Helmet fastened securely and body poised to dance with the mechanics of movement. Determination etched on the young face before me. Nervous moments as muscles tense and the single wheel beneath responds, Newtonian physics is unforgiving. And the incongruous footwear of flippers on pedals turns mastery into exploration and uncertainty. The part of me that wants to say ‘you can’t ride a unicycle in those’ is gagged internally with a quick risk analysis – which inevitably suggests the real risks probably do outweigh the perceived, but the balance of that is the exhilaration of the unknown. Awkwardly wobbling with delight and joy. She just might be a fish on a bike. We got it wrong, it’s not about what a fish needs, it’s what a fish is free to experience.
I have fond memories of grass related activities as a child. We made mud slides in paddocks (picture supplied, T’shirts never recovered), played hide and seek in waist high kikuyu (think a grass version of waist deep snow) and learnt the seasonal prickles via experience. I reckon most kiwi kids recognise the green to brown change of onehunga weed in summer. I remember doing athletics and hoping not to get ‘the prickle lane’. Some sports like hockey have benefited from the move to artificial turf but I reckon those of us who battled the natural stuff learned a lot about friction and the usefulness of sleeves for wiping mud out of your eyes.
But it’s even simpler than that. I remember making seed head sling shots and blowing dandelions. And who can make a grass whistle between their thumbs? (Well it sounds more like a cross between a fart and a scream combined than a whistle). Today I remembered and shared these with a young person and the delight and joy of mastering the art of mimicking flatulence was as it has always been.
So come on all you grown up kiwi kids time to bond over some seedy weed fun with younger kids. Lets not lose these traditions to technology or lawn mowers.
Riding into work I was greeted by the sight of our park like grounds draped in toilet paper. Windows painted and classrooms set up outside. A grin spontaneously erupted onto my face as a bunch of students scooted towards me in ‘boys’ uniforms. A BMX lay beside the hall (Redline…very nice) and bodies ran and moved freely. But this wasn’t the norm, far from it and yet it was so natural and joyous. The energy and vitality was a welcome contrast to the digital zombies I often see in the morning.
It’s now known as ‘prank day’ but for some reason it seemed more like an ordinary school day, or perhaps what could easily pass for ordinary in other places (minus the tree decorations and occasional water gun). The gender blurring of seeing bodies in shorts and racing around on wheels toyed with the ‘girls school’ image, it enabled freedom of movement to express physicality. The pranking gave gender a well deserved spanking.
Here’s the thing, school uniforms can police gender. If there are no other options other than skirts or culottes then femininity is enforced. I’m occasionally tempted (in my dark sardonic moments – of which there are many) to ask the question ‘why not go the extra step and mandate long hair’. If masculinity in some schools is regulated by hair length, then surely in keeping with ‘uniformity’ of gender girls must maintain long hair.
Its wheels day again tomorrow and I might just have to bust out some moves on a unicycle or borrow a skate board. Gotta make ‘hey-watch out’ while the shun shines on gender-correctness.
I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.
So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.
I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.
She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.
Standing on the river bank watching the inky black pool break and run free. I throw a stick in and the child with me throws one in as well. We watch them float down then spin out of the current. A perplexed look crosses her face, a wondering and an opportunity to play and learn – current affairs. We throw more sticks and observe them, describing what is happening nothing more. An urge to up the stakes and race, but what to do when that pesky eddy throws a reverse current into the mix. Stones enter the picture, there are plenty to choose from. But where to throw? How big? More experimentation and my young apprentice catches on quick. Making waves and calmly enjoying the rush of success. Wet feet and cold hands our reward and some hydrology terminology experienced.
Later a mountain of dirt in a field and some tame ducks with a dog who’s instinct to herd everything boarders on OCD. Two of them scramble up negotiating feathered and furry friends. Clumps of soil are picked up and hurled backwards and forwards like snow balls. Shouts and protests make way for tentative rules with animals being completely off limits. The sods are flying and the faces smiling as they quickly weigh up the line between dusting yourself off and mud in your eye. No-one is crying and the ducks seek shelter behind the scrambling legs and flailing arms. The dog is relentless. Friendships blossoming between all creatures. It’s messy and chaotic, perfect.
Gumboots discarded, they just fill up and slow you down another lesson in mass and inertia. Running free and feeling the earth beneath feet. Resting finally in a drain to pick watercress. This is how I remember learning and how I always wanted to teach.
“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.
Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.
I’m not a gamer, I don’t own any sort of ‘box’ or ‘station’ or whatever. My initiation into the gaming world is about where I stayed – Atari Pong – Space Invaders – Donkey Kong, I am stuck in a time bubble. I throw the odd coin in a pinball machine from time to time and that’s enough excitement for me – low entertainment threshold – its a good thing.
Social commentaries have explored the densensitising aspects of some of the more modern digital gaming worlds, and critiqued ways identity is constructed and expressed particularly gender, culture but less so sexuality. Just as an aside, I do think whenever we talk about gender, sexuality has to be present so it would be nice to see some creative and challenging conversations about that. Back on track then. What is clear is the move toward the gaming world providing an alternative space for people to ‘live life’ and so it is common for people to talk about their ‘online life.’ So who plays these games? That was a trick question – all sorts of people do. And there we have the ‘A’ for Awkward – rather than Awesome. You see – the problem is ‘choice’ – or more to the point – the limits of choice.
Nintendo have developed a new called life simulator game called Tomodachi Life this games producers biline for the game roughly translates as “your friends, your drama, your life.” You get to create your own avatar or Mii and live on an island with celebrities, I can just see gamers living on actual islands feeling a little short changed. Great! so what if you want to flirt or date someone of the same sex….ahhhh….no you can’t do that. The reasons given are disappointing and really reflect how pervasive heteronormativity is. They do not need an excuse because the games developers feel there is nothing to defend. If the relationships ‘option’ is supposed to represent a ‘playful alternate’ rather than ‘real life’ surely that is the perfect opportunity to explore alternate sexuality and relationships,and lets not get started on ‘real life.’ The act of excluding the choice effectively renders that aspect of identity as invalid. I know there are games where more options are available but the fact it still requires ‘thought’ and ‘inclusion’ means the default settings are geared towards Male-Female distinction rolling into Male-Female relationships. We seem to be happy to include more and more violence, choices of weapons, and other ways to hurt, maim, kill but not to love.
Apparently it is written into the code and can’t be undone – good grief…really? Shades of biological determinism much? Perhaps this is more about the limits of technology to capture and reflect the reality of a diverse, multi-layered, complex, unique and dynamic expression of self.
‘Sigh’ I’m definitely no Pinball Wizard but no need to console, just grab a joy-stick and game on!