On the Side
Culver City, CA
It is a bright Los Angeles afternoon towards late winter at the small, independent elementary school where I teach sixth grade: A perfect day for skateboarding, and that's just what our two female PE teachers have planned-- Skateboarding Day. It's been on the calendar for weeks. One of the dads, a physicist, has came to help set up-he' s brought in his truck all manner of ramps constructed with his son, a student in my class. The kids have brought wrist and knee pads, helmets, their boards.
I have a meeting at lunch, and when it is done, I have just enough time to go outside and notice: Not one of my girls skateboarding, not one. Instead, they are all lined up, sitting, watching, cheering on the boys who are.
These are not down-trodden girls; they're not shy violets. They argue with teachers; they interrupt boys in class. These girls play soccer and basketball every weekend; they're light years past Title IX. Privileged, upper-middle-class, they've been raised with every imaginable advantage. My girls are post-girlpower girls with educated, liberal-minded parents, and here they were--watching the boys while the boys did something fun.
When I ask the girls, "What's up with that?" my most outspoken--soccer star Alison--says, "I'd break my arm." Where she gets this fear, Alison-who-doesn't-care-what-anyone-thinks, is anyone's guess.
It's not fifteen minutes after we're upstairs back at work when I look out the window to notice the third and fourth graders taking their turn out on the blacktop, and what is there but a way lot of little girls with helmets on their heads, whizzing by, attacking the ramps every bit as fearless as the boys. "Hey, everyone," I call, interrupting my own class. "Look at all the little girls out there, skateboarding," and they all rush to the window--maybe to avoid work, but more I think to see if I'm telling the truth. And they start picking out the younger girls to see who's cool enough to break tradition and who's just too dumb to know she should be on the sidelines, watching. What happens to girls from the ages of 9 to 11 that makes them forfeit audacity so easily? I don't ask in this way, not exactly, but none of them knows why, not that they're saying anyway. They all shrug their shoulders and stare outside. One of my boys says it's because sixth grade girls care more about how their hair looks than they do about skateboards. What I don't say is there are plenty of sixth grade boys who care about both.
I suppose there will be girls allover the country this summer, watching their brothers skateboard, not even realizing they've given up an option. It's not that they should take to flying across concrete necessarily; but somehow, somewhere they should be in the thick of it--flying free off the side.
Reference Citation: Vogel, Marci. (2002). "On the Side." WILLA, Volume 11, p. 32.