic world will do it’s best to defeat, in all the nefarious ways that keep cropping up each time we make a change for the better.
And thus we come back to those American women winning the World Cup. Who yes, had some privileges and advantages in their lives, but who also worked their asses off and did it as a team. They had different ideas, different beliefs, different hair, different sexual orientations, and maybe even different politics, but they still existed as a team and they set their goal and won it. They gave girls and boys everywhere the gift of seeing women playing a sport, playing it well, and celebrating their accomplishments. All while trying to actually do something more than “stick to soccer.” And all while millions of people tried to devalue their accomplishment with a deluge of criticisms.
I hope they are back in another 4 years. Maybe then C will be ready to pay more attention. Or maybe they’ll rise to the forefront of more than sports. Maybe C will grow up thinking nothing is odd about outspoken female athletes who challenge the status quo. That would be awesome. I say we keep working toward that.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google “where can I watch women’s soccer on tv?”