It's Just Not Cricket...!!!
I have just been away for the weekend with ten 7 and 8 year olds (I know, living the dream). These are kids who, just over a year ago, finished their pre prep school virtually oblivious to gender. One year at prep school and things look very different, but why? Well one major clue this weekend was when we suggested rounders or cricket on the beach. The boys have got the cricket bug. The girls love rounders. But will they play the opposite sports? I mean they both involve throwing, catching and hitting a ball with a bat, right? Not in a million years, because nobody wants to play a sport that is for the other gender.
Sacrificing Gender Equality?
This was illuminating to me and explained how, after 3 years at pre prep, playing happily together, irrespective of gender, there is now almost a total segregation, socially.
These kids are all fortunate enough to go to a fantastic school and have proper coaching in a wide variety of sports. Girls and boys are separated so boys get to be coached in rugby, cricket and football. The girls play rounders, hockey and netball. They all swim and run but do so separately. It is easy to think they are given all the best opportunities.
That is certainly the intention of the school. But is separating boys and girls for all sports, so young, really giving them the best opportunities? Or is it sacrificing gender equality and social wellbeing in a way that is disproportionate to what they gain?
My view, unsurprisingly, given that I am writing this article, is that it is.
Football is for everyone
One surprise at prep school has been that the girls all of a sudden started having petty issues with each other and falling out (or, as the boys put it ‘being girly’). This invariably happens at playtime which they largely spend chatting. When I asked my daughter if this happened with the boys, she looked at me like I was mad and said, ‘of course not because the boys are playing football’. A year ago football was for anyone who wanted to run around. These days it is just for boys. Of course the girls could run around, but an impromptu game of netball or rounders needs equipment and rules. Part of the reason the beautiful game is just that, is because it is so accessible. Rich and poor, first world and third world, anybody can play football because all you need is a ball. Anybody, it seems, except girls!
Then there is the separation for running and swimming. Part of that, I suspect, is due to there now being gender specific changing rooms requiring gender specific teachers so it is a logical basis for separation. The boys very much have the impression that it is because men are stronger than women and boys therefore are stronger than girls. Except when they are 7 or 8 or 9 that really need not be the case. If they were allowed to learn, and compete, together they would see that.
It is wonderful that these children have the opportunity to start learning the sports they will play through school at such a young age. They could also start learning, by example, through playing together, that boys and girls can be equally, if differently, talented at sports and that they can play games that are not traditionally for their gender. If that happened, then whatever is lost in a little specialised coaching would surely be more than compensated for by giving them an early, and clear, message that they need not, and must not, define themselves, or others, by gender and that, for a little longer, at least, they can all just see themselves as children.
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