Friday, September 14, 2012

Jazz and Gender Stereotypes

A friend and I were recently discussing last spring's dance recital. She told me when my child's jazz class came out, someone sitting near her commented, "What kind of mother let's her SON take jazz?" My friend responded, "I know that kid. He plays hockey all winter, does jazz, and plays lacrosse." 


My son on stage with his friend.
That kid is my kid and those things are all true. I appreciate my friend standing up for my son, but I have to ask why is that necessary? If my son didn't play "manly" sports would taking jazz be wrong? What if he played with dolls or dressed up in princess costumes (something he did when he was younger)? We live in a society that sets up male and female roles from an early age. I was appalled when shopping at Toys R US years ago to see that something as gender-neutral as the Fisher Price Phone was made in primary colors for boys and pink for girls. And so, I'm writing an open letter to that person.

To the close-minded person at the jazz recital:

What kind of mother lets her son take jazz you ask? I'll tell you.  My son is beautiful and graceful when he dances. He is an athlete in the purest sense. When he moves, whether dancing or running, it is a sight to behold. He loves dancing. He dances around the house and I am struck by his sense of movement and rhythm. As soon as he hears music, his body moves. I let my son take jazz because I'm the kind of mother who looks at her children and sees their strengths and supports them.

When I first suggested dance class, my son responded, "Boys don't dance." How sad that he almost missed an opportunity to do something he enjoys because of people like you who put boys and girls into neat little categories. I pulled up videos of Baryshnikov and Nureyev to show him that boys do, indeed,dance. And the ones that are really good can make a living at it and win world-wide fame and respect. This is not to say that I think my son will be the next Baryshnikov, nor would I push him in that direction. But I wanted him to know that if he liked it, dance was an option for him. I let my son take jazz because I'm the kind of mother who doesn't have pre-conceived notions of what my child will be and am open to letting him explore his interests.

My son is a middle-child. He has an older brother who excels in the classroom, whereas he struggles. He has a younger brother who demands time and attention. My middle son feels adrift--he thinks he's dumb and doesn't get enough attention. While he plays soccer with his older brother, he doesn't see this for the accomplishment it is, playing up a level. He just sees that he and his brother are evenly matched on the soccer field. He was feeling very down about himself. I felt having an area where he could excel, and not be in competition with his brothers, would help his self-esteem. I let my son take jazz because I'm the kind of mother who finds opportunities for her children to flourish and feel good about themselves.


Look how happy he is!
I'm also the kind of mother who is angered by your thoughtless comment. That one single comment, if made in the presence of my child, would undo the things I was trying to accomplish. It seems to me your sole concern is to criticize my parenting because of some misguided notion that dancing in a costume on stage will make my child grow up to be gay. If my child is gay, he's already gay. No amount of exposure to traditionally "girly" things will cause him to be gay if he isn't. Just like no amount of exposure to "manly" pursuits will cause a gay man to turn straight. It's predetermined at birth. I let my son take jazz because I'm the kind of mother who will accept my child no matter his sexual preferences as long as he is happy, loving, kind, thoughtful, and respectful.

Apparently, you didn't have a mother like me. 

Sincerely, 

The mother of the boy in jazz class