OPINION: A soccer field is not the place for chivalry, girls will never be respected if they don’t earn it

Is chivalry dead?

Written by Greta Hyland

A few weeks ago I read an article in St. George News where a father bemoaned letting boys and girls play against each other in soccer because the boys can’t play “full throttle” with girls because they might hurt them and that as a result, the boys don’t play as well when they play against other boys. I about came out of my skin when I read it, partly because I completely disagree with him, and partly because what he explains is inconsistent with my observations and experience. I’m not sure if the coaches are telling the boys to be careful with the girls and so they really are being held back, or if this is just the father’s perception/worldivew, but it is worthy of discussion.

It is an interesting world we live in where we hear phrases like “What women want,” and “Real men do…” as if there is a one-size-fits-all category that both fit into. It is a very simplistic version of men and women that ignores the many shades of gray that exist in both. Does a woman want a man to treat her well? Heck yes. Does she also want to be respected as a person? Yes, absolutely. Could figuring it out be confusing to men? Yep, but it doesn’t have to be. I think the reason it’s confusing is because we are ignoring social change and progress.

Chivalry is not dead; it just isn’t needed as much. Chivalry was a code of conduct for knights. That code dictated that they consider the responsibility of their position to protect the weak; women included. Somehow over time this has translated into how men should treat all women all the time. But I believe that chivalry is really for the man who is interested in a woman beyond friendship. Love should dictate protection, much the way love dictates parental protection. In other words, it is a special relationship that should determine how a boy treats a girl. There is a time and a place for it.

This should not, however, be confused with common courtesy. But this applies to both boys and girls. Everyone should treat people with dignity and respect. Women can open a door by themselves and they can open doors for others. It is a polite and nice thing to do. I don’t believe that opening a door for a woman is the epitome of chivalry. Helping you when you can’t do something yourself is though. But again, that is not the sole responsibility of men. There are things men need help with too, though they may not admit it. Treating women/girls as the weaker, softer sex has devastating ramifications for both sexes. Are males and females different? Yes. But how we perceive each other is not inherent, it is learned. When we push that narrow view onto children, intentionally or unintentionally, they learn it. Let me explain.

I will stick with the soccer scenario since I have all boys and coincidentally, they all play soccer, and they have all played girls. The first time my youngest played soccer he was the only boy on the team. I was worried he wouldn’t play because of it, but he didn’t bat an eye. He didn’t care that his team was all girls, he cared if they won – and he was on a kick-ass, winning team. When a boy from an opposing team of all boys started laughing at him for being the only boy with a bunch of girls my son replied, “We are beating you.”

And while my oldest has not been on a team with girls, he routinely plays girls. The first time his team played girls the boys did hold back, not sure how to play them, and they got stomped. The girls’ team cleaned the field with them because they were playing timid soccer. My son gave me an exasperated look and raised his arms asking what to do. I told him to play; play as if there were no difference. 

As the game progressed I watched the boys slowly start playing those girls for the competitors that they were. They started playing aggressively because they knew they would lose if they didn’t. I watched both boys and girls duke it out on the field, both fell down, both got kicked and tripped, both got hit hard with the ball, and all of them kept playing. In fact, the girls were more aggressive than the boys. The game never got stopped and not one of the girls cried, quit or had to sit out. They just brushed it off and kept playing. It was impressive. At the end of the game my son said, “Man, those girls are good.”

When the boys played the girls as if there were no difference, they learned to respect them, not for being girls but for being athletes. A soccer field is not the place for chivalry; it is the place for competition and sportsmanship. How will boys ever see girls equally if they are always taught to treat them differently? But even more, how will girls ever see themselves as equals if they are never treated as such?

So how do we treat girls equally? We treat them in a manner consistent with the situation. If they are on an opposing team, treat them like opponents. If they are co-workers, treat them like they are competent workers. Don’t ever assume that because she is a girl she needs to have everything done for her, that she doesn’t get it, that she isn’t smart, and that she can’t beat you. It is the best thing in the world for girls to learn that they can do it, and the best thing for boys is to realize the same. And when they do, the result is respect. But it’s really not boys who need to learn this, it’s the parents, because parents are the ones who instill many of these handicaps and stereotypes.

Should boys respect girls? Yes and always, but they don’t need to be acting like male suitors on a soccer field. When a boy is old enough to like a girl, then his actions should reflect the love, attraction, and admiration he feels for her. That is the time to treat her differently, because she is different. She is the one he likes above all the rest. It then makes sense for him to open doors, compliment, or be “softer” around her.

As for soccer, if a boys’ team beats the girls team every time, then the boys team is the better team. But when the girls team beats the boys who are playing “full throttle,” they will have earned it. Playing teams that are better makes the losing team better. If a girl expects special treatment on the field because she is a girl, it is like cheating; she is only hurting herself. If a boy gets chivalrous on the field, he deserves to have that weakness used against him by girls willing to take advantage of it to win the game.

Going easy on girls or compensating for them instills incompetence and dependence and leaves girls insecure and unsure of themselves. So should boys and girls play against each other in contact sports? If the girls are willing and can, yes. In life as in sports the girls deserve be treated as the situation warrants. They should be treated as if there were no difference. It is the ultimate demonstration of respect because respect is earned and if she can hack it, she will have earned it, and both she and the boys will know it. 

Greta Hyland has a Masters degree in Environmental Policy & Management and has worked for the BLM and the NPS as well as for non-profit organizations. She is a regular contributor to the Utah Adventure Journal and is the Copy Editor at the Independent. She writes regularly on her blog about environmental policy issues affecting the southwest, as well as personal narratives about outdoor recreation and simple living. Her blog can be found at www.thesouthwestjournal.wordpress.com  A Utah native, Greta is a consummate desert rat and loves exploring the southwest. She can be reached at [email protected]