Last night I turned into one of those mothers. Maybe a little more over-the-top, but that’s just me. First, let me apologize to the parents and others near the soccer field who were treated to my profanity-laced diatribe, directed solely at the middle-aged man with the pot belly and the flag. It was inappropriate. While not an excuse, and certainly not a justification, it had its origins in the early 1970s – it was a long-time coming. Perhaps everyone will remember my daughter’s grace and sportsmanship in the situation and know that while I did not do better, I did teach better.
For women who are today on the wise side of 50, we were, in high school, often on the sidelines. In those pre-Title IX days, organized sports programs for girls were few and far between. The few girls who wanted to participate in organized sports either played with the boys’ teams or rode along in a little group, hoping there would be girls at the other end of the bus ride. In high school, girls could play basketball, but were encouraged to go out for gymnastics. They could be on the track team, if they didn’t care about competing against other girls and most of us thought the rarified ranks of cheerleading were beyond us.
Club sports for girls just didn’t exist.
Fast forward 40 years and watch the blur of the Equal Rights Amendment that never passed and the glass ceilings that still prove to be impenetrable. The recent spurt of legislation across the country and draconian laws that determine what happens to a woman’s body, even in the sanctity of her doctor’s office. Women continue to fight for a place on the front lines and the further they get, the more we learn about the scandal, the abuse and the heartbreak that accompanies their ascent.
A male friend told me not long ago that the young women who work for him have derided him for being a “feminist.” Like that’s a bad thing. My own daughter has said to me, “I’m not a feminist like you, mom.” This in a world where web sites tout the ranks women cannot join. I was a member (for a short time) of a small-town Rotary Club that still had a “men’s table” during their weekly lunches. And yes, I did take the devil’s own delight into sitting with that group on occasion.
But I digress.
My daughter is an athlete. She is strong, determined and talented. Her prowess is beyond anything I could imagine and there are hundreds of thousands of girls just like her who have grown up running and kicking and throwing and hitting. They take that hard-won freedom for granted – and well they should.
Women, however, still are often on the sidelines and not actively coaching or refereeing the contests waged by these girls. Frankly, we just have not stepped up. Which brings us full circle to my daughter’s soccer game last night.
A group of supportive dads for the other team raucously cheered, encouraged, criticized and directed their daughters. The sideline judge ran past them over and over. They were, frankly, loud and obnoxious and he never turned his head. I sat down the line among the parents for my daughter’s team. We’ve been together a long time now. We know each other’s kids and we know each other’s foibles. We share coffee and umbrellas and at any given road trip have each other’s girls in our cars.
Soccer is a rough and tumble sport. The girls who are playing as teenagers have learned to take the bumps and bruises and truth-to-tell give as good as they get. My kid is tough. She is honor-bound to stay on her feet, she never cries in public and she won’t dignify trash talk on the field with any sort of reply other than to play harder. She has never been seriously hurt while playing and for that I am grateful.
Last night, the game was rougher than most. As I said, the other team’s parents were louder than some. Going at a dead run for the ball, my daughter caught an elbow to her cheekbone and dropped face-first to her knees. She was down only momentarily, but any parent who has seen their kid go down knows the abject terror that flows through your heart.
That’s when I yelled at the center referee. Told him to settle the girls down and not let them hurt each other. Even as I yelled, I knew that what can look intentional from the sidelines usually isn’t. That would have been the end of it. Except that the sideline judge jogged toward my chair, past the noisy dads and calling “hey!” to get my attention he put his finger to his lips and told me to “shush.” He told me to “shush.” Should I repeat that again? This overweight, huffing and puffing man told me to “shush” and that “he would not let them hurt each other.”
Forty years of fury and frustration turned immediately into explicit instructions to this sideline judge. While the game went on and my daughter continued to play (with several moderate injuries it turned out) my disdain for men who tell women what to do and my despair knowing that a perfect stranger – a perfect male stranger – felt superior enough to tell me to “shush” boiled over.
I raised a tough daughter because I am, indeed, a tough broad. I’ve been through career fire and personal grief. I’ve stood against bullies and been crushed under tyrants. I work in a highly competitive field and face daily challenges. I don’t know that man’s story – but I do know this. You do not “shush” adult women. Because I didn’t curtail my temper, I’m sure he now adds “crazy” to his internal lexicon about women. Any man who thinks he can do that, clearly has no respect for the gender in general. And sadly, I didn’t teach him a thing.
So as moms it’s not enough that we teach them to play. That we encourage strength and competition, that we look for teaching moments for sportsmanship and skill. Apparently, we also need to return to the field ourselves as coaches and referees. We need to go back out and play ourselves because the road isn’t yet clear. There is more to be done.