by Ariana Habibi
When we think of “football,” different things come to mind for different people.
Some people see their winning team rushing to the endzone for a touchdown, or see a group of people playing a sport they love with a team close enough to be their family. Meanwhile, others think of a bunch of “manly men” running into each other, getting concussions, and losing brain cells they already don’t have.
Now, keep in mind that these ideas and beliefs are all stereotypes.
A stereotype is a commonly held, yet oversimplified, belief of a particular type of person or thing. They do not accurately portray what they are meant to represent, instead relying on clichés and offensive standards to convey their meaning. Still, regardless of how generally “wrong” they may be, some people continue to consider them as truths, disregarding their harmful implications.
Keeping with the football example, fairly common stereotypes involve athletes, or rather “jocks.”
Football players, or male athletes in general, are regarded to be the epitome of masculinity. The sport is known for the power of its athletes, and the violence and force of the game. The athletes are praised for their dominance and strength, their speed and agility. They are applauded for their ability to tackle and hurl members of the opposing team to the ground, asserting superiority both on and off the field.
This image of athleticism and dedication could not differ more than with powderpuff.
Rather than be celebrated for their skill and ability, these girls are mockingly cheered on as they aimlessly prance around the field. Instead of wearing a true uniform, allowing them to play without inhibition, they wear pink t-shirts and shorts, offering no protection at all. The guys who are supposed to support the girls have no interest in the game other than their bodies, and to see them making fools of themselves on the field. After all, the entire tradition exists and is sexist because women’s sports exist solely for male gratification, right?
It is no secret that our society is sexist. It is no secret that there are certain standards that apply to women but not their male counterparts. It is no secret that there are challenges women of all ages are likely to experience on a daily basis but men are unlikely to ever encounter throughout their lives.
However, sports do not fall under this category of “sexist,” and neither does powderpuff.
Sports provide opportunities to do so much more than getting in shape and appearing “popular” or “sexy.” Through sports programs, girls and young women have an opportunity to become leaders. They witness and area applauded for their own progress, and use their voices to defend themselves and their teammates. They can push their own limits and overcome their fears and weaknesses, becoming stronger emotionally – not only physically.
While countless sports exist for young women on the high school level, it is borderline impossible to join a team without having previous playing experience. Yes, freshmen and JV teams are options for inexperienced students, but the anxiety surrounding tryouts week is often enough to terrify prospective athletes.
And though it only occurs for a few weeks out of the year, powderpuff gives these girls the chance to harness the immense benefits of sports and athletics – something they would not be able to experience otherwise.
After speaking with powderpuff players and coaches, no longer do I perceive powderpuff as a sexist institution demeaning to women and female athletes, but rather as something very empowering, feminist, and overall special.
Women should be free to have their own interests and be able to express themselves without the fear of being mocked by others – especially not their classmates. They should not be judged for having fun or enjoying themselves – especially not when this fun comes from playing a sport. And yes, powderpuff qualifies as a sport.
The athletes should not be shamed for their bodies, or what they wear – especially not when they wear it for sports. So as for the pink shirts and shorts? They’re nothing more than a uniform. And perceiving them as anything more or anything less is the true sexism here.
Like so many others, I had subconsciously fallen victim to this stereotype and to sexism. I believed that since powderpuff participants were held to a lower standard than they would in football, due to not having protective gear and not being able to tackle, the entire game was sexist.
I feel comfortable and confident saying that we all possess some degree of innate sexism. But this sexism is not necessarily a problem – denying its presence and influence in your thoughts, decisions, and actions is. This is because progress and social advancement do not occur through denial, and saying that you aren’t sexist does not make you any less so.
After all, acceptance is the first step to recovery.