Women’s Soccer and Stereotypes

Women’s Soccer and Stereotypes

Hats off to the U.S. women’s soccer team that just pulled off an amazing 1-0 victory over Brazil to win gold in the Olympics!

(And in the heart-stopping extra 30 minutes of overtime, no less.)

Somehow, the Americans’ gutsy, swarming defense managed to thwart the powerful Brazilians, led by Marta whose control of the ball was very scary to watch if you were rooting for the U.S. I was afraid the Americans would get worn out chasing Marta and others whose seemed to be able to thread in and out of traffic with impunity.

Brazil was on attack and kept the ball in the U.S. half of the field most of the game. It reminded me (though not quite as bad) of a match I watched a few years ago: Brazil v. Iceland. Poor Icelanders. The ball was in the Icelandic half maybe 89 of the 90 minutes. They could have sold seats for a few hundred people to sit in folding chairs on the Brazilian half of the field, and it would not have interfered with the game.

Today, the U.S. spent most of the game chasing first-name-only Brazilians like Marta, Renata, and Erika, and got only two or three real shots of their own – but managed to drill one past Barbara, the diving, outstretched Brazilian goalie, to score the only goal. Wow!

For writers . . . (oh, right, the focus of this blog) . . . it’s worth noting that in Spanish (I was watching on Telemundo) is called something like Fútbol Femenina (Women’s Soccer).

Feminine football?

In the English language, while women’s refers to the gender, feminine traditionally refers to a set of expected attributes, a deep-seated pattern of acting differently from men.

How many of us unconsciously adopt that assumption when creating female characters? Do we expect our best women characters to act differently . . . to be more emotional, romantic, weaker, indirect, indecisive? And if they act otherwise, are they assumed to be not-so-positive or odd characters? Indeed, that’s often the case . . . in novels.

But what if the real world is changing? What if we allowed women in novels to be like women in soccer: strong, confident, focused, playing by the same rules as the men?

What if their behavior was just situational, that they employed strategies of “feminine wiles” only when they wanted to (not because it was somehow bred in the bone)?

Of course, age, culture, upbringing, and past experiences play a role. And we’ll want to create strong and successful women characters, yet also others that try and fail, and others more weak and flawed.

But in the end, if you want to craft some powerful women characters, I’d suggest you get out and watch a women’s soccer match. Then go write . . . with a broader vision of what it means to be feminine.

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