Katie Steen: Have an extra point, sweetheart

By Katie Steen, Columnist
Published September 19, 2013

My teammates and I pulled up to Mitchell Field, crammed in an assortment of vans and cars. The field looked ghostly and bleached under the floodlights, filled with dozens of jittery figures darting around, echoing “mine” and “push up!” I approached the referees — two tall, skinny guys wearing black — confirmed I was captain of the co-rec B intramural soccer team “Blurples” and stood staring at an indiscriminate region of space between the two of them as they reviewed the rules. No offsides, no slide tackling, subs go in at the halfway line. But they didn’t mention the one I was most interested in.

“So, there’s a rumor going around,” I said. “Is it true that goals scored by women are worth two points?”

“Yeah, girl goals are worth double.”

“OK — just wanted to confirm.”

I could have questioned them about why that’s a rule. I could have rolled my eyes. I could have been blatantly pissed. Instead, I skipped off into the floodlights to tell all my female Blurples to play offense and to shoot as much as possible. Because, I want to win, so if girl points are double, then we might as well take advantage of it, yeah?

Truth is, I wasn’t mad. I realize the rule is indisputably insulting to women, but it’s hard to complain when the rule is, after all, benefitting me.

I'm reminded of a certain soccer game I played during my shrimpy, self-conscious days as a sixth-grader. I was on an all-female travel team, and we played all-female teams. Any hostility toward the other team was typically limited to the ever-so-passive-aggressive failure to shake a certain player’s hand after the game. “Bad game,” I’d mumble under my breath instead the standard “good game,” letting my hand hang limp next to my side instead of offering it to the other player like a true sportswoman.

But for one game — just a scrimmage — we played an all-male team, and a new form of hostility was introduced.

I was better at soccer than some of the boys on that team. That’s just the truth. In a standard game, if an opponent becomes frustrated, I might expect some shoving, a few elbows in the side. Maybe the dirty and desperate jersey pull. But, “you can’t hit a girl,” so they adopted an indirect form of frustration and hostility, jeering at one another: “You just lost the ball to a girl!” “You’re slower than a girl!” “You play like a girl!” (That last one always gets me — how can you play like a girl if you were just outperformed by a girl?) Though the insults were delivered to male teammates, I highly doubt those male players are writing about that game nine years later in a newspaper, still annoyed by those comments.

Later, in seventh-grade gym class, I would play soccer against boys again. This time, their hostility was a little more direct. “Bitch,” I’d hear in between throw-ins and goal kicks.

When a boy plays poorly, he’s just “playing like a girl.” Playing poorly is the assumed default for a female athlete. If that female athlete outperforms a male, she’s a bitch. We can’t win.

I realize that the whole “bitch” incident occurred back in middle school, when nights were spent harassing Smarterchild on AIM and almost everything was fair game for a “that’s what she said” joke. They were stupid, obnoxious years.

But though we’ve grown up and have since forgotten the moves to “The Cha-Cha Slide” (who am I kidding — I will never forget the moves to “The Cha-Cha Slide”), the fact is that these gendered insults and assumptions still exist. The supposed need to give females extra points for their effort is condescending and has been met with reactions along the lines of “Are you f-ing kidding me?” from almost every non-Blurples person I’ve told.

But I can’t say it’s terribly surprising. The point system, in short, is a form of benevolent sexism — a type of sexism that permeates many aspects of modern society. It has good intentions, but is motivated by underlying assumptions about females that are, y’know, sexist. No, I’m not one of those feminists who gets pissed off if a guy opens a door for me. Being nice (er, “chivalrous”) to women is lovely, but please don’t patronize us.

What the two-point rule basically says is that females — regardless of how good we are at soccer — are inherently less skilled at the sport than males. I, as a woman, need that extra point for every goal I score, because heaven forbid I break a sweat trying to compete against my male opponents. It’s the same reason there’s always the awkward pause when I get pushed over in a game — I am female. I am fragile and weak and suck at soccer. Here, have an extra point, sweetheart.

Anyway, it’s a stupid rule to be sure, but my fellow female Blurples took advantage of the extra points just like I did — and why shouldn’t we? There are much more blatant and offensive forms of sexism out there, which can make it easy to let stuff like this slide — after all, it’s an advantage!

But I — and the rest of the female members of my team — don’t need it. And it’s insulting to assume that we do.

Katie Steen can be reached at katheliz@umich.edu.