By guest blogger, Loraina Stinson

It wasn’t until recently that I started playing coed sports. As early as fifth grade, I started participating in female sports teams. Synchronized swimming and field hockey. I ran track my junior year of high school and we’d practice with the boys team, but I goofed off with my best friend so much I don’t think that really counts.

When I left my sunny surf town in Southern California to go to the quaint town of Appleton for college, I knew I was looking for a group of women who were like-minded and engaged in physical activity outside. I found Vici: the Lawrence University Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. 

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Lawrence University Women’s Ultimate Team “VICI”, 2013

Vici was exactly what I needed as a freshman. The women on the team were so nice and supportive about everything – from making bad throws, to being stressed from schoolwork or relationships. They took care of each other and welcomed me into an amazing space on campus. That team is my favorite part of undergrad. When I stepped into the captaining position in my Junior and Senior year, I tried to replicate the supportive environment that previous captains and teammates had provided for me.  

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VICI 2016

Lawrence University also had a men’s team. I was painfully timid my freshman year and I distinctly remember being afraid of the older frisbee guys. The men’s team was… they were taller, usually drunk, very loud, and always seemed to have a lot of facial hair? (For better or for worse.) Of course, this description is based on my experiences with them, experiences which were usually formed at parties. After playing on the team for a while, I got to know them better and found that, despite possibly making some questionable facial hair choices, they were good, decent men.

The men’s and women’s team had a pretty good relationship off the field – we partied together. That’s the sign of a friendly relationship, right? But on the field, it was different. The way the men’s team played was different. More yelling, more hammers*, more yelling of said hammers, and not a lot of actual “playing with” the women on the field. Except for the few men who would throw to the women players. This may have been the first time I realized I had to prove myself three times over to be good enough to play with the boys.

So what did I do to become a better frisbee player? I worked on my hammers and longer throws. I wanted to be thrown to, I wanted to be recognized.

I started playing mixed pick up the summer before junior year of college when I was back home. There wasn’t any women’s pick up near me, which limited my options. The mixed-gender pickup games were a consistent opportunity for me to play during the week. Anywhere from 8-16 people would show up on any given day. I was always the youngest, and usually one of maybe two women that would show up. This was intimidating at first but the shock of being the only woman is an emotion I am no longer amused by. (I don’t want to dive into race, because that deserves its own blog, but I do want to mention it because it is such a huge part of my identity. #Intersectionality. Like being outnumbered exponentially by gender, I was the minority category by race as well.) It was a big deal if there were three women. Honestly, it will always be a big deal. I love women. I love women in numbers. This pickup group was the first time I had a real issue with men in sports.

At one particular practice, I was the only woman, or the other woman was taking a break from the game. Regardless, a man was guarding me.  This 30-some-year-old man “booty-bumped” me. A man, who is married with children, “booty bumped” me. We were running, I was just behind him, probably trying to defend him, and he stopped short, stuck his rear end out, and said, “haha gotcha!” as I tried to avoid collision. This same man would put his hand on the small of my back, or graze my hips when he was guarding me. And I know most of you will understand when I say: I knew it wasn’t by accident. He didn’t apologize, the touch always lasted too long, and it made me feel dirty. Not in a Christina Aguilera “Dirrty” circa 2002 way. I think most of the women reading this will know exactly what I’m trying to describe. This same man asked my opinion on why more women don’t play mixed ultimate. I am here to tell you that he and the culture he promotes is exactly that reason.

Some of the players were older men with knee and hip injuries, and at one point, an older man twisted his knee and another older man yelled out, “get up, stop being a girl!!”. I was on the field. There was a lot of looking at the ground, and zero response when I asked, “what did you say?”

The worst came on a Saturday morning game in the community park. It was gorgeous, your typical SoCal summer day, low 70s with a light ocean breeze. We had seven full lines with many subs, players brought their spouses, kids, dogs, and snacks. I brought my family along, excited to play with my dad who had played ultimate when he went to college at Carleton – a college that is still one of the breeding grounds of elite frisbee players.

Of course, there was one guy pounding beers before 11:30 a.m. Ya know? That guy that should be reminded he’s not even close to 24 years of age and, c’mon, it’s a good wholesome community gathering. We were on the line together, getting ready to play the next point, and I had asked the general group if anyone knew the name of the woman on the other line. I was going to be defending her and I didn’t want to call her “the woman on the other line”. Mr. Miller Lite answered my question, saying, “she’s ‘The Girl'”.

That irked me enough to speak up. She has a name, and we should all be using each other’s names as human beings, which I made sure to tell him. He simply replied, “no, she’s just ‘The Girl’. Just like you”.

Now, I’m 5’4, weigh ~130lbs on a good day, and I’m pretty sure that I had never called attention to an insulting comment like that one before, so my voice wasn’t very sturdy. I was vulnerable. This guy had a couple inches on me and many more pounds. And it’s scary to call someone out, especially when they’re aggressive and bigger than you. Especially when you are the only one speaking up, regardless of gender. Nothing came from this exchange except my own anger. I felt weak and alone. The worst part about this interaction was that the other five people on our team were bystanders, including both Mr. Booty-Bump-Why-Don’t-Women-Play-With-Men and my dad, who is a wonderful man and has taught me many things in life. Both men were equally silent.

And why did I go back? There were other incidents that put me off.  But, honestly? I love playing ultimate.

——

I have since played with a few other co-ed teams, including random tournaments in the Midwest, playing frisbee while I was abroad in London, and, currently, in my new home of Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve heard my fair share of backhanded “for a girl” compliments. Like a reminder I don’t need. But the team I play with now is by far the best, most inclusive, respectful team I’ve ever played with. Unfortunately, there’s always someone or something that rubs me the wrong way. For example, if I don’t get thrown to when I’m wide open, I reflexively think, “Oh it’s cause I’m a girl”. And it’s not always true, but sometimes it is. Or if I speak up against a sexist comment, I’m afraid the rest of the team thinks I am a “bitch”. I’ve had enough bad experiences because I am a woman for me to have to justify this
insecurity.

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Waiting to start the game at indoor frisbee with the Providence Community Ultimate Team

Recently, a male acquaintance asked if I wanted to play for a mixed club team. He sent me this text:

“About the summer, if you expect to be in Providence for the club series and think you might want to play mixed, I’d encourage you to at least make your existence known to {club team}. They can always use a skilled woman.”

I’m sorry sir, I don’t play this sport to be your asset. I play this sport to become a smarter player, a stronger athlete, as well as to be a part of the ultimate community. It is my form of physical and mental therapy. I’m sure he meant it as a compliment and I’m sure he’s a ‘nice guy’, but, no thank you.

I believe there is something really special about a group of women. I feel stronger in their presence. I am included and accepted for more than my skills just as a female player. I said this before and I’ll say it again, I love women. And frisbee. Put the two together and I’m head over heels. I sought out the women’s club team here in Providence and am planning on trying out for them next month. I am currently the assistant coach for the Brown University Women’s ultimate team and let me tell ya, it’s awesome. They definitely do more good for me than I do for them.

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Brown University’s Women’s Ultimate Team “Disco Inferno” in San Diego this past Febuary 

I’ve also realized I’ve used “girl” and “woman” interchangeably during this, I realize I am a woman, not fully grown, but getting there. I’m only conscious about this because I recently read an article about how we should stop calling women “girls”, how it’s demeaning.**

Which is what this is all about, “Pretty Good for a Girl”, the backhanded compliment women strive to get past, only to get stunted by their identity? Something we are told to be proud of? I have a hard time grappling with all of this. I have a strange relationship with being “good for a girl”. On one hand, I’m proud I can keep up, or that I am recognized. On the other hand, I often wonder why I put so much emphasis on others’ opinions of me, especially the opinions of men. And at what cost to myself and to my fellow women? I never want to be the woman who tears down others to get ahead. I want to be pretty good for me, by me. Why can’t I be just “pretty good?” I am proud to be a woman, but I never want to be rewarded just because I am a woman. This translates to any sort of job or school application. I refuse to be a token. I am more than a 5/2 or 4/3 ratio. **

Just recently there has been recognition of inequality in the ultimate universe in the news. There was unfair coverage of games at a tournament by UltiWorld, an ultimate media company. And by unfair, I mean the women’s games weren’t covered at all. Women’s ultimate is usually framed as “less competitive” even though elite women ultimate players are amazing athletes. This video from the women high school team in Arlington, VA states it well. Thank you, women of Arlington for stepping up and speaking out. http://youtube/2rLV7Wvui9g

As I am trying to wrap this up, I’ve realized I’ve gone on about 10 different tangents. For me, it’s all about who I am, the things I am passionate about, and things I want to work on. Women, self-confidence, frisbee, influential social circles, identity, and dealing with my responsibility to stand up for myself and the communities I am a part of. It’s complicated but I hope I got something through the muck. I want to reiterate this piece stems from selected negative accounts that I’ve experienced in coed frisbee.  So friends, I urge you to make the community you are a part of a little more inclusive starting by learning each other’s names.

I will leave you with a highlight reel of  Jesse Shofner, the first woman to join a professional ultimate team in the American Ultimate Disc League.

—–

Sauces, links and vids:

*Hammer throws: are considered “bro-ish”. Here is Brodie Smith (an American Ultimate Disc League player and trick shot performer/frisbee bro) showing us an advanced Hammer throw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQsZDUgxzDQ

**http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mayim-bialik-word-describe-women_us_58d56373e4b03692bea596df

*** 5/2 or 4/3 (M/F) ratio for mixed tournaments

Also thank you, Perrin, for this blog and SPG for editing my writing.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Score: Females on the Field

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