My Favorite Part
One of the best and most difficult aspects of journalism is the interview process. It’s a challenge because while it is up to you as a journalist to get your interviewee to speak openly, the responses the person offers back may not be what you need.
I was fortunate to interview so many amazing women while conducting my study on impressions of female athleticism in high school and college. I received so many answers, and I was surprised to find some of them did not even notice how successful female athletes are described on highly masculine terms until I asked if they noticed or if such language bothered them.
Other women believe they were not stereotyped as female athletes, nor do female athletes face oppression now, and while I disagreed with much of what they said, I was fascinated by their impressions.
Confessions of a Former Athlete
While my study does use some of the quotes from my interviewees, much of what they said did not make it in, but I would like to share the Q and A I did with Sarah Gistenson, UI senior and former lacrosse player.
Aubrey Huff (me): How did you feel about lacrosse before you started playing?
Sarah Gistenson: That women’s lacrosse was like field hockey, meaning that it wasn’t a “real sport” or that it was a sport for girls who don’t really do sports.
AH: Did those impressions change after you joined the team?
SG: Yes, my impressions changed. I realized that it is actually challenging and requires the same sort of athletic abilities and skills as other more mainstream sports
AH: Like what?
SG: It required a lot of intense practice and speed as well as strategy.
AH: How was lacrosse received at your school?
SG: As a women’s sport I felt that it was not taken seriously. It did not help that we had just started this sport at my school my freshman year of high school, and also that we had to wear skirts for our uniforms. This notion of not being a “real” sport was enforced by the fact that we rehearsed in the extra field by the parking lot instead of having a real practice space.
AH: You wore skirts to play? What was that like?
SG: Yeah we did. It was…uh…breezy. (laughs)
AH: I bet. How do you think female athletes are defined in the athletic community?
SG: I think that women athletes are put into two categories. One, they are defined as being masculine or like men or two, they are not taken seriously and the sports that they participate in. They are seen as lesser versions of men’s sports, gymnastics or softball for example, when really they require the same amount of talent and skill.
AH: Which category did you fit into?
SG: A little of both. Lacrosse was hard, and players were not delicate, but like I said, we weren’t taken seriously.
AH: Did these impressions hinder your ability to view yourself as an athlete?
SG: I felt like an athlete but I did not feel that other people viewed me this way for a lot of the reasons I said before. We were a new sport, and also, compared to men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse is much less aggressive and has much stricter rules about contact, and I think is therefore seen as a diluted version of the men’s sport.
AH: What are some other impressions of lacrosse that you noticed while playing?
SG: I think that this sport is an example of the two categories that women are put in. In general, I think that the players are stereotyped as being “butch” or masculine and as having anger issues. For example, at the end of mean girls they order Regina George to play lacrosse to work out her anger issues and it shows her hitting people with her stick. But at my school, like I said, it was seen as a “girl’s” sport and wasn’t really taken seriously as a legitimate sport.
AH: How did you and your team disprove these generalizations, if at all?
SG: I think that as a team we disproved these generalizations by getting people to come watch our games and by improving year after year and going to tournaments.
AH: Do you feel women are treated differently from men in the athletic community? How so?
SG: Definitely. For women I don’t think that being athletic is seen as an asset, whereas with men not only is it an asset but it’s something that they strive for. When you are a woman nobody really cares if you have a talent for a particular sport. Also, for women the prospect of continuing in the sport is not necessarily talked about or encouraged. For example, it is much more acceptable for a man to go to college to play a sport than for a woman. For women sports is not seen as a future.
Sarah had such a strong voice as a devoted athlete. She was the first of my interviews, and I enjoyed her passion and understood her frustration. What surprised and delighted me the most about this project was though each female athlete possessed differing opinions, their all had a desire to assert the strength and athleticism of women in the sporting community. It is women such as these that make me believe change is possible.