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When I was in primary school, I was in my school football team. We were a small school, but the teachers expected that the team would be sparse and consist of all boys. There weren’t enough girls wanting to play for there to be a separate team, so they put me in the boys’ team. I didn’t see any issue with this. I was friends with most of the boys in my primary school because there were so few of us anyway, I had a sports kit and footy boots, and I really wanted to play.
As far as I was concerned, it was totally fine.
However, when I started to play on the team, it became apparent that it wasn’t as fine for the boys as it was for me. No. They had a pretty big issue with it.
During matches they would run right past me instead of including me, they wouldn’t dare tackle me even if I was really good in defence, and I was never allowed to play mid-field. I remembered going home Thursday evenings in floods of tears (very theatrical, very snotty, and very red-faced) and telling my mum all about how the boys wouldn’t pass me the stupid ball!
As an eight-year-old, it was safe to say that I didn’t understand what was going on. All of it seemed silly in my eyes. Why wouldn’t they let me keep up with them? Why did they act like I couldn’t? I was sure that I was just as good as they were – I may have been a bit of a chunky kid, yes, but I ran laps around most of them during warm-ups and tackled them enough times to show that I was quick on my feet. While I wasn’t a vain child, I did know when I was alright at something, and I knew that I could snag the ball from them in a measly two seconds if they would let me… so, why didn’t they?
Eventually, I got too fed up with football because of the hassle, so I quit the team and of course went back to my old dream of ‘popstar/actress/artist extraordinaire’ – all of which I am still yet to obtain, just in case you were wondering.
However, soon after, I found myself on the tag rugby team. To compete in tournaments, the school had to abide by the rule of having at least two girls on the side, and a female PE teacher asked if I would be interested. I decided to do it because at the time I was still into sports, and my friend wanted to join, so it seemed like a good idea. The boys couldn’t treat me like they had in football, right? It was a different sport. Perhaps it would be better?
While I did have fun playing tag rugby, partially because I could never be left out as there always had to be two girls on the field, there was still definitely a sense of superiority between the boys that my friend and I were never quite in on. I assumed it was because they were all friends that had been playing together longer than we had been on the team. Or, perhaps because I had always been told that boys got really competitive with sports. Still, it hadn’t bothered me half as much as football had – so, I almost forgot about it. Soon enough, it had entirely left my mind, and primary school was over. Then, secondary school happened. And it was even worse.
In secondary school, there were no mixed sports teams. Hell, there were hardly any girls teams! They separated PE groups between genders, and the only girl’s team was netball, who barely got the chance to compete in any competitions and tournaments. The school only ever spoke about the boys’ footie team. I mean, what’s with that?
Around this time, my interest in sports dwindled, and I didn’t care for it anymore. I started doing typical girly things instead – I spent my money on makeup, I wore pink. All of my likes and dislikes changed: I was more feminine than I had ever been as a child, which wasn’t a bad thing by any means. However, I started to realise why my football days had treated me so poorly.
Because I was a girl.
The boys didn’t think I could play as well as they could because I wasn’t a boy. I wasn’t one of them. Instead, I was the other.
Still, I wondered why I had never realised before. Sure, the boys had upset me, and girls sports were less favoured, but was this sexism? Yes. I learnt that it was. As was every time boys had assumed me too dumb because I was a girl, the times I had been told to shut up because I wouldn’t understand when my school skirt had been ‘too short’ and ‘distracting’. I also learnt about the gender pay gap and the gender binaries forced upon us from birth. Social constructions became clear to me, and I could suddenly see sexism everywhere.
However, it wasn’t until university that I found a whole new level of understanding. I had never thought hard of my sexist experiences because, as a white cis-gendered woman, they had never really been that hard – compared to the daily experiences of other women. We need to recognise that the experiences of white women are not the same as those of women of colour. Nor are our experiences the same as trans women, LGBTQ+ women, disabled women – they are all incredibly different. My experiences are not at all invalid, but I have to be aware that I will never understand the levels of discrimination that many women endure. I am privileged.
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally. A day to see how far we’ve come but also to remember how far we still have to go. Feminism is still needed and will be required until women receive equal treatment.
Use your March 8th to recognise your experiences as a woman but also your privileges, and how you can utilise those privileges in favour of women who may not have them.
Use your March 8th to let our fellow women know that they aren’t inferior.
Use your March 8th to celebrate being a woman. .
‘Cause we’re all freaking fantastic.