Sisterhood Blog

Girls Playing Sports: Crucibles for Conflicting Messages

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Soccer season is in full swing, which means that on weekends Girlchik is out on the field, passing and handling the ball with impressive facility while I cheer her on from the sidelines, chat with other parents and enjoy the cool fall breezes.

It’s an interesting thing, cheering on girls this age to get in there and be more aggressive with the ball. Some girls have a tendency to be a bit — how can I say this nicely — wussy on the playing field. Girlchik is a good soccer player but some of the girls on her team seem afraid of the ball. And I realize, with a start, that my daughter and her teammates are at a moment of intersecting, and often conflicting, cultural messages.

The girls, all 11- and 12-years-old, are at that moment when they are not yet stork-legged teenagers, but neither are they little kids.

Their thinking and bodies are maturing, but they are also caught between worlds. They have a leg in the world of their childhood, in which they are free to run and jump and play, and one in the world which no American woman seems able to escape, in which they are painfully self-conscious about their physical selves.

Thankfully, none of Girlchik’s friends or teammates are over-sexualized, as so many girls their age seem to be because of ridiculously permissive parents, and a culture which surrounds them with everything from Bratz dolls to the purportedly teen characters of Glee (but just the girls, of course) who pose like prostitutes in the pages of a national magazine.

I’m eager for my daughter to learn to be assertive, as well as a good team player. I root for her to be more aggressive on the soccer field, to just get in there and take control of the ball, when in social situations I want her to be sensitive and kind.

Are these conflicting messages? Can one young girl integrate both, if each is for a different context?

It is wonderful to have a daughter who is body-smart and athletic in a way that I never, ever was (or will be). But being with Girlchik on the soccer field also makes me realize just how much of a crucible for conflicting messages it is to be female in America.


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