I never thought about how my gender played a role in my life until recently. Growing up I lived in a very equal household. Both my parents were in the military, everyone cooked, cleaned, and my mom even took care of our taxes. Nobody was above anybody and your gender did not define your role.
I recently learned that I was very lucky to grow up with the parents I did. After joining Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention office at Mizzou I learned that not everyone has had the same experience as me. While working for the women’s center here at UMKC, I have done hours of research which has opened my eyes to the unfortunate gender roles that have affected my life. I realized that my gender impacted one of the biggest parts of my life, my athletic career.
I started playing soccer when I was four and I can remember one particular sexist incident that still affects me today. When I was nine I won both competitions at soccer camp (juggling and an obstacle course). I was one of two girls in my group; everyone else was a boy, including the coaches. I beat all the young boys in my group by having a faster obstacle course time and juggling the ball more times than they did. When I won, the boys were less than supportive. In fact, they told me the only reason I beat them was because I was on steroids. Again, we were eight and nine years old.
As I continued to reflect on how athletics has played a role in my life, I realized that sexism is very prominent among young children and their sports. I coached for a children’s soccer organization for five years. The kids were ages two through five. The older the kids got, the more sexist the organization seemed to get. For example, the two year olds were all mixed in together; boys and girls just learning the basics. However, when they reached age four, they were separated into boy teams and girl teams, and given traditional gender role jersey colors. The girls’ teams wore pink, purple and yellow. The boys were given blue, green, and gray. I always thought it was odd and have now realized how something as simple as a color can have an effect on a child’s mindset towards gender.
Jersey colors aren’t the only way brands and organizations target gender roles. Cleats are the number one thing you need for soccer, and big named brands like Nike and Adidas take full advantage of traditional gender roles when it comes to making money. If you go to a sporting store and look at cleats, all of the girls’ cleats are pink, purple, or bright “feminine” colors. The boys are the opposite. Even in the men and women’s cleats section the colors are like this. It is ridiculous.
Growing up my favorite player was (and still is) Cristiano Ronaldo. He always promotes the coolest looking cleats and as a soccer player myself I wanted to wear the same cleats. But guess what? They only sell high-quality, expensive, name-brand cleats in adult male sizes. They don’t even sell a men’s size small enough for me to fit. It just makes me think that these brands do not feel women are good enough players or in a way, worthy enough, to wear these high-quality cleats.
This feeling of not being worthy or good enough really came to its height when I was in college. My school’s women’s soccer program had a good history and was consistently successful for many years. The same could not be said about the men’s program, but because we were women, our success did not matter, so the men’s team was treated better.
The number one most irritating part of playing college soccer was the fact that the men got to play at seven in the evening. Why is that irritating? Because the women’s team, my team, played at five in the evening before them. Our season is in the fall which means we play from August to November. Do you know how hot it is at five p.m. in some of those months? Do you know how many people are not able to attend our games because the average full-time job does not finish a work day until five in the evening? It was embarrassing. There were always more parents, locals, and students at the men’s games. Plus the environment was more fun and entertaining; and they got to play under the stadium lights because it was later at night.
The women’s team had more conference championships, more National Tournament bids, and overall more wins than the men’s team, but again, because we are women, none of that mattered. This story is starting to sound familiar, right? That’s because the United States women’s soccer team has been going through it for years. But there has recently been some hope brought into the lives of female athletes.
This year, the U.S. national women’s soccer team won another World Cup title. In the soccer world, the World Cup is the biggest competition you can win. The women on this team used their national platform to bring more awareness to gender inequality in athletics and people are finally starting to pay attention. Strong and dedicated female athletes like Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams are helping pave the way for change. They are creating a world where women can play under those stadium lights, where girls can beat boys because they are better, and hopefully, someday, a world where a little girl can wear her favorite soccer player’s cleats.