One Brave Girl's Fight to Play Football Exposes the Absurd Reality of Gender Stereotypes

Source: AP
Source: AP

Nearly two years ago, the Internet exploded in outrage after a Philadelphia Catholic youth football league decided to ban 11-year-old Caroline Pla from playing alongside her male peers. Despite Pla's six years of co-ed experience, the organization reinstated a sexist rule banning female players from the full-contact sport. But Pla wasn't going to go down without a fight. Petitions were signed, Ellen DeGeneres got involved and, in March of 2013, the Philadelphia archbishop officially decided Pla's genitalia shouldn't prevent her from playing the sport she loves. 

That is, until the league decided to reverse its decision — again.

Source: YouTube

It turns out that the archbishop's 2013 decision was "provisional," meaning the bishops of Pennsylvania reserved the right to change their minds, something they did in a July 2014 meeting, according to Yahoo Sports.  

The hypocrisy of this flip-flop aside, what is perhaps most outrageous is the reason the archbishops gave for keeping Pla off the field. According to Yahoo Sports, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Education Department released a statement noting that football wasn't a proper activity for a good Christian girl:

Preparation for Christian adulthood likewise involves the development and encouragement of appropriate, dignified and respectful forms of contact between male and female students. The [archdiocese] therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its effort to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact. Consequently, the [archdiocese] has adopted this policy prohibiting co-ed participation in the following sports: wrestling, tackle football and tackle rugby.

This is the same statement that officials gave previously to ban boys and girls from wrestling with each other. 

The archbishops, however, forgot who they were dealing with. Just as she refused to tacitly accept her relegation to the sidelines in 2011, Caroline is not about to take this latest blow sitting down. The now-13-year-old football player and her family have launched a petition on Change.org. Their goal? To not only contest this particular sexist decision as an illegal Title IX violation (the league receives federal funds), but also to support "girls around the country who want to play" so that "girls today and tomorrow have the same opportunities that [Caroline] did."

Caroline Pla on the field
Source: 
YouTube

Caroline's struggle is a real-life example of the ways that gender stereotypes hurt children, especially girls, who are told that their behavior must adhere to standards of modesty and gentility. The idea that girls are inherently weaker than boys should have been discarded years ago, along with similar notions (like pink being a feminine color and that women aren't good at science). It's too bad the Pennsylvania archdiocese is choosing to perpetuate such ideas, rather than working to empower young girls (and boys) to become leaders and innovators in their own right. 

On the other hand, it's inspiring to see a young woman ardently fight for her rights, as well as the rights of others. Like Mo'ne Davis and countless other trailblazing female athletes, Caroline Pla is redefining the phrase "playing like a girl" — from sexist cliche to empowering compliment.  

h/t Yahoo Sports

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Julie Zeilinger

Julie Zeilinger is a staff writer at Mic as well as the founder and editor of The FBomb (thefbomb.org), a feminist blog partnered with the Women’s Media Center. She is also the author of "A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word" and "College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year."

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