As a female, when I have tried to play games and sports in the past, people of all genders have been horrified when I have tried to win by using competitive tactics at these games.
During Badminton all girls PE class at secondary school, I remember playing a half court singles game against a female friend of a friend. This girl was very cheerful, pleasant and smiley. I had invited her round for tea before and she had invited me. She liked to wear girly looking clothes and loved to pleasantly chat to people. I knew that I had to gain points in the round robin match because this would affect my final grade. I wanted a good grade in PE so I tried my hardest to win as many points as I could. This of course meant that I had to direct the shuttlecock to places within the court where the girl wasn’t. She served the shuttlecock. I pointed at with my non dominant hand so that it was in my line of sight. With swift and careful aim and intense concentration, I did a smash shot with my racket that deposited the said shuttlecock onto her side of the court right by her feet. She stood there stunned. Her eyes wide with the whites showing, her mouth half open. She was trembling. With some effort she stuttered:
“Stop hitting the shuttlecock so hard! Why didn’t you let me hit it back?”
Another close friend of mine looked at me, utterly terrified. Her eyes wide. She said:
“Please stop hitting the shuttlecock so hard [insert my name here]! You look really scary! Your eyes. What has happened to you?”
“Why are you striking warrior poses and glaring at people in the middle of the court?” someone else on the bench asked: “Snap out of it! Earth to [insert my name here]! You’ll take all of our eyes out and bruise us all if you keep hitting the shuttlecock so hard! You’re dangerous! Calm your b*****s down and smile. Stop being so violent! Listen girl. Take some deep relaxing breaths.”
“It isn’t a warrior pose, I was just lining my racket up to take aim. I am trying to play badminton. I am trying to win the game,” I said truthfully.
“Why are you being mean to her?” Someone else asked: “What did she ever do to you? Why do you glare at people with your eyes like you’re possessed when you walk onto the court? It’s only Badminton for crying out loud! It’s only a game. Stop taking it so f****** seriously! Why are you acting so meanly? This isn’t Kung Fu you know! Why are you being such a bully?”
“She is my friend,” I said: “I haven’t hit her or hurt her at all. I aim the shot where she isn’t. I am sorry but this is just how I play badminton when I concentrate. Sorry if my playing offends you, but I am trying my best to get a good grade.”
“Stop hitting the shuttlecock over my head where I can’t reach it!” said the girl looking quite upset: “It just isn’t fair that you don’t let me at least hit it back! Why aren’t you letting me hit it back?”
“But…” I said exasperatedly. I was now beginning to feel guilty for inadvertently scaring the girl.
“You’d better stop hitting the shuttlecock so hard and so high at us or we’ll tell.” someone else said: “You’re being so unreasonable.”
Some of these girls would make fun and parody how I stood on the court. They’d say:
“Ooh look at my fighting stance!
Ooh look into my scary glaring eyes!
Ooh look I’m going berserk!
Ooh I’m gonna hit somebody hard!
Ooh rocket attack shot! Hiyaa!”
Weirdly, these girls would congratulate me when I won games and would cheer, but they seemed terrified of me when I stopped smiling and played competitively. They thought I was a threat to them. They called me “violent” and “scary” whenever I did excellent fast shots. I don’t think this would have happened if I had been male in an all boys PE class. Likely some of the boys would have told me to hit even harder and it would have been a non issue.
I don’t play badminton any more. I have gained quite a lot of weight and feel depressed. I feel sad that I didn’t have good support growing up in sports and I felt bad for “scaring” my female friends.
Perhaps the moral of this story is to offer kids some non competitive options in PE like juggling or Zumba for those kids that just want to have some exercise. That way, those kids who enjoy competing can get on with it. I like non competitive activities too by the way. Juggling would have been fun for me also.
Later on, when I was an adult woman, several people offered to play me at chess during a support group. I concentrated intently on winning the games and strategising. Several of the group leaders told me that I should smile more when I played because I was a “sweet girl”. Some people said I was being nasty and mean (after several traps, pawn promotions and queen sacrifices). One of the men swore at me when I took his pieces and claimed I was cheating. I got someone with Scholar’s mate and she looked surprised and said:
“Is it really over already? Isn’t there any more?”
I was repeatedly told to “play nicely with your friends”, to get “higher self esteem” and to “stop being so miserable” when I played chess. It was annoying as heck. When I had my concentration face on, people thought that I looked “scary” and “miserable”. I don’t hear of many men being told to smile when they play chess. It is a strategic war game. It is a battle of wits between two people. It is about winning and losing. It isn’t like the “okie kokie” or “ring around o roses”.
I did a face-palm when two female group leaders told the two men playing “battleships” to “play nicely”. Yes, people should play by the rules, but “nicely”? The game is about sinking your opponent’s ships!
Oh dear we’d better not hurt anybody’s feelings by actually being “competitive”. We need to protect their “self esteem” by playing pacifistic battleships where “everybody wins”, nobody loses and no fictional ships sink because that’s “horrible”. I think that’s what those female group leaders would have wanted us to do. They didn’t understand the point of chess or battleships and seemed disturbed when I captured other people’s pieces from the chess board. They thought I was being mean to people when I was trying to win the game.
Maybe we should have all just played pass the parcel instead.
I mean give me strength!
Some people are scared of women who concentrate intensely on winning in sport. People expect women to smile all the time and be “nice”, even during competitive games. Men aren’t expected to smile all the time: they are just expected to play to win and “fight their way to the top”.