June 7, 2010 by Jen
Ever since I watched Nine a few weeks ago (and aided and abetted by the fact that I’ve been periodically listening to the soundtrack since then), several of the songs have taken turns getting stuck in my head: Fergie’s ‘Be Italian’ and Nicole Kidman’s ‘A Very Unusual Way’ are vying for top pick.
And in a very unusual way, thoughts of this movie, with its complex commentary on the roles defined for women, keep intersecting with thoughts of Ultimate Frisbee.
I told you, it’s unusual.
Being a woman who enjoys playing sports and is competitive comes with a few complications. I enjoy being a respected part of a co-rec team and treated as an equal when my performance merits. I also appreciate recognition that I am a woman (*news flash!*).
This is where it gets tricky. To play sports well does not make one masculine, and, no matter how socially accepted the phrase has become, it is not a compliment to say, “You don’t play like a girl,” or “We don’t think of you as a girl.”
Here’s the thing: “You play well” or “you’re more aggressive than most girls who play recreational sports” delivers a similar message, but leaves out the association that feminine = ‘not good at sports’ and masculine = ‘good at sports.’ The same statement could apply to any number of other designations limited in popular imagination to either men or women.
Drat. Now I’m sounding like a feminist, aren’t I? Well, maybe I am. With qualification.
“Feminist” is a word that has taken on epic and negative connotations, some deserved, some not. I like to think that it is possible to be a respecter of persons–seeking equality, not a flip-flop that places women on top, and encouraging mindfulness with the words and phrases that reinforce stereotypes and create unnecessary contradictions like,
- I am a woman.
- I am competitive/brainy/independent.
- Women are not competitive/brainy/independent;
- therefore, I must choose one part of my identity and discard the other.
To be honest, I think more people would acknowledge this syllogism to be false than take the effort to avoid language that reinforces it. It’s a challenge for women as well as men.
To be fair, it is also a challenge to cultivate both an independent, tough, competitive (fine, aggressive) side and a relational, gentle, refined side, and I have a tendency to neglect one or the other; however, it’s a challenge, not an impossibility, and I hope one day the most natural words of commendation on a sports field, or in other settings now dubbed “masculine” or “feminine”, will reflect this fact.