Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Do it like a girl

I started playing basketball when I was ten and it was love at first sight. I was active in school, I was good in PE, I’d sign up for every sport event, I used to run around and jump during breaks and in general I was always ready to try anything sports related. I had tried other sports, I had done gymnastics and dance, but basketball was always my passion. Basketball is not necessarily  perceived as a “girls’ sport” (whatever that might mean) so even though I didn’t think much of it at the time, now I realize that in a lot of ways we were pressured to act more tomboyish, as if being feminine would take away your toughness on the court. Even though I used to be the girly girl type as a small child, soon I stopped wanting to wear skirts and dresses, my hair was constantly up in a messy ponytail and for a years I wouldn’t even dare considering make up. This would all be fine if it would have come naturally, but now I see that it didn’t, that it was a result of me wanting to be accepted and respected as a basketball player.  

The term “playing like a girl” was always used in a demeaning way and even though coaches would complain we weren’t as though as boys, truth is the coaches themselves were softer on us because we were girls. They were creating the gap, so if there were any difference it was because they demanded and expected less from their female teams.

I remember being 14 years old, sitting in my first ever meeting as a “coach in training”, and listen to this coach in his 30’s stating he didn’t like female basketball, that he just didn’t get the appeal (this while we were discussing the right to practice hours in the gym). Another time he complained that we shouldn’t be allowed to run/warm up off the court during his team’s practice because it was too distracting for the boys (he didn’t oppose to any of the male teams doing the same though).

In my first ever trip to the USA I visited Madison Square Garden with my family. While there, my older brother wanted to buy a Michael Jordan's jersey and so did I. He had his wish satisfied, but I didn’t, I guess because my parents didn’t take my passion for basketball seriously. Not long after that my brother quitted basketball (just like he quitted any other sport he ever tried), I, on the other hand went on to play basketball for the next 13+ years.

These are just a few examples on how in a lot of ways society still holds people back. What holds girls back it’s not the fact that they are girls, but that quite often our society still perceives girls as weak and shallow, and at the same time perpetuates the idea that a perfect girl has to be ladylike, quiet and demure. And it’s not just in sports, it’s everywhere and sometimes this prejudice also affects boys. How many girls are truly allowed to dream about being an astronaut, or a drummer or a truck driver? How many boys would be encouraged to be a ballet dancer, a hairdresser or a nanny? These predefined gender roles don’t make sense anymore, not that they did before, but by now there are no excuses, we should know better than that.

Empowering women (or anyone for that matter) is not about encouraging them to fight men or other women, au contraire, the idea is to raise people who are confident in their own skin, who think as individuals, who are supportive and respect other points of view.

Successful women are frequently perceived as despiteful and cold. There’s this idea that in order to achieve success a woman as to be nasty, especially to other women. And if they are not we, as a society, often encourage them against each other, by making unnecessary comparisons, snarky comments or creating drama were it doesn’t exist.  As if to be on the top one would need everyone else to be in the bottom, while the reality is that to be strong and competitive you don’t need to be ruthless. A tough person is not the one that finds her success by destroying her competition, but the one that is able to reach her goals while being supportive and empowering others, because having strong competitors is what makes you better. A true champion doesn’t want win because the competition has failed, she wants to win because she was better.

A lot has been said about feminism lately and I agree that some people take it to such an extreme that it becomes ridiculous, but the idea of empowering women is not about degrading men, or teaching young girls that they’re better than the opposite sex, it’s about embracing the uniqueness of both genders, accepting their differences, their strengths, and acknowledge the need to provide equal opportunities.

Instead of disseminating these preconceptions (that we often do unintentionally) we need to start teaching our children that they can be whatever they want to be, whatever they truly are, as long as they treat those around them with kindness and respect. We need to teach girls (of all ages) that they can be terrific athletes and still wear dresses and high heels off the court, that they don’t have to wear make-up but they can if they want to, that women can be ambitious, driven, and focused on their careers, that there is nothing wrong with a woman not wanting to become a mother.

Girls need to learn that it’s okay to be loud and make themselves noticed, if that’s who they are. They need people to understand that to be strong they don’t need to give up their emotions, that to be great sports players they don’t need to give up their femininity and that being beautiful, and proud of it, doesn’t take anything away from their brains.

We started with sports and we will finish the same way because sports’ benefits go way beyond fitness, they can have such a great impact in a person's self-esteem, in building character and confidence. Becky Hammon, Candace Parker, Serena and Venus Williams, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Rosa Mota, Vanessa Fernandes... the list goes on and on. They all play(ed) like girls and jump(ed) like girls and run (ran) like girls and they are (were) top athletes. They all achieved greatness, some of them against all odds.

So we need to actively start working in closing the gap and we can do this by taking our children (boys and girls) to female sport events, by introducing them to great female athletes they may otherwise not hear about, by allowing our girls to try out “boys’ sports” and wear sports clothes, by supporting them if they don’t want to wear dresses to school so they can run and jump freely and accept the fact they will be coming home with scrapped knees and elbows.

1 comment :

anneetromp said...

As always my thoughtful young friend, you smacked that effin nail with the effin you mts bjs xxx