Yesterday, a family member said that my older daughter was “becoming quite a jock” due to her interest in soccer, basketball, snowboarding, and softball. I found myself offended by the term “jock,” because to me that implies someone who is somehow less smart or less feminine. Neither of these descriptions apply to my daughter, who is excelling in school — for the first time in her life! — and has developed a balanced, thriving social life, also a first.
So I questioned my reaction to the work “jock.” What about this word is so offensive, besides the fact that it often precedes the words “strap” and “itch”? In its essence, it is simply a word that describes a person who enjoys participating in sports. However, when it was uttered by this particular relative (who has a reputation for being deliberately hurtful when people don’t behave the way that she expects), it seemed derogatory.
When I Googled the terms “jock image,” I found many images that I would not consider appropriate because they depicted either the “strap” or the “itch” part of the term. The few female images my search returned were of females who were either sexualized excessively or lack any scrap or femininity. None were even remotely appropriate to describe a lovely young woman who enjoys sports.
When I Googled “athlete image” or “female athlete image,” the results were significantly different. These results showed people who were strong, vibrant, and confident. As I watch my older daughter navigate the murkiness of early puberty, I would rather she start from a basis of confidence and strength. Since her choices are mostly team sports, she also has the social skill development that she was lacking in previous years. She is excelling in her academics. That she’s good at her chosen sports is icing on the cake. She is clearly thriving, and athletics is clearly the key.
That she is following a path similar to mine (similar only — I did different sports and only excelled at swimming) makes me delighted for her. I learned self-confidence in similar ways, and I survived my teen years relatively well. I’m hoping that her choices may help her smooth out the bumps in the road ahead.