Camping, Dancing, and Gender Roles

This weekend I was at an annual camping/swing dancing/swimming event that is a favored April event in our household. Some 250 – 300 people show up and put on the greatest party and potluck you could imagine!

This year there were two aspects of the event that stood out to me:

1.  Swing dancing is a special kind of couples dance that is just too much fun. It’s also traditionally gender based. The boys lead, the girls follow, and while fun things happen, it usually takes some push and shove to get the dancing community from “men over here, women over there” to “leads over here, follows over there.” Because this language shift is so easy, it’s one of those small things that we can and should work towards. So I was delighted to be joined on the “men’s” side of the dance lessons by my daughter. She loves this event and has learned how to swing dance over the years as a follow. This year she boldly stepped up and asked to learn how to lead. The dance instructors made a pretty smooth shift to the language of leads and follows as soon as they saw us on the leading side and everyone in the room was gracious, chatty, and apparently unsurprised to see a young teenage girl skillfully leading her way around the dance floor. She was joined, over the night, by a number of other female leads. But no male follows. This trend – that it’s more okay for girls to take on traditionally masculine roles but not okay for boys to take on traditionally female roles – is common across all elements of our very gendered society. Which leads me to my next point.

2.  There was a band of young teenage boys roaming around the event this year, maybe 15 of them in total. They did many of the traditionally male things that you will see groups of teenage boys do – they threw balls and frisbees, they jumped off things into water, they ate an astounding amount of food, flirted loudly with the two or three girls who were there. But they also sat two to a chair when other chairs were available, squished together for comfort and connection. They held hands. They hugged. And they did all of this without appearing to have any qualms or concerns. It was refreshing and rejuvenating.

So what’s the take away? Things are happening, culturally. They may not be happening in the order that we expect them to happen, but as a community our youth are becoming more open, more aware, and more inclusive of (among other things) gender expression and connection. And from this will flow more compassionate, psychologically healthier, and socially kinder adults.