Growing up in Texas was a blessing; growing up an ambitious little lady in the South was a fucking nightmare. There are infinite stories I could tell about all the times I felt inferior because of my gender growing up, but there’s one that I’ve always kept to myself.
I remember in the second or third grade when my entire class had a field day somewhere with infinite places to play (Relax, I was like eight, I don’t remember all the details.) We were with our teachers and a few parents who came along as chaperones, and as soon as we were let loose, everyone literally ran around screaming our heads off, or at least I did. I was so excited to be able to do whatever we wanted that day that I believed the possibilities were endless. Since I loved sports and didn’t know too much about baseball (even though I kicked everyone’s asses at wiffle ball during P.E.), I figured I would run over to the baseball field, where the boys were huddled up around a dad with a big smile giving instructions.
I stood there, about to throw up from excitement because I’d never been on a “real” baseball field before. And as I stood there, I was getting more and more pumped up while the boys talked strategy (“Chris is the fastest. What should he do?” “Mark is fat, put him behind home plate.”), until I slowly realized that standing around was the only thing I would be allowed to do. There I was, standing on the field next to the guys I thought were my friends, realizing that everyone was tiptoeing around me, trying to leave me out of the game. Fuck that! I went to the dad that was pointing all the other boys to their positions, waiting for him to acknowledge me. He didn’t. Then someone shouted that the game was ready to begin. I finally decided to pull on the dad’s pants leg to get his attention, and even he ignored me. I gave him a final tug strong enough to show him that I wanted to play, or that I was at least strong enough to pants him in front of everyone. He finally looked down at me, squatted so we were at eye level, and he said, “Girls don’t play baseball. Run along and play with the other girls.”
And that’s the story of why I never “got” baseball, our country’s greatest pastime.
Wait, it’s also the story of how in the second or third grade, I decided that gender roles were bullshit. My eight-year-old brain wasn’t capable of putting it so eloquently, but even I could see that the reasoning behind “girls don’t do what boys do” was absolute nonsense. Did I stand on the field for nearly 20 minutes, holding back my tears because I couldn’t play? Most definitely. I consider it my first stand as a feminist. I don’t like having regrets, but I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time picturing what should have been my response. If I could do it all again, I’d sophisticatedly spit in that dad’s face – think Rose in Titanic – and take my place at bat. If anyone else on that field tried to tell me again that girls don’t get to play boys’ games, I would push the long, flowing, curly locks of hair out of my face, turn to them and say, “This isn’t a real baseball game. Shut the fuck up.”
That’s what should have happened. That dad should have given me game-related instruction, not eject me from the stadium. We were a bunch of eight year olds running around high on sugar and pure adrenaline, not professional athletes about to play the deciding game of the championship series. What was the point in shaming me away? I’m positive that that dad had good intentions, but if he had taken a moment to consider the larger consequences of his actions, or at the very least how it would effect me and my developing brain, he probably would have done the same thing, because in the South girls are expected to go to tea parties and cotillions, to distract them from having their own dreams or aspirations. Regardless, I’m glad that was my first major experience of being restrained from doing something because of my gender. It was just mild enough that it didn’t convince me to stick to the things that only girls get; it was just harsh enough to plant the large idea that inequality between men and women was wrong into my tiny brain; it was just humiliating enough to stick with me for years and years and motivate me to challenge any gender role bullshit.
I’m not going to apologize for being born without the all-powerful Y chromosome. I’m not going to apologize for not having a penis. I’m not going to apologize for loving sports or being ambitious. I’m not ashamed of being a woman, and I shouldn’t be expected to be. Take that, dad and friends on the baseball field sometime in the late nineties! You may have been successful in getting me off the field that day, but you were also successful in turning me into your worst enemy, your biggest nightmare: a girl that’s just stupid enough to believe she deserves the same opportunities.
– Maria Acabado