Starting two Sundays ago, I began playing on a local men's team, FC Carrilera. Two of my co-Team Leaders, Techo (to my right in the above picture) and Cesar (to my left) invited me to come play on their team. I was flattered that they jumped through so many loopholes to get me on their team. I am the only girl in the league.
I played in my first game with them this past Sunday. Techo invited some of our players to come watch and one of my players did and walked with us to the field. "You are playing with the boys?!" she asked wide-eyed. When we arrived, I was called to and heckled by several spectators..."You are going to be the goalie?!" one man asked with a mocking smile.
I can't say I played my best game (final score of the game 2-2) or that I wasn't I little taken aback by how much faster many of the guys were than I am. The whistles and cat calls and shouts in my direction were also not lost on me. Playing in a very competitive game was exciting, but being what I presumed to be the first woman, Nica or otherwise, to step foot in this league, felt special, despite the crowd (or maybe especially considering the attention from the crowd.) My thoughts were confirmed as my player watched intently from the sideline from start to finish, waiting with high fives at each break.
Am I a pioneer woman playing in a men's league or am I just a random girl who happens to play goalie when they needed one? I am not sure if my presence on the team will have any sort of lasting impact, but I thought a lot about how me playing on this team relates to our organization and our mission, particularly given the presence of my player at the game. We endeavor to empower girls in all facets of their lives. Yet we separate them from their male peers. And often for good reason. An organization for only girls gives them a space that is just their own and the opportunity to succeed in a male-dominated society. But the reality as it stands right now is that it is still a male-dominated society and of course it is a society, like most where males and females coexist, unlike the environment of SWB programming
What is coolest though is when females are taken out of the pristine SWB safe space and put in a space with men and they succeed in an even bigger way. When a girl like me is able to play and keep up with a boys soccer team, that says something to my players and to girls at large, but also to all the guys. Likewise, when my Estrella team beats a boys team, as they did this past Friday, they are making a statement, not just to themselves, but to the boys they beat.
This statement of "We can and we will" has been made by women the world over many times, but ought to be made many, many more times. Because women's empowerment is not a women's issue, it's an everybody's issue. And the way this world will progress is by tapping into the power of women.
I hope my girls winning last Friday was one of many such statements in their lives. I hope in some way they take a self-belief with them, beyond the field... to the classroom, to their relationships, and to their jobs.... And I believe they can and they will. I know they face and will face so many obstacles in their lives, but I am optimistic that, particularly as our program develops, we can help give them some tools to surmount them.