SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2015 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Girls Can't Play With Boys
When I moved to a new school in Minneapolis, at recess I would look for the boys to play with. They were more fun; playing games, running around and always competing. I have always been a sporty kid, whenever there was a ball or something to do with my hands I gravitated to those things. I enjoyed practicing my coordination, simply throwing a ball up in the air and catching it. In my past experiences, the boys were the kids who wanted to race and see who could throw the ball the furthest. So naturally I wanted to play with the boys at recess.
While I called myself an active kid growing up, I was not the most outgoing. I chose who I would approach carefully after observing their interactions with others, and their athletic skills. Unfortunately many of my fellow girls did not want to participate in playing football or other physical games the boys would play. By 5th grade I was beginning to become more confident with my athletic abilities compared to others my age. With my growing confidence, I mustered up enough courage to go ask my new fellow classmates if I could join in playing football with them.
Everyone at school knows I am the best football player. I’m not boasting about myself, I am just the fastest and I can throw the ball the furthest. The other kids want to be on my team, but I only pick the winners. My guys will beat any team we play against!
One day at recess a girl I (Sam) didn’t recognize wanted to join our game. No question, no hesitation, it is always a “No!” Girls aren’t as fast as boys and girls just don’t play football. This girl took my response with a chip on her shoulder to insure that she would prove me wrong.
The reaction I received was all too close to my deepest fear of rejection: “oh no, you can’t play. You are a girl and girls are not as good as boys”. There was little debate within the football posse if this new girl could play with them, although I do recall one kid spoke up to give me a try. There was almost no acknowledgement of his comment to let a girl play with them, and the football game resumed business as usual. The boys turned around continuing the game so very symbolic of their attitudes towards me. As I retreated to the playground, I accepted their rejection. I cannot say I recall any condolences from other kids or adults, but I think I was looking for any either.
Over a short period of time, I (Sam) began to notice Melissa was fearless of dirt, injury or competition. She would take the turns for other girls who didn’t want to play or she would go up against the biggest boy available just to see if, or make sure she could, take him. Finally, after Melissa hit a homerun in kickball I decided to let her play football with us at recces. Melissa was an athlete, it took a while for me to realize that but she was almost as good as I was.
It wasn’t until I was able to show off my abilities and prove my athleticism regardless of the fact I was a girl, that the football boys noticed me. Gym class helped too, almost forcing them to pick a girl during dodgeball – everyone had to play. The boys made it clear at the time I was merely the best option for a girl. It took a few weeks, seeing me play or practicing in other recess games. Finally the boys asked me to join a team and I felt accepted by them.
Once I was able to hit a few homeruns, beat them in a foot race or rough house with the boys, I was able to dismiss their doubts of my ‘worthiness’ to play with them. Things began to change, soon I was first picked and sometimes even a captain on the field. Sadly, the next girl that wanted to play wasn’t given much more compassion than I received. The boys still shut her down right away – “No girls!” I was confused as to why I was able to play yet the other girls could not, but it somehow felt like I had become one of the guys. Even I took on this mindset that girls couldn’t play with us; only rarely would I pick other girls when I had the opportunity to pick teams as the captain. I didn’t want to be scrutinized for merely giving a girl a chance to prove herself with the boys, I had to protect my status.
Gender equality is not a new subject for the United States. Women have been fighting for their rights, in many different ways for centuries. As I look over the timeline of progress women’s rights have come, I am deeply proud to be a part of such movement. I had to prove myself to play with the boys at recess just as many other woman in history had to prove to the world they are equals to men.
While women’s sports were booming, I was at an influential age with an athletic family background encouraging my participation. My family urged me to be active, and more importantly conveyed gender equality in the athletic world. My mother has a degree in women’s studies, which most definitely had an effect on my mentality. Complimented with athleticism, I was given to positive reinforcement that launched me into the world of women’s sports.
To meet kids sending me a different message than I was receiving at home, was not a deterrent for me but more of a challenge. It felt empowering to prove those questioning my ability wrong. As I reflect on the timeline on women’s suffrage, it seems to me many other women were feeling the same way about their ability in not only the athletic realm. Like any group of people being told they aren’t as good as another, there develops more drive and determination to display otherwise.
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