Playing Like a Girl

My daughter plays hockey. She loves it. She especially loves to play goalie, although she also likes to play forward. She’s a pretty good little goalie, too. Good enough that, when a boys’ peewee team from her organization needed a goalie, they recruited her, even though they had a boy goalie willing to play.

To be fair, it isn’t just a boys’ team. There are three other girls on it. There are really two types of teams through high school: coed and girls only. Girls only hockey exists because, ultimately, the girls are forced out of the coed teams because of the brutality of the checking. Most girls are not physically willing or able to play coed hockey at the bantam level (13-14 years old) and above because that’s when checking kicks in. So even though it may technically be a coed team, most parents of hockey playing kids, including myself, refer to these coed teams as boys’ teams.

I was worried about my girl playing on a boys’ team this year. I was worried because I have seen boys’ teams who did not treat their girl players very well. I have seen boys target girls on the opposing team. I have even known of parents encouraging their boys to “go after” girls on the opposing team. Moreover, because my daughter is a goalie, I worry about boys who might shoot high on her trying to hit her in the head to intimidate her. Or just plain hurt her. Some people in hockey call that “buzzing the tower.”

So every time my daughter goes out on the ice, I wonder what I should say to her (besides “protect your head at all costs.”) The first game she played this year against another coed team, I made her tuck her pony tail into her jersey. “Don’t make it obvious,” I told her. Maybe I’ve been around the military too long, but I still remember the signs in a recruiting station in Dorchester, England, that my husband and I saw when we were there in 1995: “Travel inconspicuously” and “Don’t let anyone know you are a Royal Marine.” The Brits were well versed in avoiding terrorism long before we caught on, thanks to the I.R.A. When my husband deployed to Iraq, he drilled force protection into me. Tell no one who doesn’t need to know that you have a weakness.

My daughter is navigating a man’s world. She is worth 77 cents to every dollar her brothers can make. She will go to college in the wake of shocking revelations about the pervasiveness of sexual assault on our university campuses, so much so that the federal government has stepped in. She will walk down the street and get cat-called and no man who watches it will stand up for her. She will know to never walk alone at night, no matter what. She will know to never accept a drink from someone she doesn’t trust, literally, with her life. She will know to always vet the boys who want to be part of her life before she trusts them. She will know that she needs to be able to support herself, and her children, in the event she chooses unwisely. She will know that she will always have to do more, work harder, and be braver than any man in her life.

But she will also know that she is an advocate. For herself and for every other woman who doesn’t have a voice, or who allows her voice to be silenced or subjugated to the policies of people who try to make her a second class citizen. She will know that she should be proud to be a woman, in every sense of the word, because women are mothers and leaders and teachers and givers. She will know that she descends from suffragists and scholars and artists and free thinkers. And she will know that she must conduct herself in a way that lifts up women everywhere and inspires the girls who come after her.
So when my daughter went out on the ice this weekend with her team at a tournament in Cleveland, with her pony tail hanging down the outside of her jersey, I had only one piece of advice for her. I told her to play like a girl.


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