To those still stuck in high school, extracurriculars can represent one shining beacon of light in a dark, gloomy abyss of essays and exams. They represent the one time of day you’re not hunched over a set of physics problems or an AP Literature prose response. They’re what makes a groggy 6 am morning after a long night of calculus cramming a little bit brighter. They’re the passions you hold sacred and will defend to the ends of the earth.
Unfortunately, nearly every extracurricular has some sort of stereotype attached to it that it can’t seem to shake. As a general rule, stereotypes are made of suck. The way I see it, the majority of the stereotypes surrounding high school extracurriculars spring from one of two warped perceptions: their difficulty and their participants’ sexual orientation.
There seems to be a school of thought surrounding high schools today that holds that men’s basketball and American football are the be-all end-all of athleticism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to start a cutthroat debate over which sports are the most difficult – that’s a conversation for the YouTube comments sections. I don’t doubt that those two sports require immense amount of talent and dedication. My problem starts when their players rant and rave about how their sport is the most grueling, intense extracurricular pursuit around.
It’s important to remember that just because a sport isn’t the most popular in the country or revenue-generating doesn’t mean its participants don’t dedicate hours upon hours to training and performance. Take a look at your school’s field hockey team that runs two miles before practice in the same mid-July, 100-degree heat as the football players. Or the women’s lacrosse team that hits the weight room before a two-hour conditioning session consisting of dozens of 100-yard sprints, push-ups, squats, and other legal methods of torture.
Also take a glance at the swim team, which has to practice in the early morning because they have to use another school’s pool. That’s right, a position on some high school teams includes a 4 a.m. wake-up call and a grueling two-hour practice before a hurried shower and a bus ride to school all before the homeroom bell rings. The same goes for many other sports, such as ice skating, crew, gymnastics, and horseback riding. It’s pretty unusual for high schools to offer these sports (or the facilities in which they can practice), so students participate in them at odd hours in other locations, often requiring extremely early wake-ups or long nights. Not looking like such easy activities now, are they?
Another problem arises when endeavors that may not meet the technical definition of “sport” lose all credibility in the eyes of non-participants – looking at you, cheerleading and dance. The word “sport” becomes a validating compliment, while “art” becomes a condescending insult. Anything athletic trumps anything artistic in the minds of high school students everywhere, a phenomenon that blows my mind.
For example, a common misconception is that, among high school’s myriad extracurricular activities, theatre is by far the easiest. However, actors aren’t only tasked with learning their lines and blocking (largely done on your own time, outside of rehearsal), but with making real, tangible connections with their character and the characters with whom they interact. It’s not enough to simply have your lines and movements memorized; you have to be able to infuse them with meaning. You have to tell emotional truths while enacting something fictional – a feat easier said than done. Ask anyone involved in theatre and they’ll tell you that falling asleep on top of their script isn’t an infrequent occurrence, and arriving home sore from hours of rehearsal is just as common. Add in extensive character study, costume hunting, and helping out with set construction. You’ve got a pretty demanding, jam-packed schedule.
The bottom line is as the cast of Sunday in the Park with George sings, “Art isn’t easy.” Unfortunately, the stereotype holds that it is. The stereotype extends beyond actors, stage managers, and the tech crew to affect painters, sculptors, photographers, singers, dancers, and fashion designers.
Bottom Line No.1: Athletes and artists have to not only worry about doing their jobs well but also proving their legitimacy, which sucks.
Many high school students (and let’s face it, fully-grown adults) seem to be under the impression that someone’s sexuality can be immediately determined by their involvement in certain extracurricular activities.
Take Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan for example. After a picture of her playing softball was featured in a Wall Street Journal article, the press went wild with rumors that she was a lesbian (if you want to retain any hope in humanity, refrain from watching this horrific mash-up of the network news speculation). While there are many gay women who play softball, there are many straight women who do as well, and the stereotype that “if you play, you’re probably gay” harms both groups.
Former professional softball player Lauren Lappin, a lesbian herself, has said that the entire discussion of the lesbian softball player stereotype is offensive in that “it implies that, No. 1, most softball players are lesbian, and that being lesbian is not as good as being straight, or that it’s bad or gross or wrong.” She further stated that “I think a lot of people either felt the need to defend their sexuality or to figure out other people’s sexuality” within the softball community. Can you say “yikes”?
An almost identical situation occurs with guys who participate in theatre, especially musical theatre. It not only causes straight men involved in theatre to become defensive of their sexual orientation, but also reinforces the ridiculous idea that labeling something “gay” diminishes its worth or importance. If we’re taking Neil Patrick Harris’ word for it, when it comes to theatre, “It’s not just for gays anymore.” And if it came from Neil Patrick Harris’ mouth, it is law.
Bottom Line No. 2: Athletes and artists have to worry not only about doing their jobs well but also defending their sexual orientation, whatever that orientation might be, which also sucks.
So what can we take away from all of this? Under no circumstances should we judge peoples’ character, namely their work ethic or sexuality, by the extracurricular activities they pursue. Not only because it’s completely ridiculous, but also because it can become harmful when taken too far. I think we can all agree that the stereotypes suck. Instead, let’s try to foster some mutual respect and admiration for one another’s endeavors instead of turning them into some kind of cheap competition or form of criticism.