So, it’s come to this. Pink baseball mitts for the female T-ball set. No dirty-boy-rawhide for these delicate creatures. My shopping cart screeched to a halt at Target this morning as I was prowling for detergent. The screaming display of pink baseball mitts and pink bats and pink balls and pink lacrosse sticks and other pink sports items gave new meaning to “Playing Like A Girl.”
So, of course, I had to have one! I immediately purchased my own pink mitt. I’ve spent the rest of the morning pondering this very strange gender-bending item that now sits on my desk.
What does a pink baseball glove mean in this increasingly ridiculous pop culture?
Oh, yes, let’s celebrate the fact that girls now can have mitts of their own!
Hmmm. Something there is that doesn’t love a pink baseball mitt. (Apologies to Robert Frost!)
I grew up with five brothers so I learned a little bit about baseball and mitts. I was always jealous of the really serious leather my brothers sported. I finally got one of my own, a real treasure that, looking back, was probably just a toy but at the time it seemed real. But it was surely leather brown, not pink! I learned to throw strikes playing catch with Dad in the backyard. We used real gloves and real hardballs.
Learning to play hardball is something boys grow up with quite naturally — and probably some of them hate it, but most of them have to learn. In my generation and previously, girls who learned to play hardball at a young age were rare, probably those of us who had to learn self-defense in a family of brothers.
Girls today are so fortunate that they are growing up in a world where sports, like so many occupations and recreational activities, offer them a broader range of opportunities than ever before. And yet, when a girl or woman plays what was previously considered a “man’s sport” or “man’s job,” there’s always some asterisk, some perceived difference that may or may not be real. There’s always that pink mitt, the reminder that we’re “special” in a way that’s not quite equal yet.
In the current presidential campaign, we’ve heard much great and passionate discussion of race. The discussion of gender is also out there, but more muted, for a lot of reasons. For nearly two centuries, advocates for racial and gender equality have had a frequently-tenuous relationship even though all find common cause in the pursuit of justice and human rights. But from its earliest days, the women’s rights movement, fairly or not, has been perceived as largely a movement of elite white women, while the civil rights movement has been led largely by African American men. At times, these two great movements have worked together, but at other times they have seemed almost at loggerheads — much to the delight of those segments of our society who care little for the rights of women, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups who have lived at the margins of power and wealth in this nation.
Those segments of our society still exist. And they are having a great deal of fun watching Senators Clinton and Obama duke it out.
If all identity politics does is give everyone their own aisles at Target, we’ve wasted a lot of time and money and political capital in this election season. It’s just not enough for Barack Obama to give a profoundly moving speech on race and for Hillary Clinton to push on as the icon of feminism if that’s all there is. A far more compelling measure of our success as a nation will be the day when the gender or racial identity of the candidate no longer matters, when a candidate who is neither Black nor female can speak about the rights of women and people of color with the same credibility and fervor as those for whom he or she advocates; or when some future president of the United States can point to this nation’s progress in standing for civil rights nationally and human rights globally as a true moral beacon. We need our next president to be able to play hardball the right way, in the right places, when it comes to moral advocacy for the rights of all citizens of the earth, in places far from home — Darfur, Tibet, Kenya, Kabul, Baghdad.
PS — Nicholas Kristof has some interesting thoughts today in “Our Racist, Sexist Selves” in the Sunday New York Times. Click on the link and let me know what you think.