I was 13, ignored by the girls in my bunk, unable to play sports with the boys who wanted nothing to do with me. Lonely and frustrated I walked to the camp bulletin board and wrote: This camp is chauvinistic because it doesn’t allow girls to play on the boys’ softball team.” I didn’t sign my name.
A few hours later, two counselors found me in the dining room and said they saw me writing. I’d looked and didn’t see anyone, which is why I wrote what I did. The male counselor said, “You’re right. Girls need to be able to play with the boys.”
The female counselor said, “We’ve talked with the boys and told them you have to be allowed to play, that it’s wrong not to let girls on their team.” I instantly regretted what I’d written, even if it was true. With a sinking heart, knowing how much the boys didn’t want me to play with them, I agreed to join the boys at afternoon practice.
I’m a pretty good ballplayer—as good as most of the boys—but not as good as the best and it’s hard for me to play well when I’m not wanted. The boys definitely did not want a girl to play with them.
The two counselors walked me down to the field. They reminded the boys I had every right to play with them. There was no welcoming committee. They glared at me, making negative comments. If the counselors heard, they didn’t show it. Knowing the counselors were watching, the captain of the team asked what position I wanted to play. I told him I was a pretty good pitcher. Not bothering to hide his displeasure, he told the boy on the mound to go sit on the bench. As the boy glowered at me, the captain motioned for me to go on the mount. I didn’t have a glove. More displeasure. The male counselor found a glove that more or less fit me. Nothing to be done but to throw the ball.
I struck the first two batters out despite their jeers and snide remarks. I was beginning to relax a little when the next batter hit a hard line drive straight to me and I fumbled the ball. He made it to third base. The jeers got louder. The comments nastier. I told myself that I could do this, I could keep going, but my rising tension didn’t improve my playing ability. The next player hit an easy popup that I barely caught. As I left the field, the 2nd and 3rd basemen came up to me, letting me know I was unwanted and they would do whatever they could to make me quit. I managed to last the rest of the game but their hostility was too much. I quit. No one tried to convince me to keep playing. I felt like a failure.
Six years later, I was a recreational therapist in a large mental hospital where I soon learned the men had a softball team. The women didn’t. I was told they didn’t want one, but when I asked a few of the women if they’d like to form a softball team and play women in other mental hospitals as the men did, every one of them said yes. I remembered my failure at thirteen. This felt like a chance to redeem myself. If the men could have a team, so could the women.
It was difficult to persuade the director to let me form a women’s team. He kept insisting they didn’t want one. When I said they did, he retorted they didn’t need one, they were women. “What’s that got to do with it? They want to play.” We were at a standstill when his secretary told him his next appointment was waiting. He shook his head and said, “If you want to start a women’s softball team you can try. I doubt you’ll find women who are interested.” He showed me the door.
Almost every woman wanted to play. Everyone practiced with great excitement. The head attendant chose who could play the women’s team at another hospital. I was warned: the director said the teams had to win in order to continue playing. I was shocked to learn that the attendants who accompanied the men’s team were good ballplayers and always stepped in when the men were losing. I told myself I would never do that.
And yet . . . It was our first game. The women were enjoying themselves, but at the top of the 9th inning the women were losing 3-1. I asked the pitcher if she was tired. As a patient, what she heard was that I wanted her to leave so I could take over. She gave me her glove. I struck out all their players and in the bottom of the 9th, with two players on base, I hit a home run. We won 4-3.
The women were furious. They wanted to win or lose on their own. They didn’t care if losing meant they couldn’t play other teams. They cared about autonomy. For them, as for me years ago, what mattered was having the right to play.
Was there something you weren’t allowed to do because you were the wrong gender? Did you ever have a chance to do what you wanted to do? How did it work out?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.