Gender and Pétanque

Quick link: Women Are My Tribe

EthnoTraveler published this piece on Friday, along with gorgeous photos by Aaron Van Luven. Thanks to a good editor, it morphed from a rather blah piece about the game of pétanque into a more thoughtful story about gender roles and ultimately ends with me saying the rather unusual (radical?) thing that I’m okay with some gender segregation. Even when it means men are playing a game and women are inside the home. I don’t think this is by necessity demeaning to anyone. There is so much more nuance and depth to gender relationships that I can’t say the simplistic things like “Women should be able to play pétanque” anymore. Unpacking that would require a much longer essay. For now, enjoy this little piece about the game and social interactions.


Pétanque is a French game similar to boule or bocce. Every evening in Djibouti City a triangular island of dirt right across from the National Djiboutian Football Stadium fills with pétanque teams, older men on one side, young boys on the other.

It’s hard to say which is more popular in Djibouti: pétanque or football. Men play in teams of one, two, or three but many more people are involved in the game, offering advice, keeping score, and simply standing around, socializing. I sit with a group of men and watch a game.

“Do women ever play?” I ask.

They laugh. “I’ve never seen a woman play,” one man says. “Do you want to try?”

I have played pétanque with my kids and husband.

“What would happen if a woman did play?” I ask.

“Oh, they just wouldn’t,” the man says.

The others laugh again. The idea is so far out of the realm of possibility that they can’t imagine it.

Click here to read the rest of the story: Women Are My Tribe