Seriously, 70% of speaking roles though?
Last season, when I was getting my soccer bag ready for the first day of practice, I tried to think of everything I might possibly need. Besides the balls and cones I was given, I also packed any extra pairs of shin guards I had and an air pump. I even bought a whistle. I added my first aid kit from my car, because kids are clumsy. I was coaching girls, so I also added lots of extra hair ties and pre-wrap (even though most are too young to even care if their hair is up or down when they play… I have no idea how anyone does anything with their hair down).
This year, I’m doing the same thing. Equipment is all laid out. But since I’m coaching boys (15 of them, all aged roughly 10-12 years old) instead of girls this year, I’m not going to pack the hair ties.
I’m going to be honest – I’m really worried about coaching boys this time.
I wasn’t too concerned at first, in fact I was even excited to be a positive female role model! I was excited that the boys play with more players on the field, so the game might be more similar to what I’m used to. I was excited about returning to the soccer pitch, in general, in whatever capacity.
But then, people got in the way of my excitement:
- My mother made the comment, “at that age, some of them might have a crush on you.”
- Playing trivia with a few guys I just met, they made comments like “The girl got one right!” or, “You like sports? Girls never like sports. Why do you like sports?”
- “You don’t think the dads will think that’s weird?”
- “Huh, well I hope you can handle it all by yourself!”
I know these boys I’m coaching are going to make their own comments. I know they aren’t old enough to understand what they’re saying. Hell, even when I coached girls they made comments that were painful, but for different reasons. Many of them wouldn’t do proper push-ups, because “girls are weaker than boys”. Which, I struggle with that even though biologically it might be true – but at their age, it’s not true at all. At 10-12 years old, girls have started hitting the growth spurts that boys won’t see for another 3-4 years. Even if the boys were/are stronger/faster/taller – you’re going to just give up!? You aren’t even going to try, because there’s an implied limit on what you think you can do? It just hurts. Unfortunately I didn’t see this video until after the season ended.
Practices start next week. Just like at the start of anything new, I have to figure out who I’m going to be. The tough coach? The fun one? Soft-spoken or whistle-blowing? But because I’m female, coaching a bunch of boys, there’s an added layer of issues I have to think about. What do I do if they don’t listen? How will I prove myself to them, that I know this game inside and out?
So I’m packing a bunch of internal things in the coaching bag this year instead of hair ties. Confidence, a louder voice, and the knowledge that I’ll have better form and distance than these punks. They’ll challenge me to prove myself every week and I will meet their challenges, because I can.
I always love a good challenge.
I used to be terrified of thunderstorms. I was convinced the lighting would get me, and that I was especially vulnerable in my upstairs bedroom. I refused to go to my room when it was storming, and I rarely went to sleep until the storm had moved on. I would hold back tears as best I could, but then I would catch a glimpse of lighting or hear a crack of thunder over the television and start bawling. Even once the rain and clouds had moved on, it still took my parents at least a half hour to convince me it had stopped; I was safe now.
Grandma Dar is currently 83 and is incredibly resourceful and wise and generous. She had a total of five kids in the ’60s and ’70s; she had 2 girls, then a boy, then 2 more girls. The middle child and her only son was my Grandpa Gary.
So Grandma Dar had five kids, four of which were girls. These women, my great-aunts, are as different as any four siblings can be. Some have been married for 25 years or more, and some have had as many as 7 husbands. Some were housewives, some have had very successful careers. But they all had children, Dar’s grandchildren. And a good number of Dar’s grandchildren had children. Grandma Dar currently has over 45 grand- and great-grandchildren, and her second great-great-grandchild will soon be born. Bringing us to a grand total of over 50 people that wouldn’t exist on this planet without Grandma Dar.
Most people grow up in patriarchal families headed by a sole male figure whose name everyone shares, whose name and bloodline is very important to carry on. Sons who can keep the family name going are sought after and even preferred. In defiance of this patriarchal structure, my mom’s family is very much a matriarchy run by women and headed by the sole matriarch: Grandma Dar. There are many different family names, and characteristics that might be from a father’s or a mother’s bloodline, but neither are preferred. It just is. You might have a Reinhardt nose, or a Keefer laugh, or Cady height. Babies were babies, and they were all wonderful blessings no matter how they came into existence or who they belonged to.
Grandma Dar built all that. Not only is she responsible for the mere existence of over 50 humans, but she also helped raise every single one of us. She visits parents with their newborn babies and she finds a way to come back into the child’s life when they’re old enough to remember her, too. Grandma Dar is everyone’s favorite and she remembers every single one of us.
The summer after my brother was born, Grandma Dar came to stay with us like she does when new babies are born. In the Midwest we have snow in the winter, and storms in the summer. So of course the night my parents decide to go out and leave the new baby and I with Grandma, it storms. We had this big picture window in our living room at the time, facing the river across the street. Our couch was backed up against the big window, so it was the perfect little perch to watch everything going on outside whether it was summer parades or waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. But this particular night, Grandma was determined to break my fear of thunderstorms.
She didn’t tell me that storms were about God’s wrath, or some mythical battle being fought in the sky. Instead she told me that with so many clouds up there, sometimes they bump into each other. Sometimes it got pretty loud, but that was when two really big clouds bumped into each other. And that’s all storms were – the skies just got a little crowded. When you’re a kid, and you start personifying these clouds, it becomes kind of fun to watch the clouds move around like bumper cars. So from that big picture window, we watched the clouds bump into each other. I cried a little less and maybe even giggled my infectious girly giggle. Most importantly, I eventually fell asleep during that storm, dreaming bumpy-cloud dreams. Now it was just the dog my parents had to worry about during storms.
Grandma Dar’s commitment to family is unremarkable and often unheard of. She didn’t just build this family and then sit back from a distance, living her own life. No, her family is her life. Her one-of-a-kind legacy will continue to live on within over fifty different people, with over fifty different memories of her.
Some people build businesses or political empires. Grandma Dar built her own kind of empire.
I still remember the first time I realized sexism was a very real thing.
I played soccer, and in my hometown that meant playing coed. Because of the lack of interest in soccer in my hometown, especially for girls, this usually meant I was one of very few girls on the “coed” team. Other teams we played didn’t always have a coed team, so we played the all boys teams by default, I guess. Defense was my usual position at the time. One particular game, this boy on the other team, their favored striker, kept attacking the side I was defending. Which is fairly normal; people will tend to stick to the side of the field and the foot they’re more comfortable with. But after several attempts to score on that side of the field without success, most people will switch it up and try something else. They’ll try it up the middle, they’ll try to pass – something! This guy just kept coming at me though. Eventually I moved over to the other side of the field to give me a break from playing constant defense against this guy. Except now this kid is coming at me on this side too! I thought it was strange, but just kept playing. Then, this kid brings the ball up the field and one of his teammates (likely tired of this ball hog) calls for him to pass the ball, because he’s going to lose it if he keeps headed in my direction. Instead of passing the ball to his completely open teammate, he just says “I got it! I can beat the girl.”
I can beat the girl.
I didn’t really think too much of it at the time, I was busy getting the ball away from this kid, but later I realized why he kept bringing the ball up whatever side I was on. He thought I was an easy target. That because I’m a girl, I couldn’t defend against him. That as the ‘weaker sex’ I couldn’t keep up.
Later in the game I stole the ball from him and made him look like a fool, and he eventually stopped bringing the ball up my side. I like to think I taught him a lesson that he kept with him for the rest of his life but I think that may be unrealistic. Stories like this happen all the time, even for younger girls and adult women.
And you know what the most common response is, when I ask why boys say and do things like this? Why they exhibit blatant sexism, why they’re jerks to girls for no reason?
“Boys will be boys,” as if it’s completely out of their control. Yet we’re the weaker sex.
In the professional and international soccer world this type of thing still exists, most recently with the current controversy over using turf in the upcoming Women’s World Cup:
Come to think of it, perhaps there is no better evidence that this boils down to sexism than the stance taken by female soccer players. No one has more to lose than they do. Nobody would be more willing to play this World Cup on turf, if they truly believed there was no other way, if they truly believed it was fair.
Female athletes are taking action because no one else is, because not enough people seem to care.
And that’s exactly what FIFA is counting on.
FIFA, the soccer governing body, is known for being pretty corrupt. But this is something else; this is low even for those guys. I get upset when FIFA does things that are biased against the US, like putting the men’s team in the Group of Death nearly every World Cup, but I can’t handle the way they’re dealing with the women’s tournament. Yes, I am happy the women have their own tournament, and I’m so happy with the leaps and bounds that have been made even in my short lifetime.
I’m just asking FIFA not to take a giant leap backward on this one. Don’t show those boys that you think women are the weaker sex, that women deserve less. Show the world you value the women’s game as much as the men’s. Give the fans, and the players, what they want. Doing good business means including the girls, too. Boys will be boys, but men don’t have to be.
In college I took an Organizational Behavior class as part of the business school curriculum. The class was too easy; the grade based entirely on 3 multiple-choice exams that were based entirely on the textbook. I went to class anyway, because the professor was amazing, funny, and had wonderful stories to tell.
But one thing that stuck out from that class, was a chapter on gender and a very distinct difference between the genders I’d never really noticed before, but it made sense. (I’m paraphrasing a bit and it’s been awhile, so bear with me). Women, when they complain or have a problem, typically want sympathy or someone to listen to them. Men expect a solution. So when a woman is telling you about their awful day, and then this guy is trying to solve the problem, when all she wants is someone to empathize with her… or vis-versa, a man is telling a female about his awful day, and he wants the problem to go away, but this girl is just giving him all this sympathy he doesn’t want. You can see where this could lead to frustration.
The professor then went on to explain why this happens, why the difference exists (again, paraphrasing):
When a little kid falls down, parents (dads especially), will often treat a boy differently than a girl. If their little girl falls down, a dad will rush to the rescue, and make sure everything is ok. If a boy falls down, dad will tell him to get up and brush it off, maybe even say something like “dirt don’t hurt” and expect the boy to be on his way. This make girls accustomed to receiving sympathy when they fall, and boys are just told to get up, you’ll feel better, problem solved.
My dad, seen in the picture holding me over a fence (which I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to do) wasn’t that kind of dad. If my brother fell down, Dad told him to get up and brush it off. If I fell down, I was told the exact same thing. At times, I sort of hated him for this. If anything, my dad pushed me a lot harder than he pushed my brother – whether academics, or sports, or other hobbies – he was always telling me where I could be better. I got an A; he’d ask why I didn’t get an A+. My team won a soccer game; he told me I looked a little tired toward the end, and I should get myself in better shape.
This gets to be exhausting after awhile. I just wanted to be celebrated for my accomplishments, not told it wasn’t good enough. That’s what I heard, every time he would ask why it wasn’t an A+.
I didn’t hear “you’re smart enough to have the top grades in all your classes,” instead I heard “this isn’t good enough.”
Now I’m an adult and understand why he did those things. A lot of people I know now who are successful, had a parent who was rough on them and was kind of an asshole. By default, kids (especially smart ones) can be lazy. They know they can be. They don’t have to study for the test, or ask questions to understand the homework. It pisses people off, but it’s true. So without that constant effing nagging – they’d continue to be lazy for the rest of their lives.
I don’t think my dad knew the ripple effect of what he was doing. The bar wasn’t set at “you did well for a girl,” but it was “did you come in absolute first place, boys or girls?” He was going to set the bar as high as possible, and not bring it down just because of my gender. He knew I was a smart kid, and wanted to make sure I reached my full potential. I was the first child, and I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason the bar was so high. It didn’t matter to my dad that I was a girl. He wouldn’t have been disappointed if my brother had been a girl, either. Even though my dad was the last chance for carrying on the family name, and without my brother the name would have died, he didn’t care. There was a lot of pressure from the family for my dad to have a boy.
“I was too worried about having a healthy baby, I didn’t care what it was as long as it was healthy,” he used to tell us. But, to the satisfaction of my aunts, a boy was born. So now the pressure is on my brother, I guess.
Even more powerful, it wasn’t because I was a girl that my dad was a pain in my ass. It was because I was smart, because I had the potential to do something real. He understood I’d have to deal with a lot worse if I was going to be a smart, successful, powerful woman someday. But he did it because he wanted his children to succeed – boy or girl.
Before I even started this project, I took a very small poll with an unrealistically small sample size. As a market researcher who understands how this works, let me tell you the data gathered from this study wouldn’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny.
However, there were a couple of recurring themes:
- People would, in fact, be interested in a more personal blog as opposed to a strictly professional one. There are things only I can do and say and write, and a personal blog is going to be more unique than another one about cooking.
- Those that know me suggested, encouraged, and even demanded that I don’t shy away from my trademark sarcasm and/or inherent feminism. Basically, that I should have voice in my writing. In the past was a strong suit of mine. As a ‘recovering writer’ so to speak, this is one of the easier things to get back, but not as easy and I had thought.
To speak to both points (but mostly the second one), I bring you a recurring column: Feminist in Limbo. (Or maybe as Colbert would say: I Am Feminism and So Can You!) This isn’t set in stone, but the idea for the column is to sort of explore why and how I became a feminist…a question I get more often than you would think. This isn’t to say I feel the need to explain or apologize for my feminism; that’s not at all the case. Many people would say ‘everyone should be a feminist’ and while I agree, I truly believe the development of my own personal brand of feminism was created over generations of exceptional woman and equally exceptional men as well as my own personal experiences with being female. So the idea is to talk about my incredible female ancestors, the men who stood with them, and my own personal experiences – both positive and negative – and how they shaped the current viewpoints I have.
Maybe that sounds a bit too prompted or rigid, but I promise there are some really good stories here I can’t wait to share! Come back soon for Feminist in Limbo Part 1….