“You’re not gonna use the pink ball. We’re not gonna let you do that. Not on camera.” —Rick Santorum to a boy reaching for a bowling ball
I was never a particularly macho kid. Yeah, my brother and I played with cars and trucks. We even played the occasional vacant lot baseball game. Despite that, I never played organized sports. I was the last picked for teams in gym class. I chose the Drama electives instead of more manly subjects. Crying was not outside of my repertoire. Coming of age when I did, it was not easy to be the sensitive boy.
“When are you going to get a real job?” –Cindy, about my work educaring infants and toddlers
Spending my days nurturing and caring for infants and toddlers was not the traditional path for a man in the early 1980s. I knew it might be a lonely path when I became the first man to graduate from the early childhood degree program at Illinois State University. While blessed by a fully supportive fiance and now wife, I had also hoped—perhaps in vain—that my friends would understand. Some did. Cindy did not.
There were jobs I did not receive because of a cultural bias that any man who wanted to work with babies must be a molester. It was not easy blazing a trail. The joys and contentment I have always felt with humanity’s youngest is a clear sign that this was the Divinely-led path for me.
As a bi-vocational minister, I still spend time working with babies and young children part-time. Things have gotten better or, perhaps, I’ve just gotten better at finding people who see my gifts. Nonetheless there are far too few men who work with young children. Our culture still has stratified roles for women and men.
I felt anger rise within me. My eyes watered as I read of a presidential candidate discouraging a boy from using a pink bowling ball. I know how it feels to have who you are created to be dismissed by others. I am not alone in these feelings. Certainly women in traditionally men’s professions have a more difficult journey than I’ve had as a white man.
When we force boys or girls into rigid, culturally-constructed roles based upon their sexual organs, we deny their humanity. We deny their Divinely created gifts. In effect, we idolize – treat as a god – our own socially-constructed gender roles.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 NRSV (View this passage in context.)
When we discourage girls from studying the sciences or boys from nurturing babies, we teach our children to ignore the Spirit. We tell our children to pretend to be someone they are not. We tell God that we know better.