Reflecting back on my physical education experience I had thought I was always a poor gym student, and then my mother handed me a stack of my elementary report cards. Guess what? My phys. ed. comments were stellar! So when did things change and why? I credit my middle school gym teacher with crushing my spirit and confidence. (Only temporarily, as I eventually rediscovered it.)
How did one man do this? Well…now that it’s almost 30 years later and I’ve had lots of time to consider it, including my own adventures into the field of exercise and education.
- Consideration #1: HE was a HE. That transition from pre-teen to teenager is a delicate and confusing time for most if not all young girls and having a man lead the class requiring you to use your body and wear shorts can be very difficult.
- Consideration #2: He was super-focused on teaching sports not active living. I remember doing endless amounts of drills (poorly, I might add) and not seeing the point because I had zero intentions of ever playing basketball.
- Consideration #3: He loved athletes. And only athletes. If you weren’t one of his star players, you were irrelevant. The only students ever chosen to demonstrate or assist with anything were the super stars. If you didn’t have to skills or talent to bring a pennant to the wall, forget about it.
- Consideration #4: If memory serves me correctly, he often asked kids without gym clothes to sit out (like, what the heck?) and I remember being put into teams based on ability and gender. As a trained teacher I have so many issues with this and could go on for days, but I’ll spare you.
So what does all of this mean? If it happened to me in my little neck of the woods, it’s happened to other girls all over Canada. Girls grow up to be women. If we grow up being ashamed of our bodies and abilities, and taught that we must be sports-focused, our chances of participating in exercise later in life is pretty slim.
Here’s a bit of research to think about before I continue:
- An article on girls in sport says that “Research shows that only 4 percent of Canadian girls are getting enough daily physical activity to meet recommended health guidelines.”
- A report published by CAAWS states “Females, beginning at an early age, under-value and underestimate their capacity (and potential) for competency in physical activity. As a result, girls’ physical activity skill levels constantly fall further behind their male peers’. Therefore, girls may select only activities that are traditionally
female, or worse, be turned off physical activity altogether. (Dahlgren,
So, why in the world of fitness and our age of gender equality, do we need women’s only events?
We need women’s only events because these women are the girls I used to be. They were embarrassed and ignored and discouraged from pursuing active lifestyles. They grew up thinking they weren’t good enough to be fit and healthy.
We need women’s only events because women need to feel free and comfortable and accepted and safe before being ready to try something new.
We need women’s only events because not enough women are exercising and pursuing regular physical activity. We need to make it as accessible and easy to get moving as possible.
We need women’s only events because we’re making up for some messed-up “guidance” women all over this country have received at the hands of men like my middle school gym teacher.
One such event that aims to encourage and support women in participating in outdoor endurance type events, is the Keji Multisport Festival and Women’s-only Triathlon happening at Kejimkujik National Park on September 22-23rd. Check it out and spread the word!