THIS I BELIEVE - I was only five when I came home from kindergarten with an American Youth Football League flyer, begging my parents to sign me up. They didn’t hesitate. There were never “boy” things or “girl” things in my house. There were just things. This was how it worked in my family where my father was in the kitchen cooking while my mother was in the living room screaming at the football game. Plopping down next to my mom on the couch with my over-sized Packer’s jersey seemed like the most natural thing in the world. This wasn’t necessarily the norm, though, so I’m sure my parents did have some reservations as they drove their little girl to her first practice in an all-boys league.
As a kid who had grown up yelling from the back seat for a “boy toy” in my Happy Meal and happily sporting big tee shirts and basketball shorts, I had my own personal beliefs as to what it meant to be a girl. Honestly, I didn’t think it meant much of anything. All of my girl friends and I ran around on the playground with the boys, fought over spots on the monkey bars with the boys and, when the teachers weren’t watching, played tackle football on the soccer field with the boys. As far as I was concerned, there was no fundamental difference between what boys and girls were supposed to do, and no one had ever told me otherwise. However, my bubble of acceptance could easily have been shattered when confronted with the male-dominated sport of tackle football. But it wasn’t. I showed up to my first football practice wide-eyed and ready to get going. While I was blissfully unaware of any potential fall-out from joining the team, my parents were still a little weary. Luckily, all of that worry was dispelled as my coach pulled us aside, knelt down to my eye level, and said “Don’t think of yourself as a girl on a boy’s team. You’re just a player on the team like everyone else.” Those simple words were incredibly important for me. Not then—at the time, it seemed like something so obvious that I couldn’t even understand why he said it. But now, looking back on my experience on that team, I realize how crucial it was for me to be able to put on my pads and helmet just like the boys and think of myself as a teammate, not a girl.
There have been plenty of experiences since my time on that football team to combat the overwhelming support that I got. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that there are confining stereotypes and prejudices in just about every aspect of a woman’s life. Too often, kids are told what they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to act. Whenever I feel like I’m doing something that I think might be un-lady-like or detrimental to my femininity, I stop myself and remember that it shouldn’t matter. Whether I’m in the mood for sweat pants or skinny jeans, softball or a manicure doesn’t have anything to do with my girly-ness. That mindset has allowed me to continue with the things I love and not worry about whether or not they are something a girl should be doing. This I believe.