Writing the Self Analysis: Looking for Normative Narratives
i) Normative Narratives (Gender)
From writing my own story about being gendered, I realized how deeply the idea of females being the weaker sex was ingrained into me from a young age. After reading the blog posts of my colleagues, I can infer that they came to the same sort of realization or epiphany. Both Elara’s, and Janine’s posts were similar to mine as they addressed a time when they were told or shown they were simply less than the boys. Less strong, less skilled, and less qualified.
In Elara’s post, she describes an error she makes on the soccer field at a young age. After accidentally scoring on her own net, she is approached by an opposing player. The normative narrative in Elara’s story is prominent in her retelling of what happens next; “[a] boy from the opposing team shouldered past me to retrieve the ball, mumbling under his breath, ‘you play like a girl.’” This classic line is one I have heard several times from both the men and women in my life. I have been told this enough that it has become normal to me. Girls cannot play sports as well as boys do. That’s normal because that is what I have been told is normal. This normative narrative becomes apparent in my own thinking as a child, in my story. The last line of my blog post reads “Heck, even I could beat Johnny in an arm wrestle, and I’m a girl.” This thought is powerful because even though it oppresses my gender, I still accept and believe it to be the truth. This shows the normative narrative told by Elara’s opponent in action. Elara, too, accepted this myth as the truth. While driving home from her soccer mishap, Elara is told by her dad that she should “stick to ballet.” Elara follows this by beginning her next sentence with “I did,” meaning she did just that; she stuck to ballet instead of pursuing an athletic career as a female soccer goalie. She, like me, not only heard the normative narrative but lived by it too.
Janine chose to write her blog post about a childhood memory as well. In her post, she describes a time when she is not given the chance to prove her skill and ability because of her gender. She writes: “Once we are finished introductions and the parents leave, I approach the coach and asked, ‘Why I wasn’t [placed] on the more advance team?’ He replied, ‘This is the team [that] is [the] best suit for you as a girl, the other team would have been [too] rough.’” This coach’s decision to place Janine on a lower level team told Janine that her gender made her unable to participate to her full potential. Similar to Mr. Cooper from my blog post, Janine’s coach may have had good intentions, but he was still reinforcing the gender roles pushed upon children by society. As I grew up, I heard Mr. Cooper repeat the same line from my story on various occasions. He always said, “I could use the help of three strong boys.” At first, his request for assistance seemed harmless but the older I got, the more I recognized the power in his words. I knew, sitting in my grade 11 desk as Mr. Cooper borrowed a group of guys to help him unload the pop bottles from the Coke truck, that just because he specifically asked for boys did not mean that as a girl, I was any less capable of unloading that truck. But, it made me ask myself if the girls sitting in their grade 3 classrooms would feel differently. Would they think the same way I did in the third grade? I wonder if they would share young Janine’s thought from her story; “In that moment I don’t think I could have felt more discouraged.”
ii) Creating Counter-Stories: Disrupting Normative Narratives
Natasha’s blog post runs counter to the ‘norm’ because of her involvement in male-dominated areas. The normative narrative, as discussed above, suggests that girls can not fit in with the boys because the boys are at a higher level of skill and ability. Natasha states otherwise by recalling her memories of recesses; “I joined the boys almost every recess in whatever sport we chose that day.” Natasha explains that it was not always that simple, however. She writes, “In the beginning the boys would choose me last when picking teams or never pass me the ball during a game.” What makes Natasha’s story differ from the three other posts mentioned previously is that she did not choose to live the normative narrative that was presented to her. She continued to play with the boys and earned their respect. In her words, “I eventually gained a type of equality with the boys.” Unlike her colleagues, Natasha’s potential was not silenced and she was given the chance to prove that she belonged. Although this turned out positively for Natasha, I would like to point out that the determination of young girls is not the issue and that the normative narrative is the problem in need of change.
I chose to address this normative narrative because I truly believe many of those who reinforce these ideas about women and athleticism are unaware of the damaging effects. During her TEDx Talk, Hannah Perez, a seventh grader, says “As girls, we’re really not asking for much. We just want to be treated like another person; not coddled, not ostracized, and definitely not separated.” As a middle school girl, Hannah has been exposed to enough sexism surrounding athletics to inspire a five-minute speech. Additionally, I found Jox Dirkx’s TEDx Talk extremely helpful to describe the disruption of this normative narrative. Jox emphasizes the importance of storytelling by stating that “[t]o gain this ownership and relevance [of women in sports], we can start by using our own unique storytelling techniques . . . . [W]e are responsible for the stories that we tell boys and girls about young women and girls in sport and . . . these stories are actually much more important than we may realize.”
As Natasha mentioned in her post, inequality is often present on the school playground. Is Everyone Really Equal?, written by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo, touches on this matter as well by pointing out “[m]any people cite sports as now open to women, and a strong emphasis on sports often begins in schools. But what is emphasized between boys and girls varies. There is often a lack of support for girls in schools . . .” (108). Furthermore, Sensoy and DiAngelo remind us that women’s sports receive less funding, television airtime, and recognition from mainstream culture than their male counterparts (108). This oppression results in lack of interest in sports for young girls. Sensoy and DiAngelo go on to say “[o]nce girls who are highly interested in sports reach puberty, a new pressure to establish their heterosexuality (by demonstrating their interest in boys and by remaining feminine) emerges.” (108). Pressure from society hinders the potential of female athletes. My examination of this normative narrative is extremely beneficial to me. I am involved with a lot of female youth through coaching and I hope to be apart of the disruption of this myth in their lives.
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