Best Perspective

Colorado Cup 2012

It’s been talked about, written about, agreed about, complained about, and just about everything in between. I’ve had articles thrown out because it didn’t bring about a new perspective–and when it happened, I completely agreed with my editor. What’s the point if you’ve already said what you need to say? Why are we going around and around in circles about respect, support, and equality when the comments will seemingly always end up the same: yes, I agree and no, I don’t agree. Has talking about women in ultimate become worthless?

It dawned on me that the reason why we’re stuck at this stalemate about a woman’s place in ultimate is because despite all this talk, all these conversations, people rarely change their minds. Maybe it’s because no one has really talked about why we have these issues in the first place. Why are women so adamant about speaking up now, at this stage, when we could have been doing it years ago? Why didn’t we start our own professional leagues when AUDL and MLU had their first season underway? Why didn’t we just get our own money, start our own youth clinics, recruit more women, film our own games, get stronger and faster, start our own teams and leagues and do things our own way? Why can’t we just get over it?

I have my own answer as to why it took me so long to proudly speak up about these issues. I know why I sat shaking in fear in my living room as I pressed “publish” on my first blog post about “Why I Play With Women” and then again when I had my first article about women published on Skyd. I know why I couldn’t brush off some of the negative comments about female ultimate players. It took me a long, long time to get over my own fears about having a voice because of twenty eight years of being told my voice didn’t matter. It takes a lot to get over feeling worthless. The only way I can explain is to give you my best perspective.

For a long time I was told that I was stupid, that I was a liar, that I was a slut and a bitch and a whore. I was told I was a worthless piece of shit and that I didn’t deserve anything. Talking back meant even more physical or emotional punishment. If I didn’t smile or want to talk to a boy, I was told I was a prude. If I kissed someone, I was called a slut. It wasn’t just the boys either. Girls told me my arms were too hairy, I had ugly freckles because my mom didn’t love me enough to keep me out of the sun, I had no boobs, I was chubby, I was too thin, I dressed like a boy, I dressed like a slut. I couldn’t keep track of how I was supposed to act, what I was supposed to wear, or what I could or could not do anymore. It was torturous. When I tried to do something out of the ordinary, like building Legos, playing percussion, or joining boy’s soccer I was mocked and told that “girls don’t do that”. I was told I was bound to fail. I heard horrible stories about girls being drugged and raped.  I’ve had men approach me, touch my face without asking, grope me, follow me, and threaten me. I obsessively kept an eye out when walking down the street by myself, just in case.  I believed that silence meant a better life than the one I had.

I went to college and barely said anything for a long time. One of my favorite professors commented during an award presentation my last year of school, “I didn’t know Jen existed until the last day of our first class together, when I noticed her getting antsy while listening to another student argue about something. All of a sudden, she raised her hand and blurted out ‘I think you are wrong!’ and proceeded to explain for five minutes all the reasons why the student’s argument was invalid.” That was my first year in college: only thinking, not saying. I didn’t think my voice counted, until finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and it all came tumbling out.

I was lucky that I had so many wonderful people help me find my voice. If it weren’t for the countless friends I met playing ultimate, I would have stayed silent for much, much longer. Ultimate gave me a reason to shout, to yell, to let the world know what I was thinking or how I was feeling without any fear. The ultimate community accepted me. They told me I was important. I never knew I was important before.

That’s my perspective. Coming from a life of being told I was worthless made me believe that I truly was worthless for a very long time. Despite the continuing support, I still slink back to my silent self when the debate gets heated about women in ultimate. I want to say so much, to keep shouting about why I am important, but I honestly don’t know if I can take any more snide and sexist comments. It takes a lot to get over years and years of being beaten down.

But I’ve come too far. I can’t go back to that life. I must speak. My voice must be heard.

I will not stay silent.

Further Reading:

Speaking While Female” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Oh My God, I Can’t Believe I Need to Write This Column” by Kate Fagan

Reese Witherspoon in ‘Wild’: An all too rare story of a woman on a solo adventure” by Lois Pryce

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Patagonia’s Response to My Response

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Hi Jen,

Thanks for contacting us!  I have reviewed the emails below.  I understand your concern, and you are not the only female to have expressed this sentiment.  I have passed your email along to the appropriate members of our team for consideration when designing future products.  There is a quite a bit of marketing research and feedback from our customers that goes into designing products and picking colors.  Of course, we understand that we cannot please everyone at once with our color selection, but we try our best to offer a wide variety to our customer base. If enough women request more neutral colors you will definitely see that reflected in our product line.  We design our clothing several seasons ahead of time, so you are not likely to see any major changes in that amount of time.  In the meantime, many women who prefer our men’s colors simply order the men’s clothing.  For tops we generally suggest going one size down from your normal size.  For bottoms, it is best to go by your waist and hip measurements, in comparison with the men’s size chart.  You can see the size chart here:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/includes/product_size_pop_up.jsp?OPTION=MENS_SIZE_CHARTS_HANDLER

Hope this helps, have a nice day!

Best regards,
William

My Response to Patagonia

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Dear Tony,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email from January 5th and sending me the latest information regarding the Women’s R1 Hoodie. As much as I appreciate the effort, I don’t think you quite understood my general contempt for the color selection of your women’s clothes.
You see, I am not a “girlie girl”–quite the opposite, in fact. I love dark hues and bold patterns that are unfortunately, not something offered by Patagonia, or any outdoor clothing company for that matter. And please do not think that I am picking on Patagonia alone because there are so many other clothing companies that are doing the exact same thing.
You are assuming that all women who buy your clothes actually like the colors you offer. This is simply not the case. We buy your clothes because they are functional and durable and we just have to put up with looking like a pink princess among our circle of friends while climbing, hiking, backpacking, and/or [insert other bad ass activity here].
Now of course, I certainly understand if you did not want to bother addressing my overall complaint because Patagonia makes far more money off of the “ladies who like to show off their femininity by wearing stereotypical girl colors” than you ever would within my customer demographic, the “I want to rough-it alongside all the boys without an explosion of pink” folks. But I really believe there is a HUGE untapped market for women who just want to buy normal, durable, well-made clothing, without obnoxious hues of pink, teal and purple.
I am imploring Patagonia, as a great outdoor clothing company, to please reconsider the way you select your colors for your female customers. One way of doing this is to use the same material as the men’s clothing, but just cut and shape it to our size. You stated that “[a]ll the fabric is generally used up for a single specific style” but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be possible to simply purchase more material to cut and produce them in women’s sizes (after all, we’re not that different, you and I). If I am wrong and this is not economically sound for whatever reason, I would sincerely appreciate an explanation, in addition to an explanation as to why you think I love wearing all pink, teal and purple.
Have a fantastic weekend.
Sincerely,
Jen

Patagonia’s Response

Women's R1 Hoody

I think this one went right over poor Tony’s head. Note: The new Fall 2015 colors are the two pictured above.

Hi Jen,

Thanks for your email. I’m sorry to hear you’re not digging the current colors on offer for the Women’s R1 Hoody! We don’t typically alternate colors between Men’s and Women’s, unfortunately. All the fabric is generally used up for a single specific style.

I checked our new colors this season as well as the ones coming out in Fall of this year and it doesn’t look like there will be anything along the lines of what you’ve mentioned. That was from a few seasons ago and we don’t have any more in stock I’m afraid.

These are the available colors currently:

http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/womens-regulator-r1-fleece-hoody?p=40075-0

I’ve also attached our workbook for Fall 2015 to this email so you can get an early peak at the new colors (there aren’t too many, but still worth checking out).

I’m sorry we can’t be of more help!

Take care,

Tony
Patagonia Customer Service
800-638-6464

My Letter to Patagonia

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Dear Patagonia-
I’ve been running around outdoors for most of my life: hiking all over Europe and the US with my parents, playing competitive ultimate Frisbee (wearing your fantastic shorts—my favorite item of clothing ever) and now living in Yosemite National Park as an EMT. I think your clothing is incredibly durable and well-made. There’s just one problem…
Every time I open up a Patagonia catalog or click on your website I am bombarded with teal, purple, gray and some sickly green colored clothing. Now, I’m not a marketing expert by any means (and I could simply be an anomaly within your women’s customer demographic) but I am not a fan of these “typical girl colors” (I really despise using this phrase, so apologies). Every time I click on the men’s clothing section I sigh, wishing that even the men’s small would fit my frame because those styles and colors are exactly what I want to be wearing.
I would have never written a comment like this except for the fact that I happened to be looking at your latest winter catalog that you sent out. It had a bunch of pictures of this male and female climbing team who did this incredibly difficult and amazing traverse. As I flipped through the pages, noting the new clothes “picked out” by the female climber (all bright blue, purple, teal and gray) I saw a picture of her wearing a fantastic yellow/orange R1 hoodie. I flipped out. I wanted that hoodie because not only is it a great color, but it is a great product. My husband has the exact same hoodie that I have been dying to wear (if only I was his size!…although that hasn’t stopped me before from stealing it and looking like a 10 year old boy as I roll up the sleeves 4-5 times so it fits). I desperately tried to find it in the magazine, then online. It does not exist.
Please tell me I’m wrong. Please tell me that I’m simply computer illiterate and that it was right in front of me all along. Please tell me that it was not a picture of an awesome female climber wearing a guy’s hoodie. Because that would mean that even the women that you photograph don’t wear your women’s clothing. Please tell me this is all a mistake.
Instead of just complaining about this pretty trivial issue (I mean, who should really care about the color of a shirt, as long as it works right?) I thought of offering a solution. Would it perhaps be more economically practical if you took the men’s clothes and cut the fabric for a women’s frame? I would be immensely happy if I could just buy the men’s clothing in my size. That’s all I ask.
Sincerely,
Jen

Walking In Another’s Shoes

Today I watched the “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” video. For almost two minutes I sat in silence, awkwardly fidgeting in my seat, hoping it would be over soon. The reason for my anxiety was simple: I knew exactly what that woman was feeling. All of the emotions of 10 years of harassment and unwanted attention came flooding back to me, to the point where I felt tears coming to my eyes. I didn’t want to feel that way again and I didn’t want to be reminded of how scared I feel when I walk the streets by myself.

But I had no intention of writing about this until I foolishly starting reading the comments below. Reading things like “I would grab her and f*** her face-down for hours, teach this dumb b**** c*** a lesson in modesty” and “I hope Karma gives you exactly what you’re looking for you emotionless b****” wasn’t even the worst part. It was reading comments like “All I see in this video are a bunch of men who said ‘Hi’ or ‘God bless you.’ They just greeted the girl” and “getting ignored isn’t nice either” that made me especially irritated because it ignorantly placed the blame away from the men in that video and directed it towards her. She is to blame for being too beautiful, for walking down the street and for not responding to unwanted attention. She is to blame! It must be her fault! After all, “She’s a witch!… She turned me into a newt!”

If you haven’t realized by now, I am a woman. I’ve also been harassed for over 10 years and I have hated every moment of it. I have been touched, groped, yelled at for not smiling, followed, proposed to, and kissed on the cheek by complete strangers. It is terrifying, frustrating, and repulsive. It’s something I worry about consistently when I decide to go for a walk. I am always cautiously keeping an eye out for men that walk past me because of what they might say or do to me. Most of them are much much taller and larger than me, so how can I realistically protect myself? What will they do if I don’t smile? Will they attack? Do I look like too easy a target? Will I make it home tonight?

When I told my husband this, he gave me a very concerned look and said “wow, I never think that. That is terrifying.” And that’s the reality. We cannot walk in someone else’s shoes and truly understand how they feel. My husband will never experience what I have experienced or will experience because he is not a woman. I will never truly and completely understand what he experiences because I am not a man. I never will be a man. I can try to empathize, I can try to relate through my own experiences, but I will never 100% truly know what he feels.

And that’s why those comments are so frustrating to read because the individuals who wrote them will never understand but they pretend to understand. They will never know what it is like to be a woman walking down the street, hearing voices call “hey baby” and “why don’t you smile” and “I like dat ass.” But they think, being an individual who has never (or rarely) experienced such things, it must not be that bad. It’s actually polite. It’s actually justified. After hearing horrible things said to you over and over and over again for no obvious reason, having a seemingly innocence “hey baby” thrown at you is too much. I want to walk down the street, grab my coffee or visit a friend, without you talking to my backside because you think it’s innocent. It is not innocent. Just accept that what I say is exactly how I feel, that you will not be able to fully understand why I feel this way because you are not a woman, and stop. Just stop.

When I Grow Up

A little over a year ago, I said goodbye to my co-workers and friends in Arizona, packed my bags, and drove over 750 miles north to Yosemite. It was a not only a drastic change of scenery, but of occupation as well.  I went from helping refugees in an international non-profit organization to working as an EMT in a National Park. It was a complete change in my career path, but even after so many years working at a variety of jobs, I still don’t have a clue as to what I want to be when I grow up…sort of.

When I was eleven, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a ballerina. I started dancing when I was three and couldn’t seem to stop. I spent hours in the studio and performed on stages throughout New York. I was one of the youngest dancers in my company’s Advanced Ballet classes, started pointe a year earlier than others, and took on roles at the age of 7 that most girls were not getting until they were 9 or 10. Even at such a young age, I knew I wanted to be exactly like those beautiful, graceful, professional dancers I watched on VHS or –when lucky enough– on stage in New York City. I worked hard to act older than I truly was, practicing in my garage at home, doing strength exercises until my muscles cramped, and stretched constantly to work on my flexibility. I loved to dance, but by the time I turned eleven I knew, despite my technique and dedication, which allowed me to advance when I was younger, there was no way I could continue to progress to become a professional: my legs were too short and stubby and as much as I tried to stretch my muscles, they refused to become more flexible. My body just wasn’t what a ballerina’s was “supposed” to be. So I thought about what to do next.

When I was fifteen, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a musician. I fell in love with percussion, and even named my beautiful brass-plated snare drum “Goldilocks”. I was the youngest musician to ever play in our high school’s pit during their production of Funny Girl, won Battle of the Bands when I was fourteen, and was second chair in the New York Area-All State Band when I was sixteen. I would practice for hours on end at home while wearing ear plugs and blasting Green Day on my CD player. I was in my high school’s band, jazz band, and orchestra, and had private lessons with a wonderful teacher whose nickname was “Gemini Gene”.

But by the time I turned seventeen I stopped wanting to become a musician. A feeling in my gut made me change my mind. It wasn’t that I stopped loving music. It was the way I was treated. I was always asked where I was going when I attended the first rehearsal with a new orchestra because “girls don’t play drums.” The lead singer in our band wrote a song entitled “Drummer Pie” where he sang about how I shouldn’t be playing music but in the kitchen making him pie. He later called me a bitch when I couldn’t make a practice. I had high school boys purposely mess with my hi-hat or start pounding randomly on my drums while I was playing to make it sound like I messed up. They did all this because I was a girl and I couldn’t take it anymore. I did not want to spend the rest of my life being tormented and treated like an inferior player because I was different. So I moved on.

When I turned twenty-seven I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I moved into the medical field because it paid the bills, it wasn’t as stressful as working in the non-profit sector, and it meant I could finally live with my husband. But secretly (or perhaps not so secretly for some) I really wanted to be a professional ultimate player. I loved ultimate more than anything. I spent all my money playing ultimate, I tortured myself by running up hills in Yosemite, pulled my husband out of bed at 8:00 in the morning to go throw, and spent six months after my seasonal job ended last year training for tryouts. I knew I would be the happiest person in the world if I was a professional athlete, getting paid to run around on a grassy field, throwing and catching a disc with my teammates. I would love to train all year long, to eat whatever I was told to eat in order to become the leanest, strongest, most badass player I could possibly be.

But deep down, I know this just isn’t possible. By the time there is a professional women’s league I will probably be too old and too beat up to play anymore. I know that the current leagues don’t have gender restrictions, but it’s kind of like wanting to be a ballerina and musician at the same time: I will never have the body of what a current professional ultimate player is “supposed” to have and deep in my gut, I feel like I will never belong. I will never be “one of the guys” because the reality is, I am not a guy.

As much as I love ultimate and as much as I am filled with joy when I get the opportunity to play, there is a part of me that wishes things were different. Perhaps I am the only one that feels this way, perhaps there are many that share the same sentiment. All I hope is that future generations of girls don’t have to feel like this. They can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. Even a professional ultimate player.