Commentary: Proud to play like a girl

(Shannon Cornelius/AQ)

Close your eyes and imagine an athlete, one who devotes their whole life to their sport. Their bodies are perfectly toned, carved with muscles. They’re tough as nails. They are equally blessed with strength and agility. They’re quick on their feet and ready to take on any challenge that comes their way. An athlete who oozes confidence, paired with a competitive and aggressive attitude. Now, take a moment and imagine this athlete.

How many of you thought of males? How many thought of females?

It’s the 21st century, and we need to change how we view female athletes.

We like to believe that women are being treated equally in every aspect of life. But this is not the case. Women are still considered “weak” and “non-athletic” compared to men.

As a female athlete, I find this extremely frustrating because no matter how hard we work and how great we play, we never seem to be good enough.

I started to play sports at a young age. I’ve always worked hard to be the best in every sport I played. I grew up in a small town where there were never enough girls to form teams. I always had to play on co-ed teams. This gave me the opportunity to see the inequalities at a young age. At first it was how I was treated on these co-ed teams. I never seemed to be “as good as the boys.”

I remember my first time stepping onto the court with my favourite pair of pink basketball shoes. I was the only girl there. The rest were loud and energetic boys.

At first, the boys didn’t pass me the ball, saying I “just wasn’t good enough” or I “would lose the game for them.” I would be lucky if I touched the ball three times in a 40-minute game.

I talked to my coach about what was going on and how I felt about it.

I will never forget what he told eight-year-old me.

“You just need to stop playing like such a little girl and be as strong and as tough as the boys,” he said.

His words still haunt me.

At first, I thought I was the only one going through this. As I got older, I realized this was just the way women were treated in sports.

More recently, I noticed how women athletes are portrayed in media.

Did you know that in 2016, the Los Angeles Sparks won the Women’s National Basketball Association finals?

If not, this could be for two reasons.

The first one is because you are not interested in the WNBA.

The second is because women’s national sports only receive 3.2 per cent of sports television airtime while men receive the rest.

On top of disproportionate airtime, women and men’s interviews are alarmingly and laughingly different. Women are asked questions that sexualize them and rarely relate to the sport they are playing.

Questions like, “What are you wearing?” and comments like, “Twirl to show us your outfit” can be heard at any women’s sporting event. Even professional female athletes are not viewed as equal.

Female role models exist but few are athletes. This gives girls the message they should be small, have a perfect face and be a size zero. This is why many young athletic women prefer to be involved in activities like cheerleading. They think it will make them popular and feel pretty. Too many young girls stay away from sports like basketball, football and hockey.

They know if they play these sports, they will be seen as too masculine.

The media needs to show strong female athletes playing sports and, in turn, show society that females can play the same sports men do.

It’s time we allow young girls an opportunity to see these amazing women, to show them women can be strong and competitive. It’s time we eliminate the idea that women are “weak” and “non-athletic.”

It’s time we show young girls they can be just as good as the boys.