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.