Its "Fun" to be Misunderstood When Playing With Gender

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Its "Fun" to be Misunderstood When Playing With Gender

Anna Mazzariello

NOTE: before this paper even begins, I want to clear something up. I use the term "wolf-pack" in a completely positive way. I think that the way boys congregate is a wonderful, wonderful thing - and wolves are near and dear to my heart. I like to think of them as my Lost Boys - always close, always wild.

"You were kind of a wild, little thing," my mother still tells me. She's not entirely incorrect. Well, ok, she's not incorrect at all.

From the time I was about five until the time I was about 10, boys were my primary playmates. They were my only playmates, to be exact. Football was the name of the game and for me, recess was a constant running-jumping-tackling experience. There was no question about my ability - I was "one of the boys" - I was, in a sense, sexless. My male playmates did not recognize me as the female that I was; though my name was feminine, I dressed like a boy, talked like a boy, and would run-jump-and-tackle like a boy.

I spent a lot of time on the bench for being "too rough" though even at seven years old I simply knew that I wasn't being any more rough than the boy I was busy tackling to the ground. I didn't always win - which could only mean I wasn't the strongest or most rough - well, that was my grade-school-logic at least. Even then I knew that it had something to do with the fact that I wasn't playing hopscotch or jump rope. At seven I was sure that the reason I was sitting on the bench while all of my friends continued to play was because there was something wrong with Anna playing football. There was nothing wrong with Jason playing football. Or Nick. Or Peter. But Anna. There was something wrong with Anna.

At seven I had no way to express these feelings. No way to turn around to my teacher and snap, "it's only because I'm a girl and you're embarrassed that one of your female students is playing football that you're giving me a 'time-out'". But what seven year old is going to say something like that?

It wasn't only at seven that I realized I was being treated differently though. From first grade until about fourth grade I recognized that I didn't have any girlfriends. A girl like this is apparently very dangerous. She's physically strong, rambunctious, and wise. She knows what it means to "run with a wolf-pack" and doesn't see anything wrong with it. She knows nothing of one-on-one or power-of-three "girl time" and doesn't feel as though she's missing something.

The interesting thing, however, is that I always went home to my Barbie collection; My thirty-some-odd Barbie and Ken dolls with fifteen outfits each, swimming pools, siblings, and accessories. I was a girl - I just didn't enjoy playing like one at school!

The transition period spanning from the middle of fourth grade to the beginning of seventh grade was awkward. Horrible is probably a better word. Because I hadn't made any girlfriends in first grade, I didn't have any group to latch onto when all of the boys decided I had cooties. Generally speaking, girls tend to be less "pack" oriented and are more interested in forming small groups that remain close for extended periods of time. The friendships were already formed and because I was too busy running, I got left out.

One of the last times I played football was in the middle of fourth grade. I was late (because I had had "bench time") and so I was eagerly hurrying to squeeze into the game. To my horror when I approached one of the captains, Mark, the other boys protested, "she can't play". Why the hell not? My mind screamed, but instead I said, "yes I can" and looked at Mark for support. "No way!" some of the boys shouted, "She really can't play - she's a girl!" Thank you, genius - I'm sure you'll make it all the way to law school with logic intuition like that. Again I looked to Mark. He looked at me a long time - almost to the point where I was uncomfortable - and then said firmly, "she can play". The other boys roared. "I said she can play" Mark said more firmly this time.

I don't remember feeling like I had defeated the guys. Instead I remember making a mental note never to ask them if I could play again. "She'll be on my team," Mark continued. I looked at him and said quietly, as the boys began to split into teams, "are you sure?" Now I felt bad; Mark had been put on the spot and I was feeling very singled out. "You're good enough to play. You're on my team". And so I played that time.

I can't honestly remember if that was the last time I ever spent recess with the boys, but I am sure it was one of the last times I played football. The shame I felt for being a girl was too immense for me to ever even approach the field again. I was embarrassed.

Years later, past the point in middle school where catching cooties is cool, I had two best girlfriends and a wolf-pack of boys to call my own. I was still somehow considered "one of the guys" but none of them mistook me for one. I dressed more like a girl and I am sure that my 34-D chest stood out fairly often. Though I was willing to throw a punch at the drop of a dime, the guys now also recognized that I was dating, crying, and wearing makeup (all of these, stereotypically girl activities).

The moment where I almost lost my wolves was when I co-founded a women's support group at the beginning of eleventh grade. The goal of the group was to strengthen ourselves through ourselves - one hand washes the other - to bring awareness to women's rights and related issues. We discussed sexuality, eating disorders, job opportunities, fitness, and raised money for breast cancer research. We didn't limit ourselves. We really just wanted to instill a sense of strength within the small independent school community.

The group, Women's Forum, was quickly renamed "the she-woman, man-haters club" - a remarkably un-crafty spin on The Little Rascals' "he-man, woman-haters club". My boys - the same boys who had pummeled me to the ground when I was eight - took tones of distrust with me and avoided me in the halls. I was a traitor. Or, more apparently - I really wasn't so completely "one of the guys". I was quite clearly "one of the girls" and not just any "girls". I was part of that "feminist" move - the movement that hates men. Spooky.

Aside from joking comments such as "hey woman! Go make me a sandwich!" most of my boys let the fact that I was busy thinking about women's rights slide. After a few weeks of at-arms-length, I was slowly accepted back into the pack. Or so I thought.

Apparently my little club had made more of a splash with some guys than with others. Nick. Nick and I had been going to school together since we were three and had pretty much always gotten along. Until biology, about halfway through junior year. We were working on a lab and I happened to have done the reading (a rarity) and Nick had not. We got into a slight tiff over a piece of information and I turned out to be correct. In a stream of pent-up, outraged consciousness, Nick growled, "just shut the fuck up you stupid feminist bitch. You should be dragged out into the streets and beaten with a club". My face burned. So this was it. This was what every guy had been thinking. This is why they wouldn't look at me for so long; because I was smart and aggressive - the same characteristics that made me a good football player were now dangerous. I was dangerous.

I didn't know how to react to that outburst at first. I think I left class. I went and found Jason - who'd always managed to stay my friend, even when he was sure I had cooties. He listened carefully and I realized that he was making sense of everything perfectly. The jokes about sandwiches really weren't funny, thoughts of creating a men's group called PMS (Packer - the name of my school - male support) was nothing to be proud of. He must have said something to the other guys because Nick's incident was not met with smiling eyes. To my surprise, the boys - my boys - sided with me.

Nick wasn't run out of town or stoned to death - nothing that extreme by any means - but it became very clear to the guys that maybe their first impression of the club was not accurate. That it really was just about women taking care of each other and had nothing to do with hating men.

Somewhere around then, the boy - my boys - let it go. "Sandwich" comments no longer followed me in the halls. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. The weight of being a misunderstood feminist! In my opinion, there are few things worse than being misunderstood. And that's what I've always been: misunderstood; from the time I was the girl playing football to the time I "became" a feminist. Even though my mother insists that it's our discomforts in life that help us grow (and I know she's right - she always is), being misunderstood is never easy.

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