Every Sunday, women from all corners of the globe gather on a grassy field just beside the aged walls of the Château de Vincennes in Paris, France. Dressed in pink jerseys, they call themselves “Wispies”, and can give any guy out there a real run for their money! This is WISP (Women’s International Soccer Paris), a non-profit all girls club co-founded by Jennifer Hart in 2009. WISP welcomes experienced, competitive and newbie’s alike, all in the name of the love for the game.
Soccer has long been a passion of mine; a great way to stay in shape, relieve stress and make friends. I also credit the sport for turning me into a team player and teaching me valuable skills in leadership and communication. In the States, it was always easy to join a team of girls or co-ed pick-up games. When I moved to Paris in 2002 I searched desperately for a team, thinking it would be a great way to make friends and burn off steam, but most French friends looked at me like I had three heads when I told them I was looking for a soccer team. I soon discovered that while in the United States it is extremely common for women to participate in the sport, in many parts of the world, women playing soccer is regarded as an unwelcomed anomaly. As Sociologist Michael Messner points out, sport is traditionally “a cultural space for performing masculinity and rationality as opposed to femininity and irrationality -qualities that are culturally associated with women” (McKay, Messner & Sabo 2000). Excluding women from this public space perpetuates oppressive gender practices and discourses, reinforcing male dominated power structures and limiting women’s engagement in the public sphere.
Last week at our Wisp practice, I saw a little girl of about four or five stop on the sidelines with her parents to watch the “girls play”. We often have bystanders linger for a few minutes, some cheer, some stare and some jeer, but this time it felt a little different. That’s when I realized: with every match played, WISPIES are challenging the cultural politics that keep women off the field and dispelling pejorative stereotypes about the women who are already on it!
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