by Edna Matta-Camacho, Research Associate, Carleton University
All my memories back when I was a child don’t have a gender gap.
I grew up in a family that as a kid gave me the same chores as my siblings, two sisters and one brother. I used to play soccer on the street with my friends, girls and boys (including my brother), and they didn’t discriminate us girls, and they were playing as rough with us as with the other boys.
Of course, we also had the girls vs. boys matches but even then, it was always very even and respectful. I remember that with my dad I used to go onto the roof to fix it, to clean it, change a broken tile or fixing cables and doing electrical chores. I remember making kites with my brother and going to the top of the mountain to fly them. I was fearless, powerful, I could do anything!
Then you continue growing, becoming a teenager and society’s ideas and pressure lays not only on you, but also on your family.
I recall some of our neighbours telling my mom that if I were to continue playing soccer, I would become a “macho-girl”. Stereotyped ideas regarding what is appropriate for boys or girls can limit their learning and development. Rohan M. Telford in its publication of 2016 reported that “Girls were 19% less active than boys due to weaker influences at the school and family”(1). Despite our neighbours’ comments, my mom never stopped me. By the time I was 10 years old, I knew how to play soccer, softball, volleyball, swimming, rollerblade, cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, folkloric dancing and theatre. So much energy, so many activities, and I loved them.
I went to girls-only schools and it was quite difficult for me to fit in. Most of my schoolmates were only into getting and keeping a boyfriend, only liked to chat and not so much into sports or activities.
All that energy encapsulated in me was not easy for school administrators, it would get me in trouble and every year my mom and my dad had to look for new schools for me. At school there wasn’t the idea of having small breaks in between classes to help children to release their energy and concentrate better in class. The article “Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class” have very nice views on this topic (2). I had to hear at school constantly negative comments that I was a problematic girl, the rebel, the black sheep. My mom got quite frustrated at some point, but my dad never stopped believing that inside that crazy energy there was something really good.
It’s unbelievable how all these things together, stereotypes and negative comments, have a harmful impact in life later on at more vulnerable times. At university, far from home and family, facing challenges, all those things came back to my mind and I was losing confidence and started believing I wasn’t good enough. By fortune, my family always supporting me and pushing me forward, telling me “you can do it” got me back to speed. Nonetheless, it’s like a cycle every time when new challenges are on my path, that short moment of hesitation, the playback… and next I remember that I am strong, I am smart, and I can do it.
I see a lot of me on my kids and I won’t let them be called problematic kids. Don’t let anybody get into your head, don’t let anybody get into your kid’s heads, because they are precious, they are just perfect the way they are. Value their strength, their energy is beautiful because that, that’s a lot of potential.
1. Telford, R. M., Telford, R. D., Olive, L. S., Cochrane, T. & Davey, R. Why Are Girls Less Physically Active than Boys?. PLoS One 11, (2016).
2. Donna De La Cruz “Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class” March 21, 2017. NY Times.