It is a cold winter night in the Northeast of the US. In spite of the weather, my love for fútbol (soccer, futebol, fußball) is stronger than the wind chill. I get my cleats ready to hit the tuft while I fix my hat to keep my body warm. Since I started my soccer career, when I was 4 years old, soccer has been a sport played, coached and refereed by men. It was only five years ago, when I came to live in the United States that I learned about “co-ed teams”. This is basically, a quota system to guarantee the presence of a minimum number of women per team in the field. For instance, in a 7 vs 7 game, there has to be at least two women on the field all the time.
As a Latino male, I had always been very wary when playing soccer with women as adversaries. Growing up in Colombia, it was rare to encounter girls playing soccer or allowing them to play with the boys. This situation reinforced prevailing gender norms about women being too delicate to engage in a “rough” game as soccer. As a result, when I started to play soccer against women, I tried to be mindful of it: not to challenge women for the ball, try to be less aggressive in the tackles and never, never jump to win an air ball. I thought to myself, “I am a gentleman; I have to behave as such”.
But this idea of showing my respect towards women by not engaging to play the game was completely wrong. I soon realized that in many places women were playing soccer more often, at a higher competitive level and with much more training than I did in Colombia. In the US, women play soccer since they are little. When I was born in 1982, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) created the first Women’s soccer championship. By 1985, the US had its first Women’s national team. Currently, the team is ranked by FIFA as 2nd in the world and there are three divisions for women’s college soccer. Therefore, American women who play soccer by time they are 30 years old, are top-notch.
After being elbowed, stepped on and gotten a bloody nose, I realized that my Latino macho idea of “I am a gentleman; I have to behave as such” had nothing to do with my way of playing with or against women. It was a misconception resulted of an ingrained idea about the traditional ways in which men see women as weak, soft and delicate. As a result, in playing with female teammates and adversaries I learned that the only way in which I could be actually a gentleman was being respectful and play the game, period.
Our team is winning 2-0. The game is getting headed in spite of the low temperature of the night. I get the ball from the keeper and tried to turn around quickly. The guy with the Cristiano Ronaldo jersey hits me again, I do not feel the pain, it is too cold, but my body felt heavy on the turf. The referee blows his whistle. Foul.
My opponent, a young guy in his late twenties, comes close to my face and asks me without hesitation: “are you going to keep jumping like a woman?”
This is serious. I have no time to tell him about the ad on the super bowl about running like a girl, I have no time to ask him about his thoughts on gender inequality or discussing about the meaning of expressions such as man up, grow up or don’t be a girl. I have no time to do this. I have 3 seconds to get up, to confront this guy with all my power and show him what kind of man I am:
“Why do you think calling someone a woman is an insult? ” – I said.
And then, silence. His silence grew bigger as the night got colder.
Saying that men do, like or act like a woman seeks to emasculate and humiliate as if doing things like a women was an offense. It is not. I repeat: it is not. So if you hear someone saying something like this, if you catch someone using these expressions, do not feel insulted, there is no reason to do it. Instead, challenge those people, challenge that situation, speak up and take advantage of the opportunity to confront it. We are responsible to change prevailing harmful gender constructions, even if it is only one jump at the time.