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Fifth Grade Feminist Football Fight

I cannot overstate my disinterest in football. My older brother has given me countless opportunities to throw the ball around, or even play with his friends. He will bribe me by taking over my dishwasher responsibilities, and even then I’ll only occasionally agree to play. In fifth grade I butted heads with some of the boys in my class. Every day at recess they would play football. They were the captains and chose teams entirely made up of boys. Most of the girls would huddle on the side of the school yard and watch the boys play, sometimes taking on the role of cheerleaders.

Two of the athletic girls worked up the courage to ask the boys if they could play, and their fear of rejection was justified when the captains bluntly turned them away. I didn’t want to play football, I just wasn’t accustomed to being told no, especially without being given a logical reason. So the right for girls to play football, which I could’ve cared less about personally, became a cause for which I fought with persistence.

It started by me going up to the boys a few weeks later and telling them it wasn’t nice if they didn’t let girls play. When that didn’t go my way I demanded they let us play. And they did… but only for so long; by next recess we weren’t allowed to play again. So I brought in the teacher and finally they actually let us play, however, we were clearly second class citizens. The handful of us were always picked last and they would only pass to us occasionally, when all the guys were being covered.

Looking back on it, I understand that they might have avoided passing to me for other reasons besides that I was a girl–I was also horrible. There were other girls though, who, in contrast to me, could actually catch the ball and make runs, maybe even scoring a touchdown. But the boys wouldn’t pass to them either, so I know that gender did play a role. So again I asked them to pass to us, this time skipping the polite rhetoric. One boy answered with unfiltered honesty: “but you suck.” Now I get it: he was ten and competitive, but then I was outraged, and brought the teacher back to support the next level of my fight for football equality.

This pattern continued for three months: demanding equality, not getting it, bringing in the teacher, and then realizing the system was still flawed. Eventually the boys moved on to kickball, where this pattern continued. And then when that ran its course it was on to basketball. By the end of it the boys were so annoyed with me; my presence alone was a nuisance. One boy said, “Can’t you just leave us alone?!” He wasn’t alone though; he was surrounded by fifteen boys. I believe what he meant was, “You’re not one of us so stop insisting that you are.” We were girls and they were boys. They played football and we cheered in support. It was larger than wanting a winning team. We were messing with roles that had been the basis of their thinking.

A lot of times people try to assign me a specific role or put me in a box based on my age, religion, or gender. The truth is I rarely fit. I mean, who does? These roles are often based on stereotypes that have very little to do with reality. Knowing how to directly communicate with those who create and assign these unrealistic roles takes confidence, and above all, experience. I didn’t realize it then, but in fifth grade, when I wouldn’t settle for the subpar excuses which denied me football equality, it was my first feminist campaign. I recognized that the girls in my class were being discriminated against based on gender, and I fought against it. This was my first time fighting sexism, and I’ve been able to build on that experience as I continue to fight similar battles on a regular basis. 

Now I speak and walk with confidence, and I don’t settle for anything short of equal inclusion, even if people disregard me subconsciously.  Sometimes it’s not easy, my voice quivers and I need to bring in reinforcements. When I fight back people are often overwhelmed, intimidated, or even annoyed with me, but it’s a small price to pay for a full life of unbound opportunity.   

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How to cite this page

Abusch-Magder, Aliza. "Fifth Grade Feminist Football Fight." 1 November 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/fifth-grade-feminist-football-fight>.

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