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.
“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