For several years, from roughly age 8-13, I played softball in an all-girls summer league in my hometown. The setup was probably small-town typical – we were separated into “12 and under”, “13 and over” groups and sponsored by local businesses, so that the fields were filled each night with hordes of girls, with caps and gloves and scuffed sneakers, wearing shirts emblazoned on the front with team names like “Paul’s Pizza” or “Pioneer Lumber”.
This was a Big Deal Formative Experience – organized sports, as we all know, teach girls about important stuff like self-esteem and the value of exercise and the Infield Fly Rule and Saving It For Marriage… or so they say. Unfortunately, my team was populated less by girls who were in need of some exercise and self-respect, and more by nightmarish Queen Bees who were already perfecting the behaviors that would qualify them for Regina George status once we all hit high school. I will never, never ever, forget the afternoon that Emily Johnson announced to our group of enthralled 11 year-olds that she wasn’t allowed to wear bike shorts or leggings anymore.
“You can’t? How come?” we asked.
“Because I’m developing,” she said. “My mom says I can’t wear stuff like that ‘cause it’ll show off every curve of my developing body.”
“Huh,” we said.
“Of course,” she continued, looking straight at me with narrowed eyes and total disdain, “some of you guys won’t ever develop.”
The rest of the girls backed away from me and tittered.
I went home that night and cried, convinced that I was a freak who would never grow any tits.
(I’d like to say that Emily grew up to be fat, or got knocked up and never graduated, or that she herself grew up to be a freak without any tits. But of course, life’s not fair that way.)
(She was, like, maybe a little bit fat, though.)
(And I actually did, eventually, grow some tits.)
Anyway, aside from it having been a breeding ground for cattiness of all kinds, softball was a good influence for one enduring reason: Due to the combined efforts of those coaches and my super-determined dad, I do not throw like a girl.
For awhile, I kinda had no idea about the “throwing like a girl” thing. I went to an all-girls prep school until 8th grade. And even though some played ball better than others, there’s one thing for sure about a gym class of thirty chicks—everybody throws like a girl. Because, y’know, that’s what we were.
Then, in 1993, The Sandlot came along and clued me in:
You bob for apples in the toilet, and you LIKE IT!
And a couple years later, when I transferred back into public high school and got myself a boyfriend, I found out the truth: that every pickup ball game, gym class, or backyard catch session was more than just good, clean, American-Athletic fun—it was a battle for the reputation of ball-playing womanhood.
“What are you doing?” I’d call to the High-School Boyfriend, who was always edging closer and closer to me whenever it was my turn to throw the ball back in his direction.
“Just helping you out,” he’d call back, continuing to creep toward me with his glove outstretched.
“What? No! I don’t need your help, move it back!” I’d yell, hurling the ball toward his head as hard as I could.
Later on, drinking iced tea in the kitchen, he’d try to be nice about it.
“You know, you’re not bad,” he’d say.
“Hmph,” I’d reply, still miffed.
“I mean,” he’d continue, “for a girl.”
At which point I would fume over the injustice of it all, pound the table, call him an asshole, and then decide not to break up with him just so long as he didn’t start telling me that I’d never develop.
So I wasn’t surprised when, playing catch with Brad in the park last weekend, I started to feel a little bit tense. We found an open spot on the grass, put on our gloves, and backpedaled away from each other to create an acceptable throwing distance.
He stopped about twenty feet away from me and tossed the ball my way.
I caught it.
“Keep moving back!” I called, still walking backward to widen the gap between us.
Brad looked incredulous.
“Really?” he said.
My head started to feel hot.
“Yes, damnit! What, you think I can’t throw it that far?”
“Chill out,” he said, backing up.
I threw the ball to him. He caught it and snapped it back to me, in that effortless guy-way that says, I knew how to do this when I was a fetus. I was intimidated.
“Further back,” I said, glowering.
“It’s not fun unless we’re throwing it further!” I yelled, beginning to feel a little bit hysterical. Brad looked amused, but took a few more steps back.
It was at this point that I realized the position I’d put myself in: Throw the ball well, and I’d prove that I wasn’t unjustified in demanding the extra distance. Throw it badly, and I was undermining not only my own skills, but proving every negative stereotype ever voiced about girls and their inability to play ball. Anything less than a perfect throw-and-catch, every time, and I was single-handedly bringing the feminist cause to the ground.
I took a deep breath and threw it back.
Brad caught it.
“Alright, that one had some heat on it,” he said.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
We played catch for another hour. I accidentally threw it in the dirt a few times, and I wasn’t brilliant, but hey-- I did okay. A few old men (the last remaining demographic on earth to get a little novelty-kick out of a girl wearing a baseball glove) stopped and watched us throw. Eventually, growing bored and wanting beer, we packed it in and started home.
“Sorry about being squirrely,” I said as we pulled off our gloves. “It’s just hard playing catch when you’re a girl. It’s like, it isn’t just about you throwing and catching. You’re there as a representative of girls everywhere, and then if you fuck up, you reinforce every bad thing people think about girls not being able to throw a baseball.”
“It’s ok,” said Brad. “You did good.”
“Really? Yay!” I said, feeling completely vindicated. Because, after all, guys know about that stuff.
As we started for the park exit, one of the old men who had been watching us play waved and gestured to me.
“Hey, you! Maybe you oughta play for the Yankees!” he shouted.
“Oh yeah?” I called back, riding on a cloud of athletic accomplishment.
“Yeah,” he said. “They suck this year!”