A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in a sports store on a Thursday night, where a young father wanted to buy skeelers for his daughter. He could choose between the white and pink ones, or the ‘tougher’ ones in black and red. When he found out that the former were no longer in stock in the size he was looking for, he was disappointed. ‘I really need the pink ones, because it’s for a girl…’.
Before I could stop myself, I said ‘Well, sir, that depends on what kind of girl it is!’ Smiling, I thought back of all those times my parents took me took McDonald’s, and that when the cashier asked what kind of toy I wanted in my Happy Meal, they replied ‘It’s for a girl, but she prefers the Action Man!’ The young dad in front of me was clearly not very happy with my comment. Without answering he walked away, undoubtedly on his way to a different store, one that did have the white and pink skeelers in size 5.
Pink for girls, blue for boys
This experience, innocent as it was, is unfortunately no rare incident. From very young age on, kids are told which colours they’re allowed to wear, which sports they can play and which movies they’re supposed to enjoy. If you, much like me, grew up as a girl, but would rather wear blue than pink, spend your free time playing soccer in the mud, and prefer Bend it like Beckham over the next romantic comedy with Chad Michael Murray as dream hunk, you quickly turn into an outsider. ‘Act a little more like a girl, for a change!’ I often got told.
Princesses and dragons
Of course, the times are changing. Where my parents used to get strange looks if they said their daughter played soccer (‘And you guys are okay with that?’), these days it’s considered perfectly normal that a young girl wants nothing more than to be as good as Alex Morgan. But the prejudices and expectations haven’t changed. Take a look at your average toy store catalogue. The girls’ department? Princesses, dresses, make-up and crafts. And the boys’? Swords, dragons, construction and cars. And don’t you even dare liking something from the ‘other group’.
But there is hope. Slowly, initiatives emerge that aim to break these barriers. Voices, that yell as loud as they can, that it’s okay to differ from that norm. Boys can like pink, and girls can be tough. One of these voices in the world of women’s soccer is Liona Soccer. The clothing brand, founded by former national team player Leonne Stentler, is there for exactly that group. The girls with mud in their hair, scraped knees and that are always found at the local soccer pitch. I was once one of them, and that wasn’t always fun, in a world that told me over and over again that I would be better off wearing dresses from time to time, so I’d fit in a little more.
We’ll show them
‘Ladies, time to kick some balls’, is Liona’s slogan. I love it. It’s like we, and this is me speaking for all the girls and women around the world playing soccer, finally get to say ‘And now it’s our turn. We’ll show you what we can do.’
Thinking back to that man and his skeelers, I might have to make my title a little more nuanced. Of course there will always be girls that genuinely love pink princess dresses and boys that enjoy nothing more than climbing trees. I just hope that step by step we can work towards a society in which kids that do not fit that old stereotype feel like they can be themselves. And initiatives like Liona are vital in that development.
Everytime I read Liona’s slogan, I chuckle a little. Come on, soccer girls around the world. Make that sliding tackle in that deep puddle of mud. Fall to the asphalt when you’re in an ultimate attempt to prevent an opponent’s goal on the school playing ground. And don’t let anyone ever tell you that that’s not okay. And when they do… Kick some balls!
Thanks for reading, talk soon! 🙂
Photos © Els Coolen.