The most memorable soccer game this year happened on a warm late summer night with my nine-year-old's team. By this age, the kids have already split into just boy teams and just girl teams. I was on the sidelines, cheering my son on with his team, no different than any other game.
The coach for our team was down the sideline, arranging the boys in order of next play. The coach for the other team paced the sideline on the opposite side of the field. Our team had just scored, topping the other team by a goal or two. The other coach was going ballistic; I could see his face reddening behind his blond mustache. He started yelling and cursing, which is a little out of the ordinary for our low-key city league. And then I heard it...
"ARE YOU GIRLS? YOU'RE PLAYING LIKE GIRLS!"
I froze. I stared at him. Did he just say that? I looked around at the other parents in disbelief. And then he said it again,
"STOP PLAYING LIKE GIRLS!"
As if my son could feel the heat rising from my rapidly boiling blood, he turned from the sideline and gave me a wide-eyed look. See, less than a month before, I'd heard my sons teasing each other in the backseat, "You cry like a girl," one said to the other. I yelled, "EXCUSE ME?" and pulled the car over so fast you would have thought a pit crew was waiting.
"What does that mean, huh? 'You cry like a girl'?"
"Uh," they both looked at me with scared faces.
"Who is a girl? Who is a girl in this car? Me. Your mother. Are you saying that 'you cry like a girl' is a bad thing? I never want you to say something like that in front of me. Girls cry and boys cry, moms cry, dads cry, everyone cries. I don't want to hear language saying that being a girl means you're not good at something, or that you cry, feel, or do anything else too much. Being a girl is not an insult and I will not hear that kind of nonsense out of your mouth--is that understood? I am your mother, and I am a girl, and I will not hear it."
They both nodded.
Which is why my son was so shocked to hear a grown man using "girl" as a pejorative. What kind of special stupid is that? It took all I had not to confront the screaming-spittle coach, because even if he isn't, I'm a grownup. (Like that man wouldn't lose in spectacular fashion to Mia Hamm if they were matched on the field.)
"Mom," My son said, "Did you hear what that man said?"
"Yes," I replied.
"I can't believe he said that, can you? He called them girls because he thought they weren't playing good."
"I know," I said.
"That's not right," he said, "You shouldn't say that kind of thing."
"I know," I said.
Even if that coach didn't get it, I hope I'm raising the kind of men who understands that an entire gender isn't inherently an insult that you can use to shame people. After all, if it weren't for my gender, they wouldn't even be here.
Has anything like this happened to you?
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