I know that many people look at the world today and see it as a volatile place. I’m more or less the definition of a standard-issue, Starbucks-loving, nonreligious, straight white girl, so obviously, my life hasn’t been riddled with the kinds of difficulties faced by those who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, skin color, religion, gender identity, what have you. I am very fortunate, in that regard – and I am fully aware of that.
But in the wake of the “Me Too” movement, I realized that there are some experiences in my past that have affected me and have influenced my behaviors around members of the opposite sex. You can say you’re tired of hearing about these “Me Too” stories, but it’s always going to be relevant, and if people have a story to tell, then they should tell it. I only recently told this story to my parents, and they were shocked that I hadn’t told them about it before, so I thought it might be therapeutic to get it off my chest. However, if personal stories aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to pass on reading this post.
I played on a coed soccer team when I was around seven or eight years old. We had three coaches – my dad (the best one, and no, that’s not bias speaking), one of the other dads, and a bald guy with a beard who I will call “Frank,” for the purposes of this story. Basically, it was a bunch of kids in green shirts running around occasionally kicking a ball in the right direction. One kid never took off his parka. We were terrible. I later had a briefly successful venture into more competitive soccer, but this was my first year playing, and nearly my last.
There was a kid on the team named “Sean,” also a fake name for the purposes of this story. Sean played defense, I played offense. When we had scrimmages during practice, and I found myself opposite of Sean, he would waggle his eyebrows at me and pull his shorts up to show me his underwear. My reaction to this was to basically make a “WTF” face, because why on earth would I want to look at his Scooby-Doo undies. He did this fairly often. I didn’t engage with him. I gave no indication that I wanted him to do that. I said nothing to him. I was there to play soccer, and that was it. That sort of unwanted attention was uncomfortable for me. I’m certain my father never noticed him doing this, or he would have for sure taken that boy to task.
As mentioned before, we were not good. We were, to put it bluntly, dreadful. We lost most of our games, but really, when you’re that young, the purpose is to have fun and to learn, not to wreck the competition. Two of our coaches understood that we were spindly-limbed novices still learning how to play the game – Frank did not. Frank treated U-8 soccer like it was the world cup.
One day, after a particularly rough loss on our home field, I was walking to the bathrooms (a generous term, as they were really a pair of port-a-johns) when I overheard Frank talking to some of the parents. He said, with malice in his voice, “Allie flirts with all the boys!”
I stopped walking, because I couldn’t believe it – and I didn’t understand. First of all, I didn’t know what flirting meant. Frank sort of clarified it, as he went on to claim that I distract all the boys so they can’t focus on the game. He accused me of being the reason we lose games, the reason for the poor performance of the boys on the team. I assume this mainly meant Sean, the underwear showing weirdo, but he said, “all.” I thought boys still had cooties at that age, so I didn’t understand where that accusation came from. I wanted to score goals – I wanted to be a good player. I went to practice to play. I wasn’t doing anything intentional to “distract” the boys – if I spoke to them, it was usually about cartoons or Pokemon cards, and only at breaks. But Frank’s words hurt; they made me feel terrible and I went into the foul-smelling port-a-john to have a nice cry.
I look back on that now, and I see it as a middle-aged man blaming an eight-year-old girl in pigtails for the poor performance of a U-8 soccer team. I was a child who did nothing wrong, and yet, my existence was a reason for his ire. Even though I was being paid unwanted attention by a male player, it was my fault that our team was terrible. I was made to feel guilty, to feel responsible, to feel… ashamed. And for what?
I know it looks tame compared to many of the other stories – and thankfully, it is. There have been a couple of other instances in my personal history, but those are not stories I care to tell at the moment. But this event from two decades ago had a profound impact on the way I interacted with boys for years. I didn’t want to be blamed for any male’s shortcomings, and I also developed a steep distrust for male authority figures that I have only recently begun to get over. I generally avoided the attention of boys/men for the next, oh… fifteen years. And it’s something I still grapple with, twenty years after I was sent crying into a portable bathroom by the overheard accusations of an incensed soccer coach. I know that it wasn’t my fault, but I also won’t deny that there was long-lasting damage done to my psyche that day, which I have only been able to unpack and process over the last couple of years.
I hope that this movement – the “Me Too” movement as it has been called – will help other girls, boys, men, women, and anyone else who has been affected in a similar way, cope with what they’ve gone through, regardless of the severity. I know that hearing others speak up about their experiences has made me more comfortable with sharing mine, and I can only hope to do that for someone else out there.