Glad I’m Not a Girl

I’m glad I’m not a girl.

Oh wait, I am.

Okay, so let me instead say I’m glad I am not raising a girl…

No slight to all the daughters of the world, but I’m just fine with the challenges of being mommy to a teenage boy.

You see, I can’t imagine trying to raise a girl today. Growing up I had about as good a high school experience as a person can get – I was homecoming queen and a cheerleader and I got the boy of my dreams – but even that did not insulate me from the stress of being female in modern society.

I Blame Sports

Yes, I said I blame sports. Girls’ sports. With more girls playing sports than at any other time in history, I think this is an important point.

By definition sports are competitive. An athlete trains to better herself; trains to win. You can “claim” the only true competition is yourself, but that’s not really true, is it? I was a serious gymnast, and by the time I was eleven, I was ranked 31st  in the nation. The competition wasn’t myself… it was the girls training next to me, vying to get our coach’s approval/attention/focus. I imagine the same is true for team sports, like volleyball and soccer, where girls are competing for playing time, MVP awards, and then scholarships. Talk about passive-aggressive inner-team competition!

I guess most sports run this way, so I don’t really blame being female, but oh wait! I forgot about my coach lecturing my stick-thin older teammate about eating a hamburger because she would get fat.

I burned out by seventh grade.

Since cheerleading has evolved into a gymnast’s sport, I was  natural fit for our middle school and then high school pep squads. As my cheerleading squad began to compete at state and then nationals, new stresses arose. Not only were we competing to be the one and only girl on the squad recognized for the coveted “All American” award, an honor that instantly drew the ire of the rest of the squad, but there were now boys involved. You not only had to be a good cheerleader, but your hair and make up had to be just right because guys were checking you out, talking about you, comparing you to the girl in formation to your right!

Move on to college cheerleading, perhaps the best and worst of it. My first year at UF over one hundred and fifty girls tried out for just 6 spots on the squad. Did you read that carefully? Just 6 girls would be chosen – the best of the best. And let’s not kid ourselves – we were judged on both look and skill. (Do you think basketball players are judged on how their legs look in their shorts?) But we were the “face” of the university so looks were vitally important. Revlon even chose some of the most beautiful cheerleaders from the SEC teams to be featured in magazine ads… gawd! Didn’t we just hate the girl chosen from our squad!

But it wasn’t all about looks in college. I remember Jerry Odom, All American football player for the Gators, asking me why we cheerleaders weren’t more supportive of each other. He said that he needed his teammates to play at the very top of their game to win. What should have been a simple “team” concept was utterly foreign to me. I explained the Gator JV and Varsity squads were combining to create a single nationals team and only 8 girls would be chose, so I had to beat out 4 girls. There was no way I was rooting for them to be at the “top of their game” nor were they cheering for me.

And once we were chosen for that nationals squad, the competition was on to keep performing, lest we lose our spot. Be the best tumbler, stunter, basket tosser, be on top of the pyramid so to speak. Oh and it helped to be the cheerleader who weighed the least, so you didn’t have to listen to your co-ed partner constantly complain that he’d rather stunt with so-and-so because she’s easier to lift.

And, above all, make sure you look good while doing it! I remember our coach reading out a note the athletic administration had received from a Bull Gator’s wife that the UF cheerleaders should never wear pink lipstick because it clashed with our orange uniforms. (Pretty sure football players have never had to deal with that.)

And what about Sports Illustrated? The ultimate of all things sport in America. The swim suit issue and the naked issue where athletes bare their in-shape bodies. Sports and looks are tied together in today’s society like never before, and let’s face it… no matter what, the female psyche comes out on the downside of this.

I guess this is one of those times when you never truly realize how sick and demented your perspective is until you are standing on the outside looking in. Reading back over this blog post, it makes me wonder if it really was so vicious, so cut-throat. Did I really survive an atmosphere set up to be so competitive and have built-in jealousy?

Don’t get me wrong – I did enjoy my schooling career. I was captain my last year at UF,  was a sorority girl, and got the guy of my dreams back again. But even now on occasion, I still suffer insecurities long left-over from growing up female. But is it the female part of me I should be blaming? Did all girls have a similar experience?

I Blame Society

Okay, I recognize most girls were not gymnasts and cheerleaders, but society’s tendency to put us into competition against each other seems to exist in some form universally. Stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. (Never hear this same argument for dads!) High achieving women being labelled the B-word… we don’t do the same for men! The woman who looks better at 40 than she did at 30 – plastic surgery, unhealthy dieting, trying to be all and do all because we are expected to be Superwoman and Wonder Mom.

We read articles discussing these modern female trappings but nobody ever seems to eliminate the dichotomies. Nobody really has a solution to end the madness! And as much as we take advice to love and cherish ourselves and our fellow sisters just as we are, I think women are still in competition even when they don’t want or mean to be!

I Blame Me

I sound like a mental case, I am sure, but truly I am in a good place and very satisfied with myself and my life. However, I still occasionally find myself for caving in to it all. Not a dieter by nature, I still find myself checking my weight on the scale and wishing I could will myself back to college weight. I still worry about my hubby of 21 years (I married my high school sweetheart) suddenly preferring another younger woman over me. I still stress over my son’s friend’s mom who is fit and tan and who my son tells me cleans house and cooks much better than I ever will. (Grr!) I know I shouldn’t let these things bother me but they do, and I blame myself for letting it.

Here’s the crux of my blog post – I have it all as far as I am concerned – but yet I  am still hung up on all the trappings of being female in today’s society, so then the question is when will it all end?

I Blame Biology

Maybe we just live in a woman-eat-woman world. In the animal world there is competition for mates, for food, for survival. So maybe this will never end. Yes, I make a point to strangle my inner demons whenever they show their heads and their voices of doubt pop up. I do focus on the good, and I take pleasure with who I am and the life I’ve got. But still, we are all part of the animal world, right? Sigh.

So, I guess the the main solace I take it is that I am not in a position where I’ve got to help a young daughter navigate such waters, and hats off to you mommies and daddies who are! Wow! What a daunting task!

But, believe me, when I talk to my son about girls, the width and breadth of my life as a female can be felt in my words. He knows his job as a boyfriend is to make sure he boosts his girlfriend’s confidence as a woman in today’s world. He is to make her feel secure as a girl and make her feel strong, brave, independent, and cherished.

On the flip side, he also know that if she doesn’t do the same in return, then maybe she’s not the right fit… after all, I imagine being a boy growing up in today’s world isn’t so easy either!

So what got me on this rant so early this morning? I am usually not writing about female power – haha! I got thinking about all of this from a note I saw on my friend’s Facebook wall – I think it is just perfect. Thanks, Regena Garrepy!

Regena