By Megan Wood
Documentary filmmaker Jenny Mackenzie’s film Kick Like a Girl conveys the empowering and enlightening experience when a soccer team of 8 and 9-year-old girls plays in the boys division – quite successfully. After Mackenzie’s visit to Wellesley College last week, I spoke with three student athletes about why gender equity in sports is so crucial at a young age and how their own experiences shaped their views of sport and life. I spoke with senior Katie Martore (soccer and basketball), senior Loretta White (lax and soccer), and sophomore Olivia Hulme (swimming and diving).
KM: Yes-when I was little I played in a co-ed soccer league. I remember the boys on other teams would make fun of me because I was basically the only girl who wanted to play with the boys. They didn’t think I was a good soccer player because I was a girl, but I finally gained some respect when I tackled a boy and told him to never touch me again. When I was little, it seemed that once the boys realized I was a good player they stopped bothering me and treated me like all of their other teammates. It was less about being a girl and more about my skills and talent. Once I shattered the notion that girls are bad at sports, the boys respected my athletic ability.
LW: When I was in elementary school I was one of three girls who played in the local Little League. The boys were a little skeptical at first, but as soon as I showed them that I could turn a double play and hit line drives over the outfielders’ heads they viewed me as just another ball player rather than the token girl.
OH: The only time that I ever played with/against boys in sports was in indoor soccer in middle school. I think that it wasa great experience because the team dynamic and attitude was very different with a co-ed team than just an all girls team. I feel as though we were more competitive and aggressive in playing and the boys did not necessarily go any easier on the girls. When we would play games, everyone who was playing was an equal and we just enjoyed the game. It was a better experience because we played with and against the boys.
FGN: Do you think girls grow up believing that they can’t play certain sports – or play certain sports with boys – even when they are in grade school?
KM: Yes definitely-girls are not expected (or allowed really) to play football, baseball or any other sport with the boys. If you are a girl you join the girls’ league, plain and simple. When I was in grade school, I always wanted to play kickball but I realized that only the boys were supposed to play kickball and so I was stuck deciding everyday whether or not to play with the girls (doing boring stuff) or jump in with the boys (worrying about what my classmates would think of me). There wasn’t much room for a girl like me who liked playing sports and wanted to do everything the boys and the girls did.
FGN: We’ve been treated to hearing about girls who can play with boys – not just the Mighty Cheetahs, but last week bowler Kelly Kulick winning the men’s Pro Bowler’s Association major tournament. What meaning do stories like this hold for you?
LW: Hearing such stories is inspiring from both an athletic and gender dynamic standpoint. It gives me hope that we’re moving into an era where a woman will be recognized for being a tremendous athlete, as opposed to a tremendous female athlete.
OH: For me, stories like this simply reinforce my awareness that the ideas that women can’t do what men can or be as good as men at something are simply not true. I think that women have fallen into the trap/mindset that they have a predetermined path, one which doesn’t involve challenging the social norms or trying to do something that they have never done before, and stories like this heighten awareness that this is simply not the case. All women have the chance and opportunity to play in a men’s league, or even just challenge themselves by competing with a man for a job (something which many women think will never turn out in their favor).
FGN: What advice would you have for parents of girls around playing sports?
KM: It’s so important for parents to encourage girls to play sports at a young age-in the boys’ or the girls’ league. Sports teach bigger life lessons at an earlier age that they might not get elsewhere. Young kids can get real life experience in playing with boys and building their confidence and self-esteem that will help them tremendously as they become young women. Even if a girl wants to play football, parents should support and push their daughters to follow their passion. Parents shouldn’t limit a child’s interests even if they do go against what society views as appropriate for girls and boys.
LW: Sports provide unparalleled learning experiences and instill a sense of pride and confidence, all of which I think is beneficial for any child. I can say without doubt or reservation, that I would not be the self-assured individual that I am today if I had not been allowed to pursue my passion for athletics.
OH: I would advise parents to not push their daughters to play/try out only “girly” sports but rather let them pursue whatever they are most interested in, whether that be ballet or football. The experience that children can gain from being in a diverse environment, such as with boys, is something that will help throughout their entire lives. I think that parents should be open-minded to the possibility of their daughter becoming involved in a ‘non-traditional’ competition or team, because in the long run, that will help them immensely.
FGN: Do you see athletics as having any political value for women seeking equality?
LW: I think that women must continue to work on ensuring that there are equal opportunities for girls and women in sports, but I also think that athletics can be a platform for promoting equality in society as a whole. The legendary Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs legitimatized women’s athletic abilities, in addition to showing that woman can compete and succeed in a “man’s world.”
OH: I absolutely think that athletics is a powerful venue for women seeking equality. The ability to demonstrate equality in the sports arena can easily translate over to many other aspects of life, allowing women a strong platform on which to stand when they are challenged by men, or even other women, who do not agree with whatever political statement they are trying to make regarding equality for women in all aspects of life.