For Once, I’m Making This about Me
When I was nine years old, my mom came home from work with a copy of Sports Illustrated Kids.
“They were giving them out free in the office,” she shrugged, and I eagerly tore it open, even though I had zero previous knowledge of anything sports, because it was something new to read. Five minutes later, there was a poster of NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson Scotch taped to my pale pink bedroom wall and I was spitting back the statistics I had memorized from the backs of the paper cards on the insert in middle of the magazine.
I have never looked back. From March to October I have baseball, from September to February I have football, and that formerly hellish month in between has recently been plugged in with college basketball. Sports is one of the many things I am passionate about, and even thought it drives my mom and sister crazy, I’m not giving it up any time soon.
So I know what you’re thinking now: this is another article about how sports aren’t just for boys. Title IX and all that, laws that put women in sports and validated their feelings. Jessica Mendoza is now a commentator on Sunday Night Baseball. Women are breaking barriers in sports. Good news to be spread to all.
I mean, I’m as happy as the next girl about all of the above, really. It’s important and it’s about time women in sports was normalized. But here’s the catch: it isn’t normalized. Not really.
I can explain by telling you about my first semester of college. I was in an honors program, and three of my five courses were with the same 20 students. It was the perfect opportunity to make new friends, in addition to the few acquaintances I already knew from high school.
Introverted by nature, I was hesitant to start a conversation, especially with the boys – I had been in an all-girls environment for the previous five years, and was simultaneously enamored with and intimidated by the boys. According to my friend with four brothers, I had all the components necessary to befriend the boys: a pretty face, a bottomless stomach, and a solid handle on sports. But still, I couldn’t make the first move.
Everything changed when we had our icebreaker event. It was food, conversation, and an awkward get-to-know-you game during our universal free hour. I was eating quantities of pizza that rivaled the boys as my friends daintily dabbed the oil off of their slices when we were each handed a packet of M&Ms, not to eat, but as a prop for the game. There was a key on the projector screen, where each color candy corresponded to a different question you had to answer for the class. I think I chose a brown M&M; regardless, my prompt was to talk about something on my bucket list.
So I started to tell the 40 kids in the room about Beat the Streak. For anyone who’s unfamiliar, BTS is a fantasy baseball game where every day, you choose a baseball player you expect to get a hit in that day’s game. If you can string together 57 consecutive such days, you’ve successfully “beat the streak” and earn an obscene amount of money and fame. Nobody has yet to come close and I didn’t think my chances were any better, but I figured it would be a fun thing to try.
Here’s what happened next: the boys looked at me, and it was different. It was with a sense of familiarity, of camaraderie, of this girl is one of us.
I’m not going to lie: it felt really good. It still feels really good, when I’m on a date and mention my love for football and the guy, in disbelief, asks a dumb question and I give him a five-minute discourse in return, relishing the resulting shock that colors his face. When my (male) (grad student) math professor calls me out on my Yankees jacket, and I prove my true allegiance to the team.
I’m not sure why; it could be the sentiment of “the boys are the ideal” is etched so deeply into my brain that it’s instinct at this point. It could be the yearning I’ve always felt for an older brother, the shenanigans I would pull to earn the attention of my cousin, a year and a half older and the type of boy whose girl counterpart I always dreamed of becoming. Maybe it’s something as stupid and as natural as being a straight girl who is attracted to boys. One of the things I pride myself on is my intelligence, and it somehow manages to go for a long run when I’m in the vicinity of a guy who is tall and clever and kind, and this yearning for validation is just another side effect.
It doesn’t really matter. Because while it took me some time, I’ve finally realized two things:
The first is that I crave the attention, and not necessarily the boys’. I’ve always had interests that were in a different realm than most of my friends and family. They don’t know anything about music that exists outside the realm of pop radio, and they don’t read much fiction. We’re not even mentioning the whole fandom/ Tumblr/ writing fic thing. So the sudden rush of interest and conversation was thrilling then. Now? College has presented me with new friends (surprisingly, mostly girls) who share most of my interests, and all of the conversations I used to have in my head are coming to life. So who needs the boys now?
But it’s the second thing I’ve learned that changed my perspective, and it’s this: everything I love, I love for myself. Not for the boys, who will more often than not refuse to take me seriously when I rant about the Ryan Fitzpatrick Situation™ or recommend a cool article from ESPN. Certainly not for my family, who frown at my affinity for graphic sweatshirts and pins on everything and tell me to stop acting like a flower child because “it isn’t cute”. Yes, a lot of my passions stemmed from typical teenage rebellion and the desire to stick out. But I’m lucky; I fell in love along the way, and that made all the difference. I started listening to indie folk bands because, in my insular community, it made heads turn. It made people ask questions, and think I was this model for all things indie and hipster, and it was thrilling. At first, the beauty of instruments raining notes around me like stars was immaterial. The music’s beauty didn’t count; it was a means and not an end.
The joke is on me. I am utterly normal in nearly every respect, and you know what? That’s perfectly okay. My friends and family know that I am always willing to help them with their math assignments and English compositions. That sometimes I ignore texts because my mind is enveloped in a good book or a double overtime thriller. That I will try my hardest to make them laugh, always.
I am myself, and I am enough.
There’s a quote from Haruki Murakami that is one of my favorites: if you don’t know what you love, you are lost. I would like to amend it, and say if you don’t know why you love, you are lost. When I was trying to cultivate this image for myself, I found who and what to love, but I didn’t know why I loved it, and I was lost. I wouldn’t quite say I’ve found my way yet, but I have a map, and a compass, and I know where I want to go.
I’m here to remind you that nobody can dictate your choices, both big and small. You are the what and the why of everything you will ever love. You want to wear a backpack when everyone else uses dainty leather purses? Go for it. Something “boyish” like programming is your bliss? Study it! Become the best in your field. Follow your dreams, regardless of what the world thinks of them. They’re yours, and only yours.
If you’d like, pretend I’m cheering you on. But you don’t need my approval, you know. Girls are conditioned into believing that they are supposed to be subservient to society’s expectations for them, and I’m telling society to go to hell. You do you, girlies.
Meanwhile, I’ll be here, minding my own business and filling out my MLB postseason bracket. And maybe this year, I’ll finally get it right.
Caroline lives in New York and is a junior in college. She enjoys, among other pursuits, (American) football, music, and learning new things. You can find her on tumblr at thinking-pretendingtoread, where you can talk to her about such things as space, singing in the shower, and everyone’s favorite dead fictional characters.