This week required a purchase of soccer cleats for my daughter. While preparing to transport her between activities today, I was reminded of another recent shoe purchase for her – ballet toe shoes. I was struck today with the contrast of these two pairs of shoes and what they symbolize for my daughter. Soccer cleats – black, hard, muddy. These shoes require Maria to run, be fast, aggressive and tough. She has to get dirty, wet, cold and she has to work with a team. She practices everyday, honing her skills and learning her position. When I pick her up she’s dirty and sweaty, her cheeks flushed from the cold and exertion.
Today she will go directly from soccer to ballet. Muddy cleats and heavy soccer socks will be replaced with tights and toe shoes. Satin ribbons will tie around her ankles where shin guards had just been. Balance, grace, and beauty will take over – a different kind of strength, a different kind of exertion. It makes me cry to watch my daughter dance. Her emerging womanhood is evident in the loveliness of her movements. Her self-discipline and strength shine in her eyes. She is all feminine grace and beauty, enhanced with strength and self-confidence that comes from years of disciplined practice.
Watching my daughter play soccer is wonderful too. She is so fast! She throws herself into the game and plays hard, whether it’s sunny or raining on the field. Her speed and agility amaze me. She’s not afraid to get dirty and be tough, and she negotiates the middle school politics of friendship with her teammates with wisdom beyond her years.
I can’t help but think of how Maria is truly becoming a 21st century woman. She is neither confined by her femininity, nor must she deny it in order to embrace the opportunities before her. She is beauty and strength. She is toughness and grace. She stands on her own and she works in a team. She is ballet pink and soccer black. The world is open to her in ways that it has not been for young women in all the history of the world.
In spite of all the progress that women have made in recent decades, I still find myself surrounded by strong anti-feminist messages. Little girls who are clad only in pink. Women who identify themselves as sexual objects and servants of men. Women who are still intimidated to fully express themselves as equals in the presence of men. Men and women who prefer to have women rule the kitchen and nursery, while men rule the boardroom and the pulpit – not based on gifts or skills or interests, but on gender alone. My prayer for my daughter is that she will always wear both cleats and toe shoes, that she will take gritty toughness and artful grace into every endeavor. I know she will make the world a better place.