Last week, FIFA, the international soccer federation, recognized Christine Sinclair as the greatest goal scorer ever. Period. Male or Female.
Astonishingly, although she has been shortlisted as FIFA player of the year seven times, she has never won that recognition, despite playing in five World Cups and four Olympics (bringing home two bronze medals and a gold). This year, she didn’t even make the final cut.
It was almost two years after she broke the record. She scored her 185th goal in international play back in January 2020. She now has 308, along with 53 assists. She scored her first goal in her second game as a member of the Canadian national team, when she was just sixteen.
Over twenty years later, she is still going strong, playing with both her Portland professional team and the Canadian team. And she is not done. In addition to plans to play at the next Women’s World Cup in 2023, and committing to another two years with Portland, she is pushing for a professional women’s soccer league in Canada. Canada is the only FIFA top 10 ranked country without a professional women’s soccer league.
A pro league wouldn’t solve all the disparities between the men’s and women’s games. But as Sinclair explained just after that gold medal win “We’re hoping that this platform will give us the opportunity to start that change and plead to Canadians that have the ability to make the difference to invest in women. The young little kids, they deserve to be able to go watch their heroes on a week-to-week basis and not [just] every four years.”
Starting a league, or even a team, takes a lot of resources. I get that. But I also note that soccer is the most popular team sport in Canada, with over 750,000 participants in organized programs. It ranks among the most popular sports for girls, and as long ago as 2012, more than 360,000 females played the game (41% of all players).
Approximately 4.4 million Canadians tuned in to watch that gold medal game in Tokyo, making it the most watched event of the Games. It seems to me that there is an audience. I, for one, would love to follow teams regularly, instead of a World Cup of Olympics tournament every few years.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is an enthusiastic watcher of World Cup and Olympic soccer, and looks forward to catching a live game when the Men’s World Cup comes to Canada in 2026. She still regrets missing the Women’s World Cup sole Ottawa game in 2015.
Recently I saw the everydayfeminism.com cartoon, How Society Polices Women’s Clothing (No Matter What We Wear), in which illustrated female figures engaging in various life activities (i.e. working-with-clipboard, relaxing-with-guitar, clubbing-with-clutch purse) are each critiqued for what clothing is worn. I had noticed, however, that none of the women were depicted wearing sports clothing.
This is not to say that women’s athletic apparel escapes cultural policing. For instance, women’s clothing for tennis and beach volleyball seem increasingly revealing and sexy, while already revealing women’s clothing has become athletic apparel, such as in the lingerie football league. In the 21st century, women athletes (particularly those who have achieved celebrity status) are tasked with demonstrating excellence in both athletic performance and sexual attractiveness.
In direct contrast, my current rec league soccer team jersey is far from sexy, especially after I have totally soaked it in the heat of an outdoor summer game. My jersey has white accents, but is mostly Wizard-of-Oz-Emerald-City green. On the jersey is printed the league’s insignia and the number 12 (not even my favourite number). Its style is almost totally generic. Aside from my rainbow socks and matching headband, I’m sure I must blend in almost entirely with the grassy green soccer pitch.
But I have come to identify profoundly with my jersey. On Sunday nights, number 12 green is me. An hour before game time you will find me frantically looking for my jersey like it’s a (well-hidden) treasure. When I arrive at the field, my heart begins to race when I see my Emerald City green-wearing teammates already warming up on the sidelines. (There’s no place like home!)
My only other soccer jersey (purple, number 18) is equally un-sexy with me in it, but on this jersey our fun and slightly sexy team name is on the front of it: “Chicks with Kicks.” My green team name, by the way, is “Femmes of Fury.” So while as sports clothing my jerseys aren’t explicitly gendered or sexualized, the team names still manage to adhere to the formula of suggesting both (aggressive) athletic performance and (sexy, objectified) femininity.
In fact, there are websites dedicated to listing such team names for women. On one site, top-rated women’s team names include the “Pink Fluffy Monsters” and the “Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers.” Cute, right? But the performance-attractiveness formula emerges again, suggesting that women must be rough-aggressive and passive-feminine. Of course, this is not the case for every women’s sports team. Samantha has reflected in another FIAFI post on soccer team names bearing gender neutrality in favour of referencing activities like drinking and middle-age onset.
I tend to regard my team names and sports apparel as emblematic of 21st century mainstream feminism: the “radical” feminist power of our all-women team uniform, a liberal “girls are as tough as boys” attitude, and 3rd wave “fierce-but-still-fashionable” accessorizing (i.e. the afore-mentioned colourful socks and headbands) that expresses our individuality amidst our uniform-ity.
It’s not that I dislike “Femmes of Fury” and “Chicks with Kicks,” per se. But do I wonder about how these team names risk re-inscribing feminine-otherness, even as they invoke girl-power assertiveness. Do men feel the need to ensure their sports team names follow such a similarly gendered formula?
My questions for FIAFI readers: What do your team jerseys look like, and your team names sound like, and what do they mean to you? Do these “fearless feminine” team names still suggest that feminine attractiveness still matters as much as athletic performance? How might such team names resonate (or not) with non-cisgender or gender-queer players?
Sundays this summer have been super busy. They start with rowing, usually a row around the lake at 830 am, with the London Rowing Club’s masters group. It’s about a 12 km trip. (See Lake Fanshawe above.) And typically Sunday has been ending with soccer. Tonight our game was at 8 pm, complete with lights. Autumn is definitely upon us.
Sometimes I get a nap in the middle but today was busy all day through. Between rowing and soccer I went to the Aikido picnic in Port Bruce, got groceries, and walked the dogs. No naps for me.
I considered missing soccer but when I voiced that plan to my kids they said back to me things I’d said to them in the past about teams, commitments, and how I was probably mostly hungry, not tired. So they fed me vegetarian lasagne and sent me on my way to the game.
Nothing screams women’s recreational soccer quite like the team names: Cougartown, Leather and Lace, Chocolate Martinis, Goal Diggers, Victorious Secret, the Ball Busters and so on….
I’m just back from our Sunday evening game and we had a terrific time. We’re the Rockettes. We won 2-1 but I’d like to think I’d be almost as happy with the game if we’d lost 2-1. It was a closely matched game, everyone worked hard, we passed lots, and we had lots of tries on their net.
I’ve been playing soccer with women from my neighbourhood for a few years now and I love it even though I’m not a particularly good soccer player. We play indoor rec league soccer in the winter and outdoor in the summer.
This is very much recreational soccer, friends playing for fun and fitness, and we struggle a bit with finding the right level of competitive play. As Tracy noted in her post The Competitive Feminist competition can be tricky matter among women.
A few years ago we switched from an all ages league to masters soccer (35 and older) for the summer. We were tired of being out run by 20 year olds who were winning, not necessarily in virtue of being better players, just by having younger legs and lungs. The masters league doesn’t even track scores. There’s a ref who keeps score, among other things, but we don’t write the scores down and there’s no end of season playoffs for the outdoor season.
That’s fine. For the most part it works well. I can tell you that we won the first two games and then lost the next three but who’s keeping track really? 🙂
Occasionally though things go awry. Two weeks ago we played a team that has been together for more than a decade. We were clearly outclassed. Lots to learn from their passing and handling and ball control. I kept counting heads because I was sure they had more players on the field than us and once you start doing that you know you’re in trouble.
Time after time, I watched them set up and score on our net. I play defense so this stung.
But it’s what happened once we discovered the mismatch in abilities that bothered me. They continued on, as if it were a competitive game, and demolished us. No holding back. It turns out that this team also plays in a competitive league and they use our recreational league as practice. That bothered me a lot.
Quite a few of the women I play with got into team sports through our children and so we’ve watched our kids learn to handle this sort of situation. When one team clearly is set to win against another, coaches advise the players to use this as an opportunity to try new things. Once ahead you can put players in different positions. Give your midfielders a chance to try playing forward and shooting on net. Maybe move some of your Ds up to midfield so they can do more running. This team did none of this.
Now some people defended the much better team. They weren’t doing anything against the rules. And that’s true.
But ethics and etiquette goes beyond the rules. So too does goes sportspersonship.
Does good sportspersonship require you to play differently once you’re far out in the lead? It’s controversial but some people think so.
“The Indianapolis Star reports that Arlington made two single free throws in the second and third period — that was the extent of the school’s scoring. The rest of the night’s points went to Bloomington South as the team continued to pile on even after they had the game well in hand.
“I didn’t tell my girls to stop shooting because that would have been more embarrassing,” Bloomington South coach Larry Winters told the Star. “We were not trying to embarrass them or run up the score.”
Arlington head coach Ebony Jackson said Winters should have shown more sportsmanship and limited the scoring late in the game.”
For me, the larger issue is using a recreational league as your practice game. Competitive teams don’t deserve a spot in recreational league play. Even if we can’t forbid them, ethically speaking they ought not to do it.
Ironically, this wouldn’t have happened in our winter, indoor league which does track game scores and organize play offs. On the basis of the first few weeks of play, teams are sorted into three groups and you only play teams in your range.
For the most part I love the body I’ve got and while I aspire to being leaner, more fit, faster, more powerful, that will all be a bonus. Really, even my ‘get leaner’ goals are cast in terms of being kinder to the body I have now.
I feel like it deserves better treatment.
When I express the view that I love my body–it’s me after all, not a home improvement project–many people are surprised. They think it’s remarkable you can be overweight (fat, big, whatever) and still love the body you have.
Often what I think is truly remarkable about this is that it’s my attitude that stands out as noteworthy. I’m always shocked at the number of people–almost all of them women, almost all of them lots smaller than me–who are ashamed of their bodies. And I mean really ashamed, unhappy to the point of tears, and to the point of not doing things they might want to do but can’t do because they think they aren’t thin enough. Only thin people deserve nice things and exciting experiences, according to this world view.
But here’s another anecdote. It will be sadly familiar to almost every woman reading, I think.
After a hot sweaty summertime soccer game, one of my teammates offered us all a field trip to her backyard pool. Swimming pool, snacks, and fruity drinks, post game. Count me in. Yes.
I drove to her house, ripped off sweaty soccer duds and threw on a bikini and ran to the backyard and jumped in the pool. (Yes, I wear a bikini. Started once I realized the plan I had as a twenty year old–I’ll wear a bikini when I get skinny–was based on a vitally flawed assumption. Also, I have a long torso, regular bathing suits don’t fit, and it’s pain to get them off to pee. And yes, I know the trick. But I like bikinis. Not tankinis either. I like unreconstructed belly baring two piece bathing suits. So there.)
But lots of my soccer friends hid behind towels, put clothes on over their bathing suits which they didn’t take off til the edge of the pool, and almost everyone had to make some self-deprecating comment about how bad they looked in a bathing suit. (I was tempted to mention Tracy’s solution but I’m not that brave so I didn’t.)
So I didn’t have the full blown body positive evangelical conversation with my soccer team that night. We chatted a bit and then moved on. But when I do feel drawn into these conversations–usually when it’s my turn to make a self deprecating remark and I refuse–here are a few of things I say, context depending:
1. My body, our bodies, are amazing things. I love what my body can do. This body thrived in pregnancy and childbirth, can bike 100s of kms, can lift a lot of weight, etc etc and so focusing on what it looks like, as judged by mainstream standards of beauty that I reject, seems to look past the most important stuff, the truly miraculous bits about our bodies. (Read more about this here.)
2. Being thin doesn’t seem to help with body shame either. Often it’s my thin friends who are the worst, especially as we age. It’s like they’ve never had to think about these things, to worry about how they look, until now. And I’ve been thinner too and I haven’t felt less anxious or less self conscious at a smaller size. In a weird way it’s worse. In the game of looks, I’m then ‘in.’ and it matters more. Better to be outside of those beauty norms all the way maybe.
“I’m typically not bothered much by traditional standards of beauty and whether or not I match them. Life’s too short. We all die in the end. The people who care about mainstream beauty don’t much interest me much anyway so why should I be concerned with what they think?
“We all die in the end anyway” might strike you as a gloomy thing to think or say. But really once you adjust to that big piece of bad news everything is small potatoes. It’s quite liberating. The joys of philosophy.”
4. And I usually thank the people in my life with whom I’m closest and I say thanks to to the queer community of which I’m a small part. Why that last one? Why the queer community?
To be clear it’s not the ‘hippie hairy herbal tea drinking love your body 70s lesbian feminists’ I’m thinking of, though knowing some of them in my teen years probably didn’t hurt. It’s the ‘queer deliberately outside mainstream beauty norms but still someone’s cup of tea sex positive queer community’ I’m thinking about.
Think ‘kink inclusive, trans inclusive, gender deviants welcome queer community’. And no, it’s not a perfect world. Still lots of work to be done especially on race and on disability. I know.
But the queer community is mostly where I’ve enjoyed learning about the specificity and details of our desires and attractions.
Tracy and I were amused recently to see that someone found our blog searching for “women with big tits wearing neon green bras.” I posted that one on Facebook and one friend commented “neon green?” and another just “bras?”
How is this connected to body positivity and loving the body you’ve got?
Think about it this way, it doesn’t make any sense to think about being attractive simpliciter. What exactly would that mean? There’s only attractive to particular people.
Whatever you look like I can assure you there’s someone out there who thinks that thing that you have is THE thing to which they’re attracted. In the world of the internet there’s probably even a group for women with big breasts who like to wear neon green bras and the men and women who love them.
So when friends say. I don’t look attractive when I’m this size, my first response is to wonder to whose standards they’re appealing. Who is the person who would like them but doesn’t because they’re too fat?
Mostly when straight women say they just want to look attractive they mean to look attractive to men. But still I wonder, which men?
The desires of men who like women are far more diverse than the world of men’s magazines would ever have you believe. Men whose desires don’t fit-maybe they like hairy legs, or women with crooked teeth, or they’ve got a thing for women with glasses or women in their fifties on motorbikes –are hurt by gender role stereotyping and hetero conformity too. Don’t believe me about the diversity of heterosexual male desire, read John DeVore‘s The Types Of Women That Really Turn Us On over at The Frisky.
There are men who like fat women, men who like muscles, women who like bald men, men who like men who are really hairy, women who think men wearing socks with sandals are the hottest (okay, maybe not that one) etc. My point is that it’s a wild weird world out there in terms of attraction.
Once you start thinking this way you realize that men who like skinny 18 year old blondes just have a particularly boring, mainstream fetish*. You can kind of accept it, yawn, and move on. Oh, right, youth. Hmm. He likes thin women. That. That’s his thing. Ho hum.
You can even work up to thinking, in an amended version of a common phrase, your thing is not my thing but your thing is okay, and move on.
And if that’s all he likes, you might even feel sorry for him for leading such a narrow, limited life in a world rich with possibility.
And yes, I know this is isn’t the whole story about body image and insecurity. Often it’s our own standards we don’t live up to. And queer people can struggle with body image as well. But to the extent that it’s about worrying that someone will find you attractive, I urge you to put that worry on the shelf, close the door, and say goodbye.
What’s the connection between loving the body you’ve got and fitness? That’s the subject of a future post.
*A footnote, in a blog post, sorry. I debated whether or not to use the word “fetish” here but I decided to stick with it. We typically use “fetish” to mean a sexual taste or predilection outside the mainstream. He has a foot fetish. She has a fetish for popping balloons. Whatever. But the fetishization of youth and thinness is so mainstream as to disappear from our view. It’s what’s normal against which other tastes are judged. I think it’s time for that to end. Let’s, non-judgmentally, call the preference for youth and for thinness what it is.
Fridays are my new rest days and I’m liking it. I’m a bit of a weekend warrior (running, cycling, rowing, soccer, AikIdo!) and it’s nice to start out Saturday fresh. Traditionally I’ve rested on Mondays–post weekend–but now I’m doing Crossfit that doesn’t quite work with my schedule.
I’m looking forward to a weekend of active fun. I’m doing test review in Aikido and I enjoy the intensity and focus of that process. My indoor soccer team plays our 3rd game Sunday afternoon and so far we’ve lost one and won one and I’d like to kick the stats back into our favour.
I’m especially happy today that it’s a rest day because I did a bit more than I bargained for on Thursday. Crossfit included rowing and then rowing practice included weights. Too many deadlifts!
It’s also a sleepy, grey rainy day with snow in the forecast.
What does this mean for me? First, I get to sleep a bit later (though not this morning, spouse’s early morning train to Toronto alarm woke me up, followed by a phone call from teenager at basketball practice who’d forgotten a much needed item.) Second, I try to eat very well on recovery days, lots of protein and colourful veggies. And third, I do keep moving but just regular stuff like walking the dog, housework, stretching etc.
In the spirit of feeling good about rest and recovery days, I thought I’d read some other women fitness bloggers on the practice of rest days:
It’s November and I’m gearing up for the start of the indoor soccer season. I’ve been playing recreational soccer for a few years now with women from my neighbourhood. The success of women’s soccer is phenomenal. Many of us didn’t ever play as children and we learned the rules by watching our kids compete. Now it’s our turn!
We play both the indoor and the outdoor sorts of soccer and while I love being outside, I prefer the indoor game.
Our league plays indoor soccer in hockey stadium with astro turf over where the ice would usually be. It’s a short field–which I like–and that makes for much faster play. Also, for extra fun, you had use the boards for rebounding the ball. And in indoor soccer, you can switch players without a pause in play and so when things get really busy we sometimes play 5 min, 5 min off.
I love playing on a team and I wish I’d learned about this earlier in life. There isn’t a lot in my past that I regret. I’m just not the “regretting” sort. Mostly I treasure the valuable stuff, try to forget the bad, and if there’s lessons to be learned from mistakes I’ve made I try to learn them and move on.
But as an adult-onset athlete I do occasionally regret that I didn’t discover my athletic self earlier in life. When I was growing up there was still the split between “smart” and “sporty.” You could be one or the other, but rarely both. I was definitely the bookish sort. I loathed gym class, team sports, and especially the Canada Fitness Test (on which I scored Bronze every single year.)
And I didn’t play team sports at all. For a short while I took figure skating classes (good brand new Canadian that I was) and I remember trying T-ball as a child. I did some swimming classes along the way but I think that might have been it other than casual outdoor play, walking to school, swimming in oceans and lakes, and bike riding with friends. Not bad, but not particularly athletic either.
I had also an idea that I was a chubby child. I joined Weight Watchers for the first time in Grade 6. I still remember how much I weighed when I stepped on their scale, 133 lbs. At the time I was the tallest kid in my class and I don’t think I was that much shorter than I am now. My parents meant well. They wanted me to avoid the lifetime of weight gain, and dieting, that’s plagued other family members. But now I look at back at Grade 6 me and think there was nothing that a little sports plus growing a few inches wouldn’t cure.
Sometimes now though I watch teenage girls playing rugby and wish that were me. I’ve ridden with several groups of women cyclists and I really loved racing as a team. There’s a community and a camaraderie in team sports that I didn’t know existed. I love that each person has strengths and weaknesses and working as a team means you find a way to contribute the thing that you do best.
I do wish that schools did a better job of encouraging children who are not particularly athletic to be active (yoga, dance etc). I wish we did a better job with individual, rather than team, sports for children. I’m thinking here of running, biking, swimming, etc. With girls, I’m glad our idea of appropriate sports is getting more broad. There wasn’t rugby for girls when I was growing up. But I also wish in my own case that I’d discovered how much I love team sports when I was younger. I might have avoided a lifetime of dieting! But more importantly, there was a good that my life could have contained that it didn’t.