“Let’s enroll her in a sports camp this summer,” my husband recently suggested during dinner. I was surprised at his comment, since the subject had never come up before.
“I'm not certain our 10-year-old daughter would be comfortable in a camp with several boys and only a handful of girls,” I said.
“I think that’s the point. We want to teach her that she is capable of interacting with boys in an environment that is out of her comfort zone. You talk a lot about the importance of equal gender rights. Well, enrolling her in this camp is the best way to teach her how much boys and girls can accomplish doing an activity or sport together.”
Our conversation made me consider the choices I’ve made for my child in selecting a summer camp. For starters, I’ve mainly focused on her interests: art, crafting, and baking. Last year I placed her in a painting/sculpture camp for a week with other girls about her age. A good friend of mine also enrolled her 10-year-old, so the drop-offs were easy.
My daughter adored the projects: painting with watercolors, assembling figures from papier-mâché, and sculpting a heart with the letters l-o-v-e embedded in it. She displayed her finished works with a smile and we took pictures as if she were debuting her own personal art show at a gallery in New York.
The following week, I thought I was creating balance when I enrolled her in a summer camp where she played tennis. Because she had already attended the camp before, she gravitated toward her old set of friends, and loved feeling comfortable. But I wonder now if I made a mistake in only considering the social perspective of her camp experience. Perhaps in choosing a “feminine” fit for her summer camp, I lost the chance to teach her that she is capable of participating in activities traditionally reserved for boys only.
After all, my daughter sees discrimination on a daily basis through the differentiation in how toys are marketed to boys and girls. A study by sociologist Carol J. Auster and Claire S. Mansbach revealed profound gender bias in their sobering analysis of toy sales: “Bold colored toys, predominantly red, black, brown, or gray toys, and those that were action figures, building toys, weapons, or small vehicles typified toys for 'boys only' on a Disney store website. Pastel colored toys, predominantly pink or purple ones, and those that were dolls, beauty, cosmetics, jewelry, or domestic-oriented typified toys for 'girls only.'"
While seeing that information in print is startling, I would hate for my daughter to think that an activity is only for boys, or only for girls. But aren’t I guilty of the same kind of bias, by focusing on arts, cooking, and theater camps, while neglecting to push her toward coding, science and, sports camps? Isn’t summer camp the best way for girls to be introduced to engineering, architecture, and baseball?
I suspect the decisions I’ve made for my child are a reflection of my background. My immigrant parents tried their best to navigate the terrain of a new continent and pushed me to learn how to cook and sew, but never emphasized the importance of sports. They didn’t encourage me to play outside — instead I was warned, “It’s too dangerous. Don’t you want to play indoors and work on coloring or crafts?”
I understand now that their choices were born more out of caution than a real thought-out plan to keep my interests separate from those of boys.
I think the real reason I decided to enroll my daughter in female activity-biased summer camps was because I wanted to give her a social cushion, so she wouldn’t have to struggle to work through the awkwardness of doing something outside of her comfort zone. I was more concerned with the questions: “Will she like it? Is she comfortable? Does she have a friend?”
It’s not a bad way of looking at life, it’s just a short-sighted one.
Developing awareness is where change can take root. The talk with my husband pushed me to consider how narrow-minded I was in sheltering my daughter from exploring interests and interacting with boys and girls her age. Because the kind of summer I wish for my child to experience — thinking, reflecting and expanding her world — is one that isn’t girl or boy specific, but instead is one that cultivates a love of learning.
So this summer, we're signing her up for sports camp. Because we want to equip our daughter for success — and there’s no better way to do that than to show her that when it comes to gender equality, her parents don’t feel a bias, and therefore, neither should she.