We watched a movie last night that had our third grade son nearly crying with laughter. Our first grade daughter giggled throughout, and it even made my husband and me laugh out loud a few times. It was The Sandlot, a film about nine fifth grade boys in the early 1960s, and their summer playing baseball in an empty sandlot in their neighborhood.
Though it terrified me of what we have to look forward to in the next few years, the hilarity of the film came from the inherent tension between the innocence of childhood and impending male puberty. At least that was what was funny to me – these little boys’ easy way with insulting each other while also being best friends, their accurate use of words like shit and hell and perv while also using words like blockhead, their unrealistic striving after Wendy, the beautiful lifeguard at the community pool.
Our son’s favorite part of the movie, the part that had him giggling at first, and then belly laughing by the time the scene had reached its crescendo, was when the sandlot kids and another local team – a team with actual uniforms – got into a battle of insults, throwing cheap shots like “moron” and “idiot” at each other, then escalating to stronger, viler boy smacks, like “scab eater” and “butt sniffer.” But the coup de grace, the shot that drew gasps and then silence from boys on both sides of the insult war, was when Ham, a sandlot boy, snarled “You play ball like a girl.”
The sandlot team proceeded to annihilate the other boys in a game of ball, then celebrated their win with a trip to the fair, where they chewed real chaw, just like the major leaguers. They shoved huge plugs into their mouths then jumped on a Tilt-a-Whirl type ride. I laughed and said, “This is not going to end well.” And it didn’t. That was my favorite scene in the movie (and it drew another round of belly laughter from our son.)
When the movie ended, all of us smiling at its charm and happy conclusion, I walked our daughter up to bed. She’s seven. She looked thoughtful, and a little confused, and she said, “When Ham said that thing about ‘you play ball like a girl?'”
“That insulted me.”
Wow. I love our daughter, but she’s not usually the most perceptive kid I know. She often accepts what other people say and assumes her own thoughts or feelings are wrong, while her brother, or kids on the playground, or character in a movie are right. I was proud that that scene had made her bristle.
“I know sweetie. That was pretty crappy huh? That crack insults girls more than it insults boys.”
After I tucked her in, I went in to say goodnight to our son. He too looked thoughtful.
“You know that funny part in the movie where they were insulting each other?”
“Yeah.” I couldn’t wait to hear what he was going to say. There was so much material there to wonder about.
“Why would boys use ‘playing like a girl’ as an insult when girls wouldn’t use ‘playing like a boy’ as an insult?”
Wow, he and his sister hadn’t even talked after the movie. I was impressed.
“Well, you’re right. Most girls wouldn’t say, ‘You play like a boy’ to insult another girl. It used to be that boys thought girls were wimpy, or weak, or couldn’t play sports as well as boys.” And sometimes still is. There was a kid on his previous soccer team like that.
“They’re wrong, of course,” I added.
“Yeah, most of the girls in my class are really good at soccer.”
He thought a little more, mentally running through all the girls he knows. With slurs like “crap-face” and “fart-smeller,” it was obvious why they were insults. Nobody would want to be those things.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he finally said.
I know, baby. Thank you for noticing.