So far this week, the Times has brought us two feel-good stories of boys doing "girly" physical activities — specifically, double-Dutch and ballet — and triumphing! But we're guessing things aren't usually that easy.
Fifth-grader ZeAndre Orr, the double dutch champion, has had a rough time: he was mocked and beaten up in his Brooklyn neighborhood, and even his mother tried to dissuade him from a hobby that brought him so much negative attention. Of course, the rest is history: he persevered and triumphed. And when you consider the actual physical challenges of double dutch (and check out this video!) it's a particularly arbitrary gender division.
The story reads like a real-life Billy Elliott, the story of a young boy from a coal-mining community who defies his father and his friends to pursue his passion for ballet. Billy Elliott is now a musical on Broadway, scored by Elton John, and is winning acclaim not just for its story of unlikely triumph, but for the rotating cast of young boys who dance the lead, with a backing cast of little-girl dancers. Onstage, of course, everything is resolved neatly within a few hours: Billy wins the respect of his unemotional father and dances off into the sunset. And, oh yeah, he's not gay.
Says Cara at Feministe, "as feminists, it’s understandable that we generally focus on girls and women who break down gender barriers, rather than boys and men who do the same." But let's not be disingenuous: these boys are not beaten up just for jumping double-dutch or dancing with girls; it's naive to think that a fairy tale like Billy Elliott can make the everyday life of a young boy in a bad neighborhood much easier. In fact, one question this makes me ask is, are people pleased at the idea of barriers coming down and gender roles becoming less defined, or only to the extent that the plucky outsider triumphs over adversity? Is the specialness of the story what appeals— the cuteness factor of a fish-out-of-water — or the larger implication? Are people as tied to the idea of the "other" as the nominal idea of "equality?" Maybe it doesn't matter, and one can't exist without the other, but it's worth considering.