05 September 2006

Of Gender Roles and Youth Systems

Blogger and occasional DCenters commenter Joanna is writing about the beautiful game over at Secondhand Sun. Specifically, she's looking at her experiences as a girl in the sport, and what it signifies in the world at large. Her first installment is up, and it is good reading.

So I'm certainly going to be following the entire series.

I bring this up because it is something I've thought about. I do NOT have kids, but I've thought about how I would raise children if I were to ever have one. My wife knows that if we ever have a girl, I'm buying her a soccer ball at an early age. Yet I'm a little worried about the entire nature/nuture aspect. What if my kid doesn't want to play sports, but wants to play with Barbies and wear pink? The idea distresses me (although perhaps it shouldn't --My Transformers and My Little Ponies had some epic battles, ultimately settled by the deus ex machina arrival of the Care Bears, led by those notorious gangsters Tenderheart and Funshine Bear.)

The only other things I would say is that boys are, well, stupid. Parents and coaches should be less so, but some of the distrust of girls on a predominately boys team will radiate to the coach. I know that when I played on a youth (I think U10) team with one girl on it, the girl was the worst player on the field. I think that rapidly led to sexist generalizations on the part of the 9-year-old D, until a girl on another team carved up our defense one day (at which point I wanted to trade our girl for their girl. Okay, not much more enlightened, I admit, since there were some pretty awful guys that we should have traded away for that girl as well.) But when my younger brother played baseball, it was clear that the average level of the girls playing had improved in only the seven years since I played those sports. Certainly when I was fencing I realized that many of the top women in my age group could wipe the floor with me.

So what's the point? I don't know. I think there's an interesting idea that perhaps a new WUSA won't solve things, as much I enjoyed and supported it at the time (though I-66 at QuarterVolley was much better at that than I was.) As long as we seperate the leagues, there will always be a mental division between genders. Joanna writes:

I was given a plaque that read "Courageous Award." Every player received a trophy, but not everyone got a plaque - those were for special recognition, above and beyond, so it meant something! I was too busy feeling pleased with myself and snickering at the grammar to think about what that award really meant: it meant that I was Good Enough, but that I was still The Girl.
I understand that. I won the "Most Improved" trophy when I played, which meant only that I sucked less than I used to.

I'll say this though: When I play a pickup game, the game is usually dominated by guys. When a few women show up though, I've learned that their skill level is pretty much on-par with most of the men (the above/blow average distribution being roughly equal.) They are almost certainly better than I am. Which means I am more than willing to pass them the ball, for two reasons:

  1. It means I'm no longer responsible if we lose posession, and they're more likely to keep it.
  2. I don't have the wind to run laps for pennance.

Yeah, this post is a rambling mess now. So go read Joanna's series. It seems like she has things organized over there.

Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated I do have kids. That is not true. Unless two kittens count. And they might. Gypsy has a pretty good touch and great sense around the jingle ball, but James is more of a manager type, perferring to pace and mope on the sidelines.)


At 05 September, 2006 15:25, Blogger I-66 said...

Spot on. Good reading.

At 05 September, 2006 16:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a related story. My son, now U10 travel squad, had a girl on the team when they were U9. She was a good player, but was intimidated by the boys. We tried to get her to be more forceful but she would not/could not go there. In practice she was easily the third best player. She ended up leaving the team mid season.

At 05 September, 2006 17:49, Anonymous Joanna said...

Wow, that's really a shame, anonymous. That kind of thing is too, too common though - not just in soccer, but in life. Girls are taught from a very young age not to challenge boys or men. Not for a soccer ball, not in an argument, not for anything.

Does anyone remember that movie about the girls' soccer team? I think it was called Lady Bugs or something. In the climactic game a pretty princess type who hadn't really contributed to the team all season got mad because an opponent broke her nail, and tore up the field in her righteous wrath. The parents were on the sideline chanting, "Get those nail-breakers! Get those nail-breakers!"

I found that scene painfully condescending, but my dad had a much more positive reaction - maybe because it speaks to a truth that sometimes, as a girl or woman, the only thing TO do is to get mad enough not to take it anymore.

At 05 September, 2006 17:53, Anonymous Joanna said...

P.S. -- D, this...

My Transformers and My Little Ponies had some epic battles, ultimately settled by the deus ex machina arrival of the Care Bears, led by those notorious gangsters Tenderheart and Funshine Bear.

...is awesome. :) And thanks for the shout out!


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