This week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully stopped a Rhode Island school district from sponsoring father-daughter dances and mother-son baseball games. An ACLU-issued complaint maintains such activities violate the state’s gender discrimination laws.
“Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella,” ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said in a statement. “In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday.”
The Cranston, Rhode Island Public Schools Superintendent Judith Lundsten agreed with the ACLU and cancelled future events. Lundsten explained that while Federal Law contains exemptions for such gender-specific activities, Rhode Island law does not. In a letter to school groups Lundsten wrote, “Under no circumstances should we be isolating any child from full participation in school activities and events based on gender. Please be all-inclusive when planning your events.”
The dances and baseball games first came under scrutiny when a disgruntled mother of one of the school’s children contacted the ACLU. She told the group that her daughter had no father in her life and was therefore unable to attend an upcoming father-daughter dance. However, the ACLU’s complaint was not based on the inability of one student to participate in the dance, but rather the inherent gender bias of such activities.
In an interview with WPRO News, Executive Director Brown applauded the school district’s decision. “This is 2012 and [public schools] should not be in the business of fostering blatant gender stereotypes,” he said.
All of this controversy brings up some very valuable questions. Is there anything wrong with gender and gender-based activities? Is it so damaging to encourage gender roles? And what are the long-term ramifications of reducing the gender gap, especially as it relates to male/female dynamics?
As a relationship advice expert and dating coach, I have a strong belief in the importance of gender roles. From my experience and education in the world of heterosexual relationships (I am not an authority on homosexual relationships and am not referring to them in this article), I can say with conviction that the best couplings occur when the partnership has a balance of masculine and feminine energy.
In “Getting to I Do,” one of the most well-respected relationship advice books in print, the author, Dr. Patricia Allen, explains that for a relationship to be successful, one partner must possess predominately feminine energy and the other predominately masculine. In her opinion, it’s not particularly significant which partner is masculine or feminine; men can be “feminine” and women can be “masculine.” The importance is that both energies are present in equal and opposing amounts. Problems arise when two “feminines” – or two “masculines” – get together.
Dr. Allen goes on to say that, traditionally, most women are “feminine” and most men are “masculine.” My experience in the world of relationships shows this to be true, as well. The majority of the women I work with want a man who is masculine in their eyes. While they are looking for an equal partnership, they are also aware that men and women are different and have unique gifts and abilities. However, as we enter into an increasingly gender-neutral society, I can’t help but wonder if this attitude isn’t changing.
Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a self-proclaimed, modern feminist. I began to talk to her about the importance of gender roles and how – at our cores – women long for a man who is “a man” and men want a woman who is womanly. What contempt I received! She explained her position that gender roles are restrictive and limiting. If men want to be like women (and vice versa), what is the harm? So I appealed to her using a universal topic where I hoped we could find some common ground: sex.
“You know those guys who wear skinny jeans, look emaciated, and have long, shaggy hair? You know how, at first glance, you can’t tell the difference between a lot of guys and girls anymore?”
She said she knew what I was talking about.
“Those guys,” I continued. “Well, they aren’t very sexy, are they? I mean, they don’t exactly inspire passion, right?”
She thought for a second and then laughed. “No. They don’t.”
That’s the thing about gender differences. They’re necessary to create sexual chemistry, an essential element of romantic relationships. So as more and more laws are created which seek to end distinctions between the sexes, it becomes increasingly important to analyze their future impact. There’s nothing inherently wrong about a girl loving baseball or a boy loving to dance – we all have our own personal make-ups. However, androgyny should not be an end goal; relationships need both masculine and feminine energy in order to survive and thrive. So perhaps, even if simply for the sake of our children’s future relationships, it’s time to declare a truce in the war on gender.