A recent family conversation about gender brought to mind a touch football game from the late ’50s. We were visiting relatives in Georgia. As I recall, we were there for Thanksgiving. On Friday or Saturday afternoon, some friends of my aunt and uncle came by. While the adults chatted, the kids went out to play. This included the visitors’ son and daughter, who were about my age, as well as my sister, my cousin and me. My sister is nearly five years and my cousin a couple of years older than I. We probably were joined by a few other kids in her neighborhood.
It was a lot of fun. The daughter of the visitors seemed especially to enjoy it.
At this point, let me throw in a background anecdote. A few years before this, my sister had asked for and received a football for Christmas. It seemed better than any of the two or three that belonged to me. At least it was newer. It was used by my sister and the other big kids. So I rarely got to play with it early on. But that’s really beside the point. The point being that in my world, boys and girls both played touch football, and either could own footballs.
I’m not sure I realized that was anything other than the norm. But there were pressures to conform to society’s gender roles. We, no doubt, acquiesced in certain areas. I think we’ve made some progress, but my use of the past tense two sentences back may have been wishful thinking.
There was the time when my wife was upbraided by some random older woman because our then-infant daughter was wearing blue.
Not long ago, I sat in a medical waiting room, a young father was looking at a magazine with his pre-teen daughter. At one point he asked, “Is that a boy’s room of a girl’s room?” She guessed “girl’s.” So he gently pointed out items (he) associated with boys, concluding that it was a boy’s room.
Anyway, back to that Thanksgiving game. When we returned to the house, the visiting girl said to her parents, “I want a football for Christmas!”
The reply, from her mom: “Well, that’s too bad.”
The girl was about the same age my sister had been when she got a football for Christmas. Her mom’s reply shocked me then and continues to annoy me to this day.
Early in 2018, I was a supporting character in a Playmakers Repertory Company production of “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath. The drama is set in a mega church, complete with choir, which is on stage for about 2/3 of the play. I sang in the choir for 10 performances.
There are five main characters. As created by the playwright and presented by the actors, they are all full-dimension human beings. I found in each things with which to agree and to disagree. All were sincere individuals struggling with their beliefs.
Some people who saw the play missed a lot of what it offered because they chose to see the characters as flat.
The action centers around some changing beliefs about heaven and hell that the church’s pastor shares from the pulpit and the fallout therefrom.
For one friend, generally open-minded about most things, mega church means religious right. He wrote the pastor off as “a Billy Graham,” showing little (or no) interest in what happens to him and those around him. There’s some irony here in that the new theology the pastor espouses is not something Rev. Graham would believe in. Also, Billy Graham was never pastor of a mega church. But such distinctions don’t matter when one deals in stereotypes.
Another friend, who is Jewish, dismissed the whole play with “I’m of another persuasion.” It angered my wife, who also is Jewish, to hear this. This same man, I am sure, would never, ever dismiss a drama about African Americans because he’s not of that race.
The theological themes raised were not issues that only Christians ponder. Further, one doesn’t have to focus on the theological questions. They play works as a study of relationships and personal issues. Some who have little or no use for religion may have tuned out a compelling human drama.
During some performances more than others, there would be those in the audience who would laugh at lines that were not funny. Did they just not get the seriousness of what was going on? Or did they not care to? This was during a time when the pastor is being taken to task. Perhaps some in the audience figured, “I’m glad to see this Billy Graham mocked.” Maybe others, conversely, held on to the conservative view from which this man departed and thus were glad to see him put in his place.
In either case, they were flattening his character and that of the person questioning him.