Can a princess play soccer? At Girls in the Game, we want young girls to be themselves, to express their individuality and to find their voices. But does this extend to wearing princess skirts while playing soccer?
Every Saturday I take our 3-year-old son to soccer. As we get ready to go, he always makes sure he’s wearing his “soccer clothes,” his blue shorts and shirt that make up the uniform of the program. Keep in mind, he’s 3 and this is not a competitive soccer league. They don’t play games and there is no practical reason for the kids to be wearing uniforms. But for Patrick, the uniform is important. It tells him that it’s time for soccer. It signifies that he’s part of a team, led by his Coach.
While I may find it funny that the kids run around stomping on bubbles and pretending the soccer balls are food for the hungry hippo waiting in the goal, Patrick doesn’t see a difference between his weekly soccer games and the many sporting events we attend for his older cousins. His uniform is an important part of that.
Soccer is co-ed although the unfortunate trend is that there tend to be more boys than girls in the class, even at this age. But that’s a subject for another day. We’ve been going to soccer for about a year and I noticed early on that while the boys almost always wear the full uniform each week, blue shorts and the blue shirt, girls often wore only the shirt and paired it with pink, ruffle skirts or taffeta skirts that matched their usually sparkly shoes. Sure, they look adorable but should that be the point?
I’m all for letting kids choose their own clothes and I often ask Patrick what shirt he wants to wear that day but I don’t give him the choice on Saturdays. When it’s time to get ready for soccer, he wears his soccer clothes. I don’t know the parents’ reasons for not dressing their daughters in the full uniform but I worry that by doing so, even at that young age, we are already setting it up so that girls aren’t taken as seriously in sports as boys.
I’m fully aware that it doesn’t really matter what 3-year-olds wear when they play soccer. The uniform doesn’t make them run faster or kick the ball harder and I’m pretty sure the little girls’ flouncy skirts don’t put them at a competitive disadvantage on the field. But subtly, it starts setting them up to think that what they look like and how they dress matters, even when they are playing sports. Sure, they can play hard, run fast and get sweaty, but it’ll be even better if they have a cute headband on and make a sassy statement with their socks at the same time.
We’ve probably all seen old pictures of female athletes wearing long skirts to play basketball and in A League of Their Own the storyline addresses how the professional female baseball players needed to wear short skirts so that their careers as ball players didn’t compromise their femininity. That should, and does, make most of us laugh.
Nobody wants to go back to the era of constricting attire and the belief that femininity needs to be preserved. Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and the respect they deserve, both on and off the field. But there is still a long way to go. You could argue that girls should be taken seriously as athletes no matter what they are wearing. And you’d be right. But unfortunately that isn’t the case and adapting her first soccer uniform to make it cute sends the message that looking cute on the field matters.
So we’ll ask again. Can a princess play soccer? Of course she can. But she probably shouldn’t wear her princess dress while she’s playing.