My nine year-old softball player of a daughter needs a fielding mask because it is required for pitchers and she is dying to take the mound, but I find that part of me resists. For two years I avoided buying a facemask as they were not required, and there were enough expenses to go around with the buying of bats and gloves and batting helmets. Finally it looks as if I’ll have to warm up to the idea of her wearing a mask and prowling the infield with a plastic cage strapped over her eyes, nose and mouth. Growing up I never wore a mask playing baseball, and when I glance at the boys playing on an adjacent field, I notice that not a one of them are wearing masks either.
I’m honestly not sure she really needs the mask but what bothers me more is the openly chauvinist practice playing out across baseball diamonds where girls are required to wear masks and boys are not. Whereas no one has suggested boys wear these masks, mass e-mails have been sent out by our local and national little league concerning girls’ safety and the risk of injury from softballs striking them in the face. Money was pooled to get masks at a cheaper rate. These masks are not helmets and do not protect the entire head from injury, only the face. Why not just have them trot out there in batting helmets if they truly want to protect them? But aren’t boys exposed to the same risks? My son plays baseball in the same league and it has never been suggested that he wear a mask for fielding. The curious silence regarding masks for boys highlights our different societal conceptions of male and female. While it is okay for boys to be exposed to the risks of facial injury, the faces of girls are evidently a more highly prized commodity. The message is that a girl’s future is more dependent on her looks than a boys and it is pretty obvious that society does value a woman’s looks more than a man’s. It is also generally thought that a girl’s appearance is more important to her than a boy’s appearance is for him, although my own experience tells me there is a wide range of vanity amongst men and women. I do know boys and men who have shown me their scars as emblems of battle or personal history, whereas only a few women I’ve ever known have flaunted their scars in the same way. It is also interesting to note that while a man with a scar on his face connotes toughness, a woman with a scar is just ugly. No one wants their daughter to be that woman, if at all avoidable. I don’t want to be the guy whose daughter gets her face smashed in because he refused to buy a facemask. Consequently, later today I’ll be at a cash register ponying up for a mask for my girl.
All things being equal, I should buy one for my son to protect his cute mug too. He’d be the first to wear one on his team, maybe he’d start a trend, or more likely he’d be cajoled into ditching it like everyone else and take his chances. He has a glove after all, I tell him, just catch the ball and you won’t get hit – I’ll still tell my daughter that too, it’s not like she’s going to toss the ball around the backyard with that thing strapped on her face – is she?