“She’s the Best One Out There”

Ben Kassoy

Ben Kassoy

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Ben Kassoy has written for the websites of Elle, GQ, Women’s Health, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Maxim, Details, and a host of others. He is also the Editor-in-chief of DoSomething.org and the coauthor of eight books.

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4 Comments
  • Justin Etkin

    1 month

    Great piece Ben. Right on the money as always.

    I think Hollywood had successfully picked up on a theme that was sweeping the country in the early to mid 90s: there were more girls playing sports at this point in history than ever before. And boys all over the country were growing up in a world where girls were not only playing the same sports as them, but often surpassing their athleticism by leaps and bounds. Almost all team sports in the 8-11 age range were co-ed: youth soccer in the spring, basketball in the winter, and fall ball in the fall. Every one of these seasons presented opportunities for boys to realize their inferiority to the faster maturing, confident female counterparts.

    I don’t know about you Ben, but there was nothing more attractive to me as a 8 – 11 year old than a girl that was better than me at sports. How could we forget about Jessica, my first crush. She was a faster sprinter than me, could do more pullups than me, and had a better mile time than me. And I was head over heels for her. 8 – 11 year old boys have a funny way of expressing affection, though. I typically went the taunting and mockery route, a defense mechanism developed to preserve my fragile sense of self in those troubling years. Pre-pubescent me was just too darn confused to know how to handle this conundrum: I love the girl that’s better than me at sports, but I hate the fact that she’s better than me at sports. A real doozy, that one.

    In D2: Mighty Ducks we certainly see the boys confronting the same struggle as my younger self. Goldberg, in particular, appears threatened that Julie will take his spot, but also undoubtedly attracted to her skill between the sticks. Hollywood recognized how many young boys out there were attempting to balance their athletic confidence and psychological vulnerability, and gave that internal strife a face. It belonged to Julie “The Cat”. She was athletic, confident, and beautiful and made the boys question a lot about themselves.

    Shifting to one of the all time great soccer movies, She’s The Man (side note: Amanda Bynes manages to pull some outrageously baller shit in the movie on the field). Here’s an example of a girl confused about her representation of self. She’s clearly got game, but will her crush like her if she beats his ass in soccer? This question alone shows how the role of women has progressed in sports. Now, it isn’t surprising that girls can beat boys at the same game, we’ve all seen enough of that in our lives for it to be fairly believable (although even Messi wouldn’t stand a chance against the superhuman talents of Amanda Bynes). The new theme centers around how should girls balance their love and skill in sports with society’s perception of what men want in a female partner. That’s some pretty serious cultural development over 10 years.

    • Ben Kassoy

      1 month

      Jet!

      Thanks so much for this dynamite response. Because I think in bulleted lists:

      “I think Hollywood had successfully picked up on a theme that was sweeping the country in the early to mid 90s: there were more girls playing sports at this point in history than ever before.”

      _Totally! And not just at the little league levels: the WNBA started in 1996, Mia Hamm was one of the most famous athletes on the planet, and the US Women’s National Team took home the World Cup in dramatic fashion (hello, Brandi Chastain in 1999)._

      “I love the girl that’s better than me at sports, but I hate the fact that she’s better than me at sports. A real doozy, that one.”

      _Oh, 100%. Holds true now. It’s impressive and frustrating and titillating and emasculating._

      “Goldberg, in particular, appears threatened that Julie will take his spot, but also undoubtedly attracted to her skill between the sticks.”

      _How much do you think Goldberg shows that and how much do we, the viewer, project ourselves onto him? It’s interesting that they don’t say much about Goldberg’s relationship with her, which seems kind of cordial? One semi-related thing I’ll never understand: Connie and Gui are the hot couple throughout. But then their relationship kind of disappears throughout the movie, and in the championship game when Connie is about to be bulldozed by an Iceland goon, it’s Dwayne who hops off the bench and lassos him down, saving Connie. Where is Gui during all this? And what’s the story with Dwayne and Connie?

      “The new theme centers around how should girls balance their love and skill in sports with society’s perception of what men want in a female partner. That’s some pretty serious cultural development over 10 years.”

      _Great point. And great movie, too! We definitely see that in Little Giants and, because the kids are older/more mature, even more of that in She’s the Man. I first watched the movie in college for a Shakespeare class; it’s a modern take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which, beyond tackling gender roles, takes a really deep dive into identity, sexuality, and queer relationships. In both the movie and the play, there are innumerable layers of gender and sexuality: girls pretend to be boys, boys are attracted to girls pretending to be boys, girls are “transitioning” from boy to girl and then back to boy. (Also, there’s another layer, because in Shakespeare’s day, all the girl parts were played by boys, so you have boys pretending to be girls pretending to be boys who are liked by men pretending to be boys.) It is queer and perverse and fun and welp, I think I’ve got my topic for the next story.

  • David Gern

    1 month

    Great read Ben! So many powerful points and totally agree with Justin on being attracted to girls who were better than me at sports. Even a general interest in sports is an incredibly attractive trait. Sadly, I think men too often view women who have such qualities as manly or unattractive. They will accept and revel in their friendship but often nothing more. In fact, women who are physically strong and athletically gifted are seen as enemies rather than allies. Ben cites an example that perfectly captures this when the Iceland players in D2 inform Julie the Cat that they’ve sent “a woman to do a man’s job…don’t break a nail.” Their fear is palpable. They wouldn’t feel the need to trash-talk and intimidate if they didn’t see Julie as a legitimate threat who must be held in check. I myself am comfortable knowing that there are so many women who are physically stronger than me and more athletically gifted. My own girlfriend will absolutely smoke me in any race that is more than a mile. Some men might think that if a girl is better at sports than them, their manhood is diminished.

    I understand that both men and women are quick to ascribe traditional gender roles in which men are bigger and stronger. And while that may be scientifically more common, that shouldn’t render the notion of a stronger and more athletic woman taboo. But I think men show tremendous insecurity and weakness when they deny that women can be just as capable when it comes to sports or any other aspect of life. It’s dangerous to automatically associate femininity with daintiness and masculinity with physical size and strength. After all, I would argue that in some way, we all fall short of these traditional gender roles. For instance, Ben is a phenomenal dancer and I’m a pretty strong hula-hooper which are both typically skills that society attributes to women. I also know women who have a very high alcohol tolerance and are great athletes. Does that really make them manly?

    I also wonder whether the message of the above movies–that women and girls should be on an equal playing field when it comes to sports– is clouded by the fact that the female characters are attractive. Would we still root for these women and girls if they were overweight? I think many movies tend to cast unrelatably attractive actresses (and actors). And as Ben observantly points out, too often films portray these same attractive women within the framework of their relationship to men as “mothers, sisters, and love interests.” I think this does a disservice to women who, regardless of attractiveness, have a dignity and a value that is equal to and independent of any man.

    One other great film example that finds the intersection of sports and feminism is Remember the Titans (I know I used this movie as an example in my last post but it’s just so good). Like many of the characters in the above movies, Sheryl Yoast is a female character who is able to influence the outcome of a male-dominated sport. She is the daughter of the team’s assistant coach who towards the end of the movie astutely observes that the defense (coached by her father) “Ain’t doing nothing against that shotgun.” This prompts her father to demand that his team “blitz all night. If they cross that line of scrimmage, I’m going to take every last one of you out. You make sure they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans.” While Sheryl is clearly the catalyst for this strategic and motivational half-time speech, I actually think her shining moment occurs much earlier in the film when she endorses head coach Herman Boone’s tough training camp. He chides, “well I’m very happy to have the approval of a five-year-old.” She retorts, “I’m 9 and a half thank you very much!” Boone then appeals to her father and suggests that he get her some dolls to play with. He responds with a hint of resignation, “I tried…she loves football.” Sure enough, if he had forced her to play with dolls and forfeit her interest in football, the team most likely would have lost in the state championship game. But the more important point here is the irony that Herman Boone himself was initially deemed unfit to be the head coach of the Titans because he is black. Just as men attempted to stifle Sheryl’s interest in football purely based on her gender, whites similarly attempted to quash Herman Boone’s head coaching opportunity purely based on his race. But Herman Boone nevertheless successfully supplants a white head coach with a clear track record of success and support of the white community. He does so not by shunning him, but instead by bringing him along for the ride as the assistant coach and defensive coordinator.

    Ultimately, that inclusive act motivates the white and black players of this newly integrated high school to come together as friends, teammates, and equal partners catapulting the team to an undefeated season and state championship. But it’s worth remembering that no matter the outcome, the film’s message of racial and gender inclusion must win out.

    • Ben Kassoy

      1 week

      The TEAM!

      Thanks so much for such an insightful, eloquent, and thorough(!) response — and thanks also for your patience on mine. So much to respond to here, but I was mainly struck by this:

      “Just as men attempted to stifle Sheryl’s interest in football purely based on her gender, whites similarly attempted to quash Herman Boone’s head coaching opportunity purely based on his race. But Herman Boone nevertheless successfully supplants a white head coach with a clear track record of success and support of the white community. He does so not by shunning him, but instead by bringing him along for the ride as the assistant coach and defensive coordinator.”

      First of all, great call on Sheryl and “Remember the Titans” in the first place — I completely overlooked that, and you make an excellent point. The second great point, above, is the parallel of Sheryl’s being written off on account of her gender (and age, too) plus Boone’s being written off as account of race. Just as the town, the team, the assistant coaches learn valuable lessons from Boone, Boone (more subtly) learns a valuable lesson from Sheryl. It really speaks to the intersectionality of all this; beyond race and gender, in your comment you also call out body type: the forces that oppress one group are the exact forces that oppress all others. The source of racism, sexism, ableism, fatphobia, ageism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, etc. are all the same, and I’m glad that a group of straight cis white guys can have this conversation (even in the context of a silly post about old movies). After all, it is our responsibility.

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