Doing everything you do, in a skirt, or, Some thoughts on being a girl, doing boy things

A few days ago, Tim Carmody sent James Fallows’ wonderful “Throwing Like a Girl” my way. In typically superb Fallows form, he unpacks and challenges what it means to “throw like a girl,” and why, if it’s not exactly gender specific (because plenty of women throw correctly) it’s still largely female examples we see when we think of “throwing like a girl.”

“For young boys it is culturally acceptable and politically correct to develop these skills,” says Linda Wells, of the Arizona State softball team. “They are mentored and networked. Usually girls are not coached at all, or are coached by Mom—or if it’s by Dad, he may not be much of an athlete. Girls are often stuck with the bottom of the male talent pool as examples. I would argue that rather than learning to ‘throw like a girl,’ they learn to throw like poor male athletes. I say that a bad throw is ‘throwing like an old man.’ This is not gender, it’s acculturation.”

Confession: I play softball in a skirt. A running skirt, to be precise, and it’s positively the most comfortable, least restrictive article of clothing I own. (I have a nice pair of softball pants—black, always worn pulled up to the knee—but they make me feel somehow like the Tin Man; I can’t bend correctly at the waist. I only wear them when it’s too cold for anything else.)

Anyhow, I’m becoming accustomed to the strange looks I draw when I drop my bat and bag and start stretching as my coach is finishing up with the young man who takes lessons before me. I suppose I’d just attributed it to the skirt.

We’ve already talked about my throw. It’s never been girly. Now, it’s even less so.

This week, the young man’s father, a chatty BS-er who’s always ribbing his son and the coach, said something to the effect of, “You teach softball too?”

Now, before we continue, I have to say, I couldn’t tell if the question was one of derision. I could not tell if he meant it as a slight to my coach, as though somehow he was making easy money by working with me. As though he were less manly for teaching a girl’s sport, something I saw all the time when the men coaching women’s sports in high school were dismissed as shitty coaches because a real coach would coach men.

All I know is that it made me a bit mad.

Because a woman playing a sport seriously, even if somewhat ridiculously (i.e. a 30-year-old woman spending her Friday nights taking grounders and tearing her palms open in the cages), doesn’t seem to me to be preposterous.

As in, boys can take baseball lessons. So why is it weird for me to do the same?

My coach, who I will forever high-five for this, said, “Nope,” then explained that he was giving me baseball lessons with bigger balls. He added that I’m his only female client, and he took me on because I asked.

I realize I was standing there in a skirt, but it doesn’t sit well with me to have someone speak about me in front of me. It reminds me of being a child and having the doctor explain what’s wrong with you to your mother, even though you’re sitting right there.

So I told the father that this was just my mid-life crisis, but quite a bit early. Then I stepped into the cages and started taking my swings.

Reading the Fallows piece, I started remembering things I’d seen, but been too exhausted—or too hellbent on making a perfect throw—to fully process.

Last week it was a crowd of older men who had just dropped their kids off at the bounce-house place next door, making sort of cat-call, sort of awe-struck noises as I was hitting. Think more “Hey-O!” and less “Oh, wow.”

But thinking back, it seemed like they were half shocked that I was hitting so well (they shouldn’t have been; my coach is amazing) and half like they were offering some smarmy play-by-play to each other, the kind you half-hear walking by a crowd of drunk 40-year-olds.

Look, I get that it’s a bit of a spectacle. The parents have never seen a girl taking lessons. The bored adults waiting for the kids to finish bouncing their brains silly in the bounce house emporium wander over to the field and are not expecting to see a girl in a skirt taking grounders or crushing the ball. I get it.

But do they do the same thing, act the same way, when it’s a boy? What would they do if it were their daughter?

The other possibility: I read the Fallows piece, and became overly sensitive (“girly”) about something that wasn’t even about me. Like a hyper-reactive feminist with a very self-centered world view.

It’s a lifetime of the same pattern, though. Time after time, making a cogent argument about an athlete or some sporting issue in the presence of men is not taken as another fan entering the debate, but as some type of exhibition that must be possessed. As though I’m doing it to get men’s attention. (I’m not, I’m married.) As though that were the trick. As though a woman cannot love baseball, unless she loves it to get a man.

My freshman year of high school, we were bussed out to Durand with the boys’ freshman team. The boys, it turned out, didn’t have an opponent. Midway through the first game, the umpire suggested to our, Mr. Young, that we play to five innings and skip the second game to accommodate the boys. Mr. Young went nuclear.

He came back to the dugout and told us, “Don’t you ever let someone treat you differently just because you’re a girl.”

In co-ed, rec league softball, girls are pitched a smaller ball. My coach, from day one, has been pitching me the boy balls. But we just call them what they are: the big balls. Because girls can have them too.

9 Responses to “Doing everything you do, in a skirt, or, Some thoughts on being a girl, doing boy things”
  1. Jill Kolongowski says:

    What a lovely read! Get it, gurrrl.

  2. Kate McKenney says:

    I don’t remember #11 at all. And that is making me feel very old today. Otherwise, good read. Glad that’s how I spent my lunch break.

    • Angela Vasquez-Giroux says:

      Kate, it may have been Mt. Morris. But I never forgot it. Mr. Young was my favorite coach for that moment alone. He was an epic hero in my eyes after that.

  3. ana says:

    my grandma used to play basketball in a skirt because that is the only way her mother would play on the team.

    • AVGW says:

      I hit better in a skirt. Is that weird? I think my hips are freer, or something. Whatever it is, I don’t mess with mojo. This skirt is lucky, and comfy, so I am staying with it. Oglers or no oglers.

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