1965. Outside. Snow is falling. Dull blades carve rough ice. Hear the crack of pucks and sticks. Timbered voices scratch the wind.
When I step on the ice, someone yells “offside!”
But so are social customs.
I’m a young girl playing hockey. I’m infringing on so-called male turf, and my peers are all in a huffy. Nonetheless, I smile. If they are upset, then we are making headway.
I learned resiliency through sport. I learned to be persistent, to find strength in my team members, and to have the courage to work towards my goals despite injuries and setbacks.
And I have never wanted anything more than gender equality.
I hope that scares them. I hope they know how much we’ve been training for this. I hope they understand how powerful we are. And I hope they chose to join us in our battle; I demand that they choose our team.
I often played on the outdoor rinks of my hometown of Kingston, Ontario, as a girl growing up in the 1960s. I experimented in this milieu. Sometimes, I would tuck my hair up under my toque to avoid being recognized as female -- my bulky coat and mitts hid the rest of my features well.
This disguise inevitably meant that I would be selected higher in the team pickings, as the captains (usually young men from Queen’s) couldn’t identify my gender.
After I had been selected, I would drop my hair out from under my toque and play with it flowing in the wind for the rest of the game, damn proud to be a girl who played hockey well.
Many years later, as an influential businesswoman in corporate America, I trust my hockey experience helped to prepare me for the challenges I still face on a daily basis. Because here too, am I infringing on men’s turf. It comes as no surprise that a recent study found 90% of high-level female executives were involved in sport in their youth.[i]
In a fabulous article published in womenSports in 1977, journalist Caryl Rivers discusses the semantics behind the term “tomboy,” and maintains that it has a very physical connotation, something that denotes a transgression of “turf” boundaries.[ii] The tomboys of the ‘70s didn’t stay on their side of the gender role fence, whether that was in sports or elsewhere. Interestingly enough, it is these tomboys, once a ragged group of scrape-kneed social outcasts, who are the powerful female leaders we idolize in society today.
This is why sports are powerful, and especially for girls. A cultural institution at the intersection of women, skill, and strength; providing an arena in which to develop the ardor, feminism, collaboration, physical power and mental tenacity needed to hurdle gender barriers and pulverize glass ceilings.
There is a reason that tomboys played sports.
Not that these qualities can’t be cultivated elsewhere – sports are simply a great way to work on everything at once. And the best part of sport: the better we play, the farther we cross into “male” turf, and the more we empower ourselves. So,
Be loud. Be present. Be active. Be female.
Because yeah, I am a woman. And I am coming out to level the playing field.