Women and football.

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Last week I had two very different football revelations. The first was on the way home in the car when I heard a news story on NPR (which seems to be the only intelligent news source on the radio) about the first female ref in the NFL. I think this is remarkable. Shannon Eastin, who wanted to play football as a child but was forbidden by her mother, is the first female to officiate an NFL game. She has earned this distinction over the more likely candidate, Sarah Thomas, whose pending candidacy as a referee was forfeited in the referees’ strike. I read some articles, and Eastin sounds like a no-nonsense lady with a backbone of steel, the courage to place herself smack in the middle of a men’s world, and the ability to know to whom to listen and whom to ignore.

I felt inspired.

Then later in the week, Friday arrived. Varsity game day. Football players strutted around the campus carrying buckets of candy, baked goods, Powerades, and other treats meant to bolster their spirit for the game. One of my female students, a drill team member, realized she had forgotten her football buddy’s basket and scrambled around begging for change and a hall pass so she could go buy two Powerades and present them, along with  treats begged from other boys, to her guy. As I wrote her hall pass, I asked her
what nice thing the football team would be doing for the young ladies of the drill team, cheer squad, and female athletics who had filled their tummies and pumped up their egos all season. She stared blankly then finally responded, “Uh, nothing.”

I felt demeaned.

Not me personally, but on behalf of the young teenage women who are being sent the message that their role in American society is still to smile prettily and feed the boys, never mind that they too put in countless hours on the courts, tracks, and studios.

I know, I know. At least American women aren’t forced to wear burkas and we can vote. Surely we can aim higher: We can demand equal pay for equal work, we can keep male strangers out of our reproductive health choices, we can ask the football players to man up and treat us like the intelligent women we are.

What it seems to come down to is that we are a culture of hero worship- the biggest brute gets to drag the scantily clad cheerleader off the field so that she can fix his dinner, while the all-female team of football trainers slog around water buckets and wash the uniforms (I saw these girls come back up from practice yesterday while I was working out at the track. They work really hard).

I read recently that 40% of the audience for pro football is women. Why? How can a woman endorse that kind of culture (google the words sexy+football. I dare you). Don’t misunderstand me here, I appreciate sports. Excellent athleticism takes discipline and sacrifice, much like excellent art. Swimmers, volleyball, tennis, and baseball players, and yes, even football players, endure pain, weather, injury, and exhaustion to get good at what they do. There is a thrill that comes with a game well played. I recognize that- it’s the same thrill that comes when an actor takes her place for the curtain call.

But may I make a radical suggestion that will move us from the 1950’s to the 21st century?

Let’s leave the brownies and candy at home. Let’s all agree to support all our teams, both male and female, hugely popular (football) and obscure (lacrosse). Let’s put some clothes on the pro cheerleaders and teach them some moves that don’t look like they were pulled from the local men’s cabaret. Let’s put female officials in the games.

Let’s teach our young women that the best way to be a friend to a young man is to share ideas equally, not to play at being dumb, and to carry one’s self with feminine poise. Every day I see girls who either fear to take a risk in front of the boys because they don’t want to look dumb, or they clam up because they don’t want to look too smart. They compromise their bodies and base choices both significant and negligible on the whims of the young men they hope to impress. This road can go both ways, I realize that, but the pervasive message is still there: boys dominate.

“Are YOU ready for some football?” Me, not so much. I AM ready for some progress.

Libby Bryant- Astonishing!

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Every day at the 12:15 lunch bell for the last four years, a certain young curly headed lady has traipsed into my office, hungry for lunch and ready to share her day’s concerns and triumphs. My Libby. She turned eighteen yesterday, and she is a force to be reckoned with. There are those people who come into a room and look at someone else and say, “Oh, there you are!” and proceed to quietly move from group to group, nibbling on cheese cubes and nodding attentively as friends share their stories, interests, observations. I am one of those.

But then there are people who come into a room saying (even if not literally) “Here I am!” and the party begins to swell with energy, charged by the individual who seems to just glow with it. The dancing gets more exciting, the volume escalates, and the laughter surges. That’s Libby.

I am not sure she realizes it. She is a thermostat- she sets the temperature for a room. She is gorgeous, tall and leggy with a killer smile (thanks, Dr. Mardaga), golden skin, and beautiful lips that she currently accentuates with bold red lipstick and a Rosie the Riveter hairdo. She is equally gorgeous inside. She has a tender heart and a moral center that is firm. She is ambitious, setting her sights on some of the most competitive and elite schools in the country and aggressively hunting for scholarships to ensure she doesn’t have to take options off the table for financial reasons if she can help it. She keeps trying to quit her job, but her employers and fellow employees love her too much and won’t let her. She has no interest in having a boyfriend to distract her. She is driven.

But when I see her, I also see, like one of those cheesy eighties double-exposure Olan Mills portraits, a frizzy headed toddler dressed in mismatched high heels and her sister’s dance recital costumes, singing with gusto and ordering her siblings about. I see the snaggle toothed first grader who insisted (rightfully so) that she could play baseball as well as any boy and should be able to, the girl who broke her fingers playing a game of touch football on the BBES playground. I remember the choir concerts at Ellisor, where I dropped her off every morning at 6:45, giving her a new silly nickname every day before she headed to help the primary teachers prepare for their days.

I remember my pregnancy, when she seemingly refused to enter the world. Neighbors pointed and laughed as I trudged the streets in Muskogee trying to Get.The.Child.Out. Church members teased (lovingly) from the pulpit that when the roll was called up yonder, “Kim will still be here” waiting for the baby. Her birth was my favorite, a home birth with only Travis and a midwife named Ruth, sunlight streaming through the stained glass church windows in my bedroom, Ruth literally laying her hand on the emerging child and bathing her in prayer as she came into the world. I exclaimed at her tinyness and Ruth drily told me the ten pound girl was NOT tiny.

It’s not that Libby is fearless. She’s not- though she was when she was a wee thing. Life has knocked her around enough that she knows that taking risks can sometimes backfire, that loving too deeply can wound. Libby just seems to be able to look fear in the face, make friends with it, and leap anyway.

Every day at lunch time, we have thirty minutes of uninterrupted mother-daughter time. On top of that, I get to teach her every day and direct her every afternoon. I got to do that with all my kids, but the other two were in junior high when they were mine, and it was only two years (they also didn’t eat with me!) I have watched her become this wonderful young woman. I will miss her so much next year I cannot actually allow myself to think about it.

But this girl is ready. Ready to make her mark, to toss her hat in the air with a smile and kick the doubters to the curb. I hope she knows that she can always come back to me, to sit on the couch in my office or climb into my comfy bed, where she can lay her precious heart open, amaze me with her insights, make me laugh, and be still for a bit. I will play with her curls and rub her back and maybe even sing with her.

I love her so. Happy birthday, my sweet girl.

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