That’s why I feel lucky I have a daughter. Girls can go to medical school or beauty school, wear pants or dresses, and choose whether to work or be stay-at-home moms, without (too much) societal judgment. So when my daughter came home from school and informed me that only boys can play soccer, I told her that wasn’t true. I encouraged her to join the boys on the soccer field during recess if she wanted to. And she did. I was so proud.
But last spring my five-year-old daughter challenged my can-do attitude. This was a request I had never anticipated from a little girl who enjoyed ballet and pretending to be a princess. She asked if she could learn karate.
Teaching children—girls or boys--to hit and kick didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Instead of saying that, I asked her where she heard about karate. “Sesame Street,” she said. (That darned PBS! I’d trusted them.) “Why do you want to learn karate?” I asked. “Because it looks like dancing.” I assured her it wasn’t at all like dancing and waited for her to forget about it. She didn’t. Almost daily she asked if she could learn karate. Eventually, I called about an introductory lesson.
Once at the local tae kwon do studio, I felt conflicted. The instructor wasn’t what I expected—a black belt with red toenails. Talk about busting gender stereotypes--the owner was a woman! (I admit I kind of liked that.) The teacher told my daughter when she enters the studio, she should bow and greet the instructors with “Hi, ma’am. Hi, sir.” The instructor also said it’s important to listen and respect one’s parents. (OK so far. . .)
But when the instructor asked what my daughter would do if a stranger grabbed her arm, my stomach clenched. I didn’t want my little girl to fear strangers. I didn’t want to squash her naturally outgoing personality and I didn’t want her to grow up afraid. Yet, heaven forbid she should need to, I did want her to be able to defend herself.
On the ride home, we discussed whether our family wanted to add tae kwon do to our schedule. In between “Hi-ya!” yells, my daughter said she definitely wanted to try it. Overall, I was impressed with the program, but still couldn’t wrap my mind around my daughter learning to fight. My husband, however, said since girls are smaller than boys, it made sense for them to learn how to outsmart an attacker. I still wasn’t anxious to start something in which I figured she would quickly lose interest. After all, I’m pretty sure she’s the only kid to ever learn martial arts because they like to dance.
When I parked the car in our garage, I told my daughter to clean out the trash in the backseat. “Aww, Mom,” she protested. I headed for the mailbox. Half way down the driveway, I heard her yell, “Yes, ma’am!” I turned around and saw her smiling at me.
I was sold.
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