Little Girl has been asking to play soccer for about a year now, as unbelievable as that sounds. We’d drive past the field and she’s squeal and ask me to stop the car. Now that she’s three, I decided to sign her up for a local program. We recently had our first session.
She was so excited on the way there. So much so that when we got to the field she didn’t even look back, running right over to join the other kids — four boys and three other girls. Once the coach explained the rules (for example, you don’t move unless you hear the whistle), she got right into it, running, kicking, and scoring goals.
I was impressed but not surprised to witness her athleticism. The kid is FAST and nimble and precise. She was the first one down the field with her ball, and the only one I saw getting behind the ball when it get away from her. Everything was going great until it was time to do an obstacle course: jumping from hoop to hoop, climbing through two upturned goals, and then kicking the ball into the goal.
“Okay, let’s let our princesses go first,” said the coach in his thick English accent. I sat there incredulous that he would engage in such blatant sexism when his program stresses that it “creates a supportive and positive environment.” How is it supportive or positive to belittle girls by calling them princesses, which are generally soft, sweet, and quiet. After all, you don’t see too many princesses running down a field wearing cleats.
Now, before you call me an annoying feminist harpy let me say that I wouldn’t have such a problem with the word “princess” if the coach called the boys “princes.” But he didn’t. They were “fellas” and “guys,” a fact I mentioned when I emailed the program director to point this out, along with the following note:
“You might think this is nit-picky or that I am being annoying bringing this up. However, by calling the girls “princesses” you set them apart from the boys. You make them different. On the soccer field they are not princesses. They are athletes, albeit small ones. Calling them princesses sends a very negative message, and one that separates them from the boys. I’m sure the coach means no harm, but there is harm since my girl and all of the girls on the team will fight against those stereotypes all their lives. My “princess” ran circles around a good majority of the boys. She should have the courtesy of being called something that denotes equality. Maybe you could bring this up to the coach in a positive, non-threatening, non-judgmental way? (Overall, I thought the coach was wonderful with the kids aside from this one issue.)”
I should have added that I don’t mind my daughter being treated like a princess at Disney World or when she’s playing dress-up, but on the soccer field, she should be treated like what she is and what she will become if given the right lessons and confidence-building verbal instructions: a kick-ass running, jumping, and scoring machine.