As a small-town American girl where soccer is more of a ‘field-fairy’ sport* than a manly game, I was shocked the first time that I was talking about it to a group of people in Spain. I have played soccer since I was about 7, and while I am not a great player, I have always enjoyed playing the sport and the community that comes along with it. So imagine my surprise when I found out that girls in Spain (or Brasil, Portugal, Italy, etc.) don’t really play soccer. And those that do are mostly lesbian (it is not a requirement, obviously, but it is definitely something that people expect).
As a Sociologist, this is a really interesting cultural difference. As a person, I still don’t know what to think about it. I have never been super girly, but in the last few years I have started dressing more femininely and have been told that I appear ‘delicate’ on more than one occasion. So when I say that I play soccer the reactions are…interesting. People have legitimately looked me up and down and told me that they don’t believe me. Because I am wearing a dress and look delicate. And that blows my mind.
I currently play 7 aside soccer in a peña** with all guys because girls usually play futsal which is 5 aside on a concrete-like surface and I like playing a bigger game on turf (no, they don’t have grass here). That means that twice a week I meet up with 13 males to play soccer, and while I don’t think it would actually be that big of a deal back home, here it is weird.
If I run into guys I play soccer with outside of the peña, I am usually wearing something flowery or pretty, and when I am introduced as the girl that plays soccer with them, their friends look at me funny. If I tell people that I play with a group of guys here they look at me funny, they normally ask me if it is mixed and then laugh when I say I am the only girl. I almost feel like I have to defend myself and say ‘HEY THIS IS NORMAL FOR ME’ because here it’s not normal. And that makes me sad.
The same sort of thing happens with other sports too, such as basketball and rugby. The girls that play are expected to be masculine and, as crass as it sounds, lesbian. And no matter how much I try I cannot wrap my head around this idea, especially thinking about the girls I played with my whole life who range anywhere from super feminine to somewhat masculine.
At the same time, I want to say that the time I have played soccer here, both with girls and guys, has been amazing and is something that brings a smile to my face. It is a great way to make friends, and once you are in a group of people who make it fun, it is an amazing way to get some exercise and disconnect from work or school. I also recommend going for beers when you are done as it is another good way to connect 😉
I love the group of guys who I currently play with. They respect me as a person, don’t judge me too much as a girl (although when substitutes come to play I still get the odd look every once and awhile), and are generally amazing people. One person at a time I feel like I am sharing the idea that anyone can play soccer, no matter how you define yourself gender-wise or your sexual-orientation. <3
* I want to recognize that I really appreciate all of the guys who played soccer back home – they are awesome in every field-fairly sort of way possible <3
**A peña is a group of people who meet up regularly to play some sort of sport in a not-super-competitive way. My peña is one group and we split into two teams to play soccer.