Debra looked at me wistfully with a light in her eyes. I had just told her about my kickboxing hobby, so why the look of an unfulfilled longing? “I’ve wanted to box for a long time, but always thought it would make me less of a woman,” she said with a shrug of her hands.
Why would she say something like that? Sports are not inherently gendered. Somewhere along the way in her life, she must have internalized a message of what someone else thought it meant to be feminine. Maybe it was communicated by her family, friends, church, local community, broader society, or the media. Maybe it was all of these. Either way, a feminine box had been created where some things were clearly in, and others were clearly out.
Boxes in themselves are not necessarily threatening, but the consequences of non-compliance are enough to facilitate a community of cubic figures. Those who dare to transgress the sacred walls are shamed and shunned. The innate human desire to belong and to be loved easily overcomes the equally innate human desire for free self-expression. On one hand, society screams “Be Yourself!!” and on the other, it adds “but stay within these exact boundaries.” In Christian circles, it can be even worse, because compliance is connected to what is ‘biblical’, so salvation is on the line.
What are the results? People like Debra are robbed of their wholeness, and we are robbed of their beings and talents. Maybe she could have been a competitive boxer, but we’ll never know. It may not be sports, it could be anything – music, art, emotional expression, fashion – so much is defined by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ boxes.
People like Debra need the freedom to be themselves. Boxes need to be challenged, and not just those related to gender. We need to value wholeness more than conformity, for the individual and the community. Our joy, and even our future, depends on it.