My son is eight and my daughter is four. At these ages, their interests change almost weekly. Despite LOTS of exposure, my son has never cared much about sports. My daughter’s preschool attention span is still a little too undeveloped to sit and watch a game, but she has some preliminary interest. Last Saturday, her sports enthusiasm level rocketed from three to ten.
My wife informed me that her friend from out of state was in town for her son’s travel hockey game, and that we were attending. Almost no part of that sounded appealing, but this was a “Yes dear,” scenario. Dreading the prospect of chasing two disinterested kids around a frigid rink for two hours, I was instead amazed by my daughter’s rapt fascination.
Unbeknownst to us, there was a girl on the team. With long hair flying behind her helmet as she skated, my daughter became her biggest fan. She spent the entire game yelling and cheering for “the girl one.” So did I.
A few weeks earlier, she was enthralled by the World Cup. She especially loved “the purple hair girl.” We all did, and still do. It didn’t matter to her that the USWNT won the tournament. At her age, kids don’t yet have a developed concept of nationalism. All she knows is Daddy said the team in white is good and the other team is bad.
She does, however, have a profound sense of gender. Being female is an enormous part of her developing identity. She gravitates towards females in every capacity, whether that’s choosing Skye as her favorite Paw Patrol character or Megan Rapinoe as her favorite athlete. They are both on TV, albeit very different channels, and she sees something of herself in them.
Her schema of what it means to be female is constantly growing, but she’s old enough to understand traditional gender roles. She sees that when Daddy watches baseball, all the players are men. She has no concept that baseball is for women and girls, too. I’ve told her this, of course, but until she sees it for herself, it won’t unlock in her mind that this path is open to her.
This is Women in Baseball Week. I am not a woman, and I certainly claim no expertise in gender studies. I’m a thick-headed, blundering husband and father like any other, trying to figure it out as I go. However, I’m not quite oblivious enough to be blind to my daughter’s delight when she sees girls and women in new roles in which she did not expect them. I want her to feel that for baseball, too.
We’ve never never attended a women’s baseball game, but that will change soon. We’re planning to go to the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference playoffs in August. I can’t wait to see some high-level playoff baseball. More than that, I can’t wait to see my daughter’s reaction.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983