Cultivating Femininity in Our Daughters: On Sports and Culture

There is no perfect standard by which to measure which sports girls might play, as Stephen suggested (check out his interesting blog here). With this subject, we’re going to have to do what we do on a constant basis as Christians: discern. Think. Cogitate. There aren’t necessarily easy answers to this question, and so we’ll need to think wisely about how we can cultivate a gentle, beautiful femininity in our daughters.

In doing so, we will be going against the cultural grain. Women in cultural media today are shockingly aggressive, tough, and take-charge. The image sold over and over again in films and tv is that women should be all of these things, that they essentially have no need of men, and that their fundamental disposition should be hard-nosed, independent, and aggressive. Just take a look at popular television shows and high-grossing films and you will see this type of character pop up continuously. Whether they all seek to do so intentionally or not, the media of our country parades before us countless female characters who exhibit everything but biblical femininity.

Sports comes into our discussion because it is one of the primary training grounds for aggressive, hard-nosed femininity. Coaches treat girls much like boys, develop their bodies in similar ways, and develop attitudes that smack of independence and toughness. This may work for winning games, but it doesn’t help to develop godly femininity. As Christians, we don’t our girls to be just like our boys. We don’t them to be tough and bulky, hard-charging and gritty. We want them to be sweet and gentle. We don’t them to be aggressive in a physical or even social sense. We want them to learn to follow, to be sweet-spirited, to be kind. We don’t want our girls to bulk up like guys, to physically resemble men save for a few differences. I know I’m speaking a bit directly here, but I very much mean what I say, and I suspect that others share my opinion. A girl can’t help her natural build, but she can avoid packing on muscle and girth in the way that guys do. Sports encourages girls to be tomboys, which is a telling word, because in entering into lots of high-contact athletic activity, girls do indeed become more like boys in many ways, some of which I’ve outlined here. Watch the WNBA or some other such league, and you see just this: women who look and act more like men than women. This is not a good thing, and we should guard against it in our homes.

As I said yesterday, there are some sports that I think are fine for women. Tennis and volleyball come to mind. Should I ever have daughters, and should be they be athletic, I’m going to encourage them to head more toward these sports than the high-contact sports. Should I have boys, I’ll push them more towards sports like basketball, baseball, or soccer. I want my boys (should I have any) to be tough, strong, and take-charge. I want them to have the smell and look of boys. On the other hand, I want my girls to be gentle, sweet-spirited, and decidedly girly. Somewhere along the way, it became a bad thing for a girl to be girly. It is my hope that Christians will reclaim this special space, and that we will raise our girls to be feminine, kind, and beautiful in mind, body, and soul. Our girls will be quite different than those around them, but isn’t that sort of the point of Christianity to begin with?

  • Anonymous

    I just found your blog through Timmy Bristers blog – your commentary is interesting, but I think you have not watched club/high school or college volleyball. those are some of the most athletic and agressive girls you will ever see. Throw in a bit of intimidation etc. I have a daughter that is very involoved in club and h.s. vball, and I will say it is the most entertaining of all womens sports.

    Jim Champion

  • Anonymous

    By the way, unless girls take steroids or testosterone they will not bulk up. they will get stronger, but even women powerlifters cannot build the same type of muscle as men.

    good luck if you have girls though, I have found that my daughters developed confidence and learned to work as a teammate in a way that they never would have without sports. This fall go check out your local high school’s girls varsity volleyball team – then keep your girls as far away as possible!

    I had my girls involved in sports as soon as they were old enough to play in the Y – soccer, softball, basketball and volleyball. They each decided which sports they enjoyed the most and played them through high school. In college they played intramurals etc. Some girls were naturally more agressive, some were very passive (just like the boys), they each excelled at different sports and I loved to watch them play – not to mention the time we spent together as I carted them to practices and games

    Jim Champion

  • Fanny

    Owen, after rooming with me in college, are you still sure that you want your boys to “smell and look like boys”? Be careful what you wish for!

  • Dad

    I would side with Jim regarding Volleyball – Amy was about as agreesive in that sport as I ever was in ‘boy’s sports’. On the other hand my wife likes to play it so that everyone has fun and a good time!! I think there is a difference there in personalities, just like in some guys.

    Though as I have grown older I see less value in sports, and more in learning to work, at home or a job. I suspect more and more people do not know how to find joy and satisfaction is work, and this may be, in part, to playing a good part of their life. But I do think there are other factors to that issue as well.

    Al (not Owen’s dad or that other “Al” either.)


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