“Shut up, you’re just a woman.”
As a kid, I used to hear those six words all the time when I would discuss football.
And every time, I would feel a spark of rage inside of me.
I grew up watching the sport.
I idolized Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward as a kid.
And let me tell you: being a woman does not disqualify me from liking football any more than being a man does.
Sadly, though, I am positive that at least a majority of females who enjoy watching or playing sports have a similar story to tell.
Little girls should be able to grow up watching sports and not have to deal with backlash from their peers because they “act too much like a boy.” I almost stopped wearing football apparel when I was in elementary school because of the amount of tomboy comments that were thrown my way.
Gender standards are ingrained in American society and often lead to the unfair treatment of women who enjoy “masculine” things, like sports. We are belittled and ridiculed for simply engaging in conversation.
Whether a woman suggests a fact or an opinion, men often look for a way to discredit or put us down.
But here’s a newsflash: This isn’t a man’s world and women have every right to participate in conversations about sports. A woman’s knowledge of athletics is nothing to be feared; it is something to be embraced.
A woman shouldn’t have to shatter a glass ceiling to perform her job. Public forums dedicated to body shaming ESPN NFL Nation reporter Brooke Pryor featuring insults like “she should probably be under investigation for brutalizing all those Little Debbie snack cakes,” and “Inclusiveness has its pitfalls. Could you imagine a hideous cow like this getting a job back in the ‘Mad Men’ days?” are absolutely abhorrent.
Even worse, they are disturbingly sexist.
And it doesn’t end there.
When female athletes are complimented on their athletic abilities, men always feel the need to add an ignorant phase.
“You’re good for a girl.”
“You’re strong for a girl.”
“You’re fast for a girl.”
No. I am strong and good and fast for a human. There is absolutely nothing that says women can’t be as strong as men.
There is no declaration of athletics stating that only men receive top athletic abilities. And there is absolutely nothing that says that the strength of a woman eliminates the strength of a man, besides for maybe their fragile ego.
Women need to be honored for their abilities, without hearing demeaning microaggressions.
Standing at only five feet tall, my athletic abilities are often doubted as a female.
Anytime I post something about my athletic endeavors, I am immediately met by men saying my roundhouse kick “wouldn’t even hurt” or by men trying to portray me as weak.
But here’s the thing: in high school, sports were a way of life. I played softball, track and field and cross country. I cheered for the cheerleading squad. I was a member of the rowing team.
And yet, people still want to tell me I am not as strong as my male peers.
No matter how fast I am, I still can’t run away from the way society stereotypes women as less valuable than they are.
Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and 16 Grand Slam doubles titles, more than any male tennis player ever. She even won a singles title while two months pregnant.
So why isn’t she in the ‘GOAT’ conversation like Michael Jordan and Tom Brady are?
She has more titles than both of them… combined.
Simone Biles is only 24 years old and is the most decorated gymnast in history. She has set records for the most World medals of all time (25) and gold World medals of all time (19). Most people her age haven’t done anything..
Former Team USA pitcher Jennie Finch fired pitches into the strike zone at 68 mph and struck out major league slugger Albert Pujols, two-time All-Star Brian Giles and Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza.
Yet, men still claim they could take her yard.
Why are we comparing a woman’s ability to a man’s ability, when we are all capable of greatness?
When women get their opportunity, they shine, and this past year was proof of that. Sarah Thomas made history as the first female referee to officiate a Super Bowl when she took the field in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers are the only team in the NFL with two female full-time assistant coaches, Lori Locust and Maral Javifadar. Carly Helfand and Jacqueline Davidson work in the front office. With the help of these amazing women, Tampa Bay went on to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Football isn’t the only sport where women are breaking glass ceilings.
Becky Hammon became the first woman to serve as head coach during an NBA regular season game after San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was ejected during a game last December.
Sarah Fuller, a soccer player at Vanderbilt, kicked down barriers last season to make her place in history… literally. Fuller became the first female to take the field and score a point in aPower Five football game.
While there are more women being represented in the sports industry than in years’ past, it still is not enough.
Feminism is wanting equality amongst genders, so it is time we take a serious approach toward equalizing the sports industry, whether that be through more female representation in sports media or empowering female athletes. We must raise our boys to learn that girls are strong and powerful, and have every right to be good at athletics.
To all my female athletes, you are strong.
You are fast.
You are powerful.
You can do big things.
You deserve to be respected.
You are capable of whatever you put your mind to, regardless of what men will say.
The sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kayla Sterner is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. She is studying communications with the hopes of being a sideline reporter. In her spare time, she can be found in the gym, watching football or vibing to Mac Miller. Kayla is on Twitter @kaylasterner.