A message to young girls in sports
Do not let the way people speak to you influence your self worth
Being a young girl in sports was one of the most belittling experiences of my entire life, and it’s sad for me to say now many women my age feel the same way.
I grew up playing indoor and outdoor soccer for (give-or-take) four years. I knew every position inside and out and could rock all of them! Except for goalie, but let’s not dig up those embarrassing truths.
I’m going to split this article into two categories: elementary school sports, and external sports groups I joined outside of school. We’re going to start with external sports groups because, shockingly, these were the ones I had the least amount of problems with.
When I signed up for soccer, I had no idea what I was getting into. Truthfully, it meant being stuck with a group with a cluster of boys who had been playing soccer since they were in diapers, and a handful of boys who had never played before.
I remember how excited I was the moment I got my first goal. I was on top of the moon. For any 13-year-old, that would be a dream. For me and my team, it meant the boys were yelled at over halftime because “a girl’s been the only one yet to score”.
For the first time at 13, I recognized what I would become a steady pattern in my life: that no matter what I did, it wouldn’t matter compared to a boy. Anything I accomplished was a slight or a challenge, not a celebration. A girl succeeding was motivation for the boys to work harder.
This is a glimpse of the larger problem in the community which was the constant, consistent belittling of women, and the comparison of men /to/ women in order to encourage them to be “better.” I say this in quotes because I argue that it did literally anything but.
“Don’t be such a girl” was a phrase I remember hearing clearly, especially when it came to my male counterparts crying from various injuries. “Toughen up, princess” was another gem I remember hearing quite frequently.
While people at the time told me they were doing it to “toughen me up,” I didn’t buy it. Even then, I recognized that their actions weren’t hardening me for some sort of cruel world. Their actions were taking every accomplishment I made, and used it as a punishment for someone else. “A girl is doing better than you.” Having my success weaponized to bring others shame did not harden me. It made me feel like less of a person. It made me feel worthless.
Okay, brace yourselves, let’s enter the elementary school chapter of this saga. If anyone reading this had to endure the torture that was elementary school gym class, you already know exactly what I’m going to talk about.
In my experience, the boys had free roam of the gym. The girls were just their targets. I remember intentionally having basketballs, dodgeballs, volleyballs, you name it, whipped at my face full-force because the boys wanted to mess with me. Almost every time it landed with a bloody nose, me being walked off to the side of the gym, and my teacher looking disappointed from the sidelines.
No, the boys were never punished for this.
They also weren’t punished when they insisted on doing boys vs. girls dodgeball, where all they did was hoard dodge balls to throw at horrifyingly fast-paces to me and the other girls on the other side of the guy. Almost our entire team that day walked away with injuries.
We played girl vs. boys dodge ball a week later.
Now, here’s the part of the article that really gets my blood boiling. In addition to all of this, the sexual nature of the critiques placed against me and my classmates was unreal. We were told girls were not allowed to wear “thin-strapped tank tops” in class because it was “inappropriate and distracting.” Girls weren’t allowed to wear headbands to keep their bangs out of their face. We weren’t allowed to wear shorts that exceeded a certain length.
We weren’t allowed to come to class without a bra. We were required to carry gym bags of clothes to change into and out of, and if our gym clothes “weren’t accepted” we were punished. We were not allowed to participate. The girls needed to change and sit on the sidelines for the rest of the class.
This treatment bled into every other facet of our elementary school lives, of course. The worst was when the boys in my class decided to “rank every girl’s ass” in our class. They made a list. It went around the school. Eventually, my rank was the only way some boys addressed me, or it was the only thing they wanted to talk about. Even most of the girls brought it up every time I went to see them.
When I went to tell my teacher I was uncomfortable, she yelled at me. She told me to “take it as a compliment” and let it go. That “boys will be boys”. My friends and I lived in hell every single day because of these boys. Every time we came forward to ask for help, that’s what we were met with. Every. Single. Time.
If I could speak to the younger version of myself – the little girl that was told to take sexual harassment “as a compliment”, that people sexually discussing her body without her permission is “normal,” and that being physically attacked is “boys being boys” and normal – I would tell her one thing:
Your worth isn’t tied to your physical body, no matter how many people say otherwise. You are a person. You have a heart and soul. Your skin does not triumph over your being.
You’ve heard my story. I hope you can see how easy it is for a little girl to grow up feeling as though her body was the centre of her worth. Not surprisingly, that’s what I grew up thinking. That’s what a lot of my peers grew up thinking.
Are you surprised? Because if you are, you aren’t paying attention.