Long Jump as Metaphor for Life

Girls are evil. At least that was the original title for this piece, but upon review it seemed a bit too sweeping a generalization.

My uncomfortably-close-to-teenage son runs on the school coed track team. One of his events is the long jump. Hell, as near as I can tell, one of everybody’s events is the long jump. Kids line up behind the runway, sometimes 20 or 30 deep, and are jumping during at least 2/3’s of any given meet. It takes forever. Everybody that participates gets 1 or two practice jumps and three recorded jumps. The result being, that if you’re a long jumper, you spend an incredible amount of time waiting on queue for your turn. More so if you’re a boy.

I didn’t notice so much at the beginning of the season, but the last couple of meets this has just been incredibly blatant. The girls (at least many of them) have figured out that nascent teenage boys won’t even blink if they cut in line in front of them. The result being that the girls are often completing all three of their jumps before many of the boys have even jumped once. A couple of the really cute ones (and apparently they know who they are) will literally jump and return to the very front of the line where they will jump again. Last week, one girl literally jumped twice in a row because the scorers were moving so slow. This, with over 20 kids waiting in line.

Today I overheard the mothers of a couple of the boys grousing about this. They were saying how the boys shouldn’t let the girls push them around, and that boys shouldn’t treat girls as anything special. And while I understand this position from their perspective as mothers, I find the attitude concerning from their perspective as women. I’m also curious how the mothers of the girls feel about this.

As a father, I don’t want anyone pushing my kids around. But as a father of boys, I do want them to treat girls as special. I want them to feel a certain sense of chivalry. I want them to feel protective of girls they are with. And feminism be damned, the girls should want this too.

As Uncle Ben explained to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Okay, neither of my boys will grow up to be Spiderman. (My nephew might, but that’s a different story.) But the reality is that they will be stronger than most girls. They will be physically able to force their will on them. And part of my job is to assure that they cannot. Not because they are not allowed; not because they fear my wrath; but because such violence against a girl would be anathema to them. A girl in their company is their responsibility. It is this sense of responsibility and protectiveness which would cause most guys to risk their lives to assure the safety of their mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, or even the old lady on the corner they don’t know. It is this same sense that allows them to don a uniform, pick up a gun, and go defend the country. As women, you don’t want to lose that. And as a society, we don’t want to lose that.

Yet that same sense of responsibility and protectiveness also creates an inevitable vulnerability. Think about it in a different way. Parents feel responsible for and protective of their children. It is this sense which can be exploited by children to get their own way. From the child’s perspective, if you are responsible for me, you must want me to be happy. To make me happy, I want that toy on the shelf. Now as parents, we have to learn to walk a line. We all know that being a good parent doesn’t mean always doing what your kid wants. But it’s still pretty hard to say no, isn’t it? And some of us are clearly better at it than others. But it takes a maturity of judgment to find the line and walk it.

However, we’re talking about young teenage boys here. There’s no maturity of judgment yet. They will eventually find the line that allows them to feel protective and still say, “No, it’s not right that you jump three times while I wait in line.” But with the hormone surges going through their bodies, I’d rather they erred on the side of excessive deference to girls than staunch defiance.

Let’s not overlook that the young girls have a role here as well. This is not a parent vs. child type situation where “you can’t blame a kid for trying.” These girls are peers, and they have a responsibility too. If they want the benefits of the boys protection, they need to respect them. And respect obviously starts by not abusing the deference they are given. The girls at the track meet are clearly abusing the situation. And while it may not seem like it now, these are the same boys they’re going to be sneaking off alone with in the years to come. They need to trust then that the boys won’t abuse their privilege, so the girls should be careful about abusing theirs now.

I’m not trying to put all the responsibility on the girls. And in fairness, I don’t know what the girls’ parents are saying to them about their behavior. Obviously both the boys and the girls are still struggling to figure out how this dance works. But I do fear that our society’s push for equality, fairness, and homogenization has blurred a few lines that are best left distinct. Girls and boys are different. That doesn’t make one better than the other. It does mean that there remain gender roles out there. It does mean that each of those roles has value, and the people playing those roles deserve respect when they play them well. These are lessons our children, be they boys or girls, need to learn.

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