Galesburg-Augusta at Kalamazoo Central — September 23, 2010

Playing with the “Boys”

“What rights don’t women have?” said the straight white male.

Yes, indeed, I have heard it all — “I am a female and I am so sick of feminists.” — “Women have never been more respected.” — “Women have more rights in the United States than anywhere else in the world.”

Let’s start with a story —

In third grade, my friend Abby and I were walking back to our class from the library. We were in mid-conversation about one of my upcoming basketball games and Abby said “Rachelle, you should join my soccer team.” Initially, I was hesitant about playing soccer, mainly because basketball was my sport and I didn’t want to give that up, but after discussing the topic with my parents — I decided I would join the soccer team while continuing to play basketball. My parents were extremely supportive.

You might be thinking right now — why does this story matter now? — or how does she even remember this from the third grade? Even I didn’t know that this decision would end up changing my life or that my love for basketball would rapidly change to a love for soccer.

I remember playing my first AYSO soccer game as a forward (for those of you who are not familiar with soccer, a forward is an offensive position). In the first half of the game, I scored two goals and I could hear my dad chanting and bragging to the other parents “that’s my girl, this is her first soccer game!” I was a natural at soccer… in fact, I would even go to the extent of saying I was great. It is probably one of the only things I have ever been super confident in saying about myself — I was a great soccer player.

Once I reached age 14, my high school did not have a girls soccer team, just a boys team that girls were allowed to participate in (keep in mind, this was a boys team with very few girls), so logically, wouldn’t that be called a co-ed team? Yes, however, it was never referred to as a such thing. I didn’t play on the “boys” soccer team my freshmen or sophomore year because of stories I heard about girls not getting equal playing time, sexist comments, etc.

My junior year of high school, I found myself reminiscing on how much I missed playing soccer — so I decided to take action. I had two options 1) join the “boys” team or 2) transfer to another high school (which really wasn’t an option for my family). Finally, I decided to join the boys soccer team. Despite my hesitation, I was the type of person to get along with everyone in high school, which made getting along with my teammates and the coaches very easy, but going from a “starter” to “bench-warmer” proved to be more difficult.

Our first scrimmage was an away game — about an hour away from my hometown. I sat bench for almost the entire first half of the game until my coach finally substituted me in to play forward. Within minutes of playing, one of my teammates passed me the ball at the 18 yard line and I scored a goal with my left foot (I’m right-footed, so this was a very memorable moment). The feeling I had after scoring that goal was indescribable, but a sexist comment quickly shattered my moment — “NOT BAD FOR A SKIRT!” shouted a man from the sidelines. Immediately I was deflated. Eventually, being called a “skirt” became second-nature and it was comments like this that began to follow me for the rest of the season.

About halfway through the season, we were undefeated and the Battle Creek Enquirer requested an interview for myself and Amber, the other female player. I remember having a million thoughts running through my mind. I knew the interviewers were going to ask “are you treated equally?” — “do you get equal playing time?” — “do the boys watch what they say around you?” — “would you prefer to play on a girls team?”

Deep down, I wanted to be honest, but I felt like I couldn’t be. I knew there would be consequences and it would be a HUGE deal — so I lied. I said things like “guys are faster” or “ guys are tougher”, while Amber said things like “it’s a faster paced game” or “the game is more aggressive.”

Battle Creek Enquirer — September 16, 2010

A week later, my dad brought home the Battle Creek Enquirer. I read the title “G-A girls hit the pitch for boys soccer” and I began reading the article paragraph by paragraph. Even without finishing the entire article, I instantly began to feel regret rushing through my body.

Still, in this moment, I feel regret for not speaking up, for not letting my voice be heard, for not standing up for what I believe in — equality. And now, with all of these women speaking up, telling their stories, protesting, I felt it was my time to share my story.

With that said, I encourage every little girl, teenager, or adult to share their stories. Expressing a difficult story is not easy for anyone, but I promise you at the end of the day, you will be okay. We will be okay.

Be bold, stand up for what you believe in, let your voice be heard, display how powerful your message is, and most importantly, keep fighting for women’s equality.