We are continuing our Squishing Gender-Stereotypes Program with a guest post by Bailey Knight. As you may know, my novel Fierce released on 8/14/14. Fierce is a contemporary sports fiction with romance elements, focused on mixed martial arts (MMA). You can read more on Fierce HERE
To celebrate the release, I'm hosting some awesome interviews and guests posts that look at women in male-dominated areas, gender-stereotypes, and, truly, people with passion. Yesterday, my friend Carrie Butler discussed shooting in an amusing but honest post. Today, my friend and CP Bailey Knight discusses her two passions--ballet and co-ed soccer--and how they work together, how they work for her, and what being a girl in these areas means to her.
If you’ve been following any of the promotional hype for L.G. Kelso’s Fierce, you have read some great blog posts and tweets and reviews about how different this novel is from others in the contemporary sports genre. And I am honored that L asked me to write a guest post discussing my passion for sport and my experiences as a female athlete. So much of Tori’s narrative resonated with me because she is continuously navigating her own womanhood, and being a competitive athlete.
Too often, being a woman and being an athlete seem to be two incongruous identities. I am a woman. I am an athlete. By being one and the other, you lessen your identity as both.
But I am a woman, and I am an athlete. Both are inseparable from how I see myself, how I understand who I am and how I exist every day. For me, the disharmony between my womanhood and my athleticism is exemplified by my two athletic outlets: ballet and co-ed, competitive soccer.
In one, I am centered in my body; I stretch up through my toes, my ankles, my legs, my core, and out through my arms. I pirouette and promenade steadily on my tip-toes; my adagio is graceful and strong; petite allegro is fast and precise. In the other, I am a teammate; I play shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women; I take hard tackles to my ankles, swift kicks to my shins, and balls to the head; I make swift sprints and quick turns and sure passes.
Both require me to be aware of and in control of my body -- of my legs and their strength, their speed and agility -- and I am aware of how my life-long soccer player body affects my newly trained dancer’s body.
I originally took up dance to help me heal a soccer injury that had flared up during the season; my doctor recommended something that would strengthen and stretch my Achilles, ankles, and feet. But I fell for the strength, awareness, and control that ballet dancing demands of me. Beyond the three hours you can surely find me in studio every week, if I’m standing, I’m working my feet, my ankles, and my legs through stretching; I tendu and plie over standing still.
While ballet is still a new athletic outlet, I haven’t been doing anything else in my life as long as I’ve played soccer. Except maybe reading. I played through childhood, into middle school and high school. I continued with pick-up games throughout college; unable to step away from a ball too long, even if it was just on a patch of grass between dorm buildings in tennis shoes or barefooted. When I moved after college to a town with an impressive and competitive adult soccer league, my friends and I turned our weekly Sunday pick-up games into a team. We play three seasons a year, twelve games per season. Playing in a co-ed division, we’re only required to field two female players at a time, but our team is evenly divided male and female. The men on our team didn’t seek out some girl friends to play just to meet the division requirements; the women are a strong, respected, and strategic force to be reckoned with on our team.
Lacing up my cleats every week for a game or practice is more than stepping into a pair of shoes; it’s stepping into a core component of myself. And on the nights I’m not on a grass field, I’m slipping my feet into pale, pink ballet slippers. I know myself outside, on a field, and I find myself inside, on wooden floors.
Yet, neither seems to align with my identity as a woman.
When I tell people I dance ballet, they look immediately to my body. I get the awkward, lingering up-and-down gaze from everyone. It’s intrusive. I have been a soccer player for twenty-two years, and my body shape reflects this: I have shorter legs and wider hips and bigger boobs than a dancer should. While all these natural curves will prevent me from ever being a competitive dancer -- along with, you know, not ever taking dance before I was twenty-three -- they don’t decrease my ability to dance, and dance well, and to be absolutely in love with dancing.
Of course, when I tell people that I play competitive soccer, and co-ed at that, I get shocked and slightly horrified looks. I can read the But why? in their expressions. Don’t I get hurt? Aren’t I afraid of the men? Aren’t the men just better than me? Am I embarrassed playing against men? Let me just tell you this, as an answer to all of the above: thanks to my refined skill at making tackles and a basic understanding of physics, I have flipped a man over me to win the ball in a completely legal challenge. I play in a co-ed adult league, so sure, I play with the boys, and it’s competitive and it’s rough, but being a man doesn’t give a person a natural, innate ability to play sports.
Just like being a woman doesn’t create a limit on a person’s ability to achieve excellence in athletics; to be truly passionate about something physically demanding.
I have never known myself as someone other than Bailey, the soccer player, voracious reader, daydreamer and storyteller. I committed myself to this sport at the same time I committed myself to reading books and writing stories; and like everything about myself, these identities are enhanced by my identity as a woman. As an adult, I added ballet dancer to that list of identities, but I feel it as a part of myself as surely as the others. All of these identities help me find my center, and they are inseparable from the base fact that I am a woman. I am a woman athlete. It’s that simple and that complex.
Note from LG: Thank you, B, for sharing two of your passions with us and helping celebrate passion, and women in athletics.