PLAYING BALL LIKE A GIRL
I admit that I don’t enjoy watching most women’s basketball. The game tends to move a bit slower and becomes more predictable. I don’t get as excited watching jump shots and layups all game, which I know is hypocritical since that is all I can do when I play. That being said, I have had some of my best experiences playing basketball with girls when I was younger and with women as an adult. And, I think part of it is because in general women work together better. They are more attuned to sharing and collaborating than men, and that feeds into their style of play––team-first basketball. I’ve also found that their knowledge, passion, intensity and competitiveness for the game rivals and is many times greater than many men I’ve played with throughout my life.
Next week I am launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a project to create a basketball blog about the culture of the game for those people who help to create and sustain it. I will use 360º photos to create in-depth portraits of players I meet and also conduct interviews to gather stories they tell about how basketball has impacted their lives. Recently, I conducted an initial interview with my fellow SVA IxD classmate and passionate basketball enthusiast, Ruth Tupe, who spoke to me about how she had to work twice as hard as lesser skilled boys just to get a chance to play basketball on the playground during recess.
It was a subtle reminder of the inequality that is embedded within our society and culture that teaches young boys that they are the gatekeepers to female success rather than providing the same opportunity they would to a lesser skilled male counterpart. Yet, that obstacle didn’t deter Ruth from her budding love of the game.
“I had to basically segment myself, [during] recess, I literally had to split up my time between playing basketball and hanging out with girls. They couldn’t co-exist — I literally scheduled my time. I’d play basketball for twenty-minutes then go stand by a tree — which is what girls did and talk about boys.”
“I never neatly fit into one category and because I had to interact with a lot of guys I had to adjust myself a lot. It would be this weird dynamic of having to prove your worth. So, I had to work a lot harder at showing my skill in basketball to even be allowed to play. Where as there would be guys who may not be as skilled, but that didn’t matter because they were guys. They would wear a jersey and that would merit them playing basketball — even though they can’t set a pick or make a shot.”
Ruth viewed this young male imposed barrier as a challenge. She felt and knew that she deserved to be there playing a game she loved based on her skill and not her gender. She remembered the moment she was finally “accepted” as a peer among the boys when she kept beating one of them at the game of HORSE and the boys realized how good she was at shooting. Yet there were still times she was denied an opportunity to play because of her higher skill level, which demonstrates even at an early age that men express fear of being considered inferior to women.
I played with Ruth in one game last year and saw her skill, knowledge, passion and competitiveness manifest in her play. She was aggressive on defense and offense, and that was a surprise to the other team we were playing comprised solely of men. On one fastbreak she was fouled very hard and fell to the ground––the opponent asked if she was okay, but Ruth simply got up ready to continue to dominate. Midway thru the game one of our players (another woman with a lot of skill) had to leave and so we were forced to play down a player. We were leading at that point very comfortably, but being down a person our lead shrunk to one basket with under 30 seconds left. They scored the go-ahead bucket and our last attempt shot didn’t go in. They immediately began celebrating like they just won the NBA championship, which demonstrated the same insecurity that the boys Ruth played in her youth had shown towards her then. It was a reminder that inequality isn’t just about equal pay for equal work or the right to vote, but that inequality in gestures and interactions from childhood to adulthood weave their way into society on these smaller levels and can have a lasting impact on the relationship between men and women.
Here’s to the future of basketball and equality: