The Untitled IX

Lianne and me at our RCDEspanyol practice field. Rare day shot prior to late practice

Having spent nine hours on a bus, one night in a hotel, and three hours waiting in the airport, I was hoping I would have much more to report after our away game in Bilbao.  It was my first official game as an Espanyol player, as my papers were finally processed after missing two games.  Sadly, there is little, if anything, to be said about the game.The result speaks for itself; a 4-1 loss at the hands of Athletico Bilbao and its dedicated fan base.  It is here I must give a shout out to the Espanyol fans that drove all that way to see us bow in defeat.  You are a great group of individuals and we are disappointed to have let you down.  Lo siento.

Lianne and I have been in Spain for three weeks now but we have observed more than many do in months.  If you come to a foreign country as the only English speaking players you are exposing yourself to serious culture shock.  Although you may want to test the waters with your toe, you are thrown in the deep end and forced to tread.  It is sink or swim, baby, and there is no other way around it.

Last blog, I was sensitive not to compare the gender differences in America and Spain because I did not feel like I had amassed enough information and/or experience to weigh in on the issue.  Three games, 20 practices, and hundreds of interactions later, I am ready to analyze, speculate, and share my findings.

Being a member of the WPS for three years and a female American athlete for my entire life, I feel I have often taken Title IX for granted.  I, and all of those who came after me, never experienced the real struggles women faced to be recognized as legitimate sports figures.  The generations before me with the likes of Mia Hamm, Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, really blazed the trail in gender equality.  I was one of the lucky ones who reaped the benefits of all their suffrage (i.e “Battle of the Sexes”).

I have admitted many times before that the United States is not a country that boasts a strong soccer culture, but I could never admit that my sport-loving nature was not encouraged from a very young age.  That must explain why America is able to produce some of the world’s greatest athletes.  It is nurtured, promoted, and now, expected.  We can run fast, jump high, and move mountains with our strength.

As someone who considers herself a woman of the world, I have come to find this attitude to be quite unique.  Further proof is established during my time here in Spain.  The women are always the last on the field.  We practice from 9:30 – 11:00 at night and we chased off by an electricity bill that forces the lights to go pitch black at 11:05pm. (Lianne tells me the same is true in England – a European thing?)

Lianne and I are the only members of the team lucky enough not to have to go to school, put in eight hours on the job, or practice their “real” trade during the day.  These girls are like machines.  They wake up early to, for instance, study medicine, as two girls on the team do.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to study medicine let alone study medicine and play soccer at a professional level all at the same time.

If you are an avid reader of this blog, then you know my stance on quality over quantity.  I strongly believe focus is the key to greatness.  I quote Malcolm Gladwell when I say that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything.  It is not without this extreme dedication that one is at his or her best.  So why do these girls spend so many hours off the soccer field? Is there not a desire for soccer expertise?

Answer:  They have to.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  The concept of opportunity cost cannot be ignored.  The more hours these girls spend juggling a soccer ball, the fewer hours they have to dedicate to an occupation that really has a “future” (where they can make money and a name for themselves).  I can honestly say from having played in the WPS for three years, the pay is not great, but one is able to live off of it.  Here, the money is even scarcer, and since it is a male-oriented soccer culture; the women aren’t even a priority in their own club.

In the WPS, the affiliation with the MLS is weak at best and most times, non-existent, making the women’s team the sole entity, and therefore, priority number one.  I have come to find that one’s perception is ones reality so if you perceive to be of importance, you WILL BE of importance.

It is imperative to note that all of the Espanyol players take their soccer very seriously; however, it is difficult to compete with an invisible foe.  That foe being the expectation that women were meant to watch sports, not play them.  It is a common occurrence to see women of all ages at soccer events (stress put on men’s soccer games).  It is a social get-together and do not sell these women short, they know much about the game and their passion runs deep.  There isn’t, however, a strong emphasis on participation.

With all this in mind, it should be of no surprise why women in Spain cannot play all day and sleep all night.  They must just try to survive, let alone thrive and women’s sport is not yet an avenue to accomplish either of these things.

I would like to believe the cultural aspect described above is changing, albeit slowly.  Nothing happens over night and as in the United States, it gets more common by the day to see women step outside the gender stereotyped box.  Take for example, Veronica Boquete, one of the best female players Spain has ever produced.  Vero is playing professionally all over the world and only playing professionally.  She makes a good living.  At the moment, however, she is the exception, not the rule.  But, like Billy Jean King, there always has to be the first to set the example for the others.  To set the bar so high that it gives others the opportunity, the vision, and the hope to someday reach it.

I do not have my PHD in gender studies but after having played soccer in Japan, Sweden, Spain, Bulgaria, Norway, Mexico, Brazil, and the list goes on, I say with genuine honesty and an unbiased viewpoint that Title IX has completely transformed the way women athletes are perceived in the United States.  No, we do not yet garner the attention and the millions of dollars the men do, and we admittedly have a ways to go to secure total financial equality, but we are still leaps and bounds ahead of the game.

The more I witness and the more I experience overseas, the more my heart beats for the Stars and Stripes.  As females in America, athlete or non-athlete, we are very lucky.  We have overcome barriers that still stand in front of many internationally.  Thank you to all the strong women who came before me and fought for the rights I exercise today.  I would be nothing without you.

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About joannalohman

Professional Soccer Player for the Philadelphia Independence and Vice President of Tenant Consulting, LLC, a commercial real estate firm in Washington, DC. I believe that curiosity is the highest form of insubordination so I am always exploring and seeking out ways to learn. I am a multi-dimensional reader, dancer, socializer, leader, and motivator. I have traveled around the world for both soccer and recreation experiencing different cultures by submerging myself in the local community. I am currently living in West Chester, PA in a one bedroom, kick butt apartment. At 28 years old, it is my first time living in my own space and I am thoroughly enjoying every second of it. A mathematics nut, spreadsheets turn me on and I find equations stimulating. Business is my post career destination and I hope to one day change the world....however that may be.
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10 Responses to The Untitled IX

  1. Ampatent says:

    Not much else to say, despite my inability or qualification to speak on the matter, I think you hit the nail square on the head with this one Joanna. It’s entirely possible that this particular circumstance runs deeper than just the athletic level, but it would be impossible to properly dissect the culture and politics of a foreign nation, let alone the many involved, which one is entirely unaccustomed to.

    As we humans progress as a species, hopefully, we will come to make further strides in equality both on and off the field in each and every aspect of life.

    Look forward to hearing more from you and Lianne as well as the next episode of JoLi Academy. Additionally, I’m sure you’ll quickly hit your stride with Espanyol and the wins will follow in turn.

  2. Liz says:

    When I was 14 years old my parents sent me to an all-girls high school. I was pretty ambivalent about it at the time. However, now, as I look back on it I realize I truly didn’t know what a gift I was given. I played field hockey and lacrosse and our games were packed and we never had a shortage of practice fields or money. We never had to compete with a male team. In the classroom we were encouraged to express our ideas and I never felt marginalized or unable to participate in class.

    Then I got to college. A coed liberal arts school that introduced me to restrictions – especially if the football team was using the trainers, the weight room, or a field. Athletically it wasn’t as bad as in the classroom. I had female friends that wouldn’t participate in class because they were concerned about looking stupid, seeming too aggressive, seeming like a “know-it-all,” or seeming unladylike. I was floored. I thought we had come there to get an education? I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the implication that maybe guys wouldn’t be interested if you were intelligent. So for four years I witnessed some of the most brilliant women I’ve ever associated with stay silent, only expressing their insights in the comfort of our dorm rooms.

    I’m now in my eleventh year in the United States Army. I recently received a graduate degree and my final thesis examined the combat exclusion rule that prohibits women from serving in certain roles within the military in the US. I was surprised by the results. We as a nation may have our struggles and conflicts of belief when it comes to who should serve in uniform, but despite the glacial pace we do make changes and adapt. Things aren’t perfect by a long shot, but cultural change sometimes has to be pioneered and a little “in your face” before there is any forward motion or momentum. The paper gave me a new found respect for those women who came before me and broke a trail. It has made my journey so much easier than their’s.

    I have spent a combined 32 months in Kuwait and Iraq. I’ve also visited Turkey, Egypt, and Israel/Palestine, and I can say without a doubt that America doesn’t have it all correct, but we have it more “right” than many other countries, especially when it comes to the rights of women. It’s why I put my uniform on each morning, because I’m proud to represent my country and I think that what we have is worth protecting.

    (It should be noted here that I would not have survived in this male dominated culture or have been remotely successful without my high school experience. My teachers and the nuns taught me to be independent, strong, fearless, trusting, outspoken, confident and powerful. My class graduated 90 women who went out into the world and grabbed it by the throat. I am consistently amazed by all they have achieved and I stand in awe of an institution that is able to build so much self-esteem in teenage girls that it bolsters and buoys them through that rough hell that female adolescence can be on young girl’s self-worth.)

  3. Crystal says:

    You know I’ve never really thought about how much I take for granted as an American woman. Joanna I think you and Liz said it best and since I’m not as eloquent I’ll just say I found your writing to honest and thoughtful. I look forward to the next one.

  4. Pingback: How do we affect change? « Evidence I've Been Here

  5. jrdoeslife says:

    Hey there! I tweeted this to you as well in response to your question about how we affect change. Give it a read if you get a chance (http://dangerincomplacency.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/how-do-we-affect-change/).

  6. Cavan says:

    “I am consistently amazed by all they have achieved and I stand in awe of an institution that is able to build so much self-esteem in teenage girls that it bolsters and buoys them through that rough hell that female adolescence can be on young girl’s self-worth.)”

    This is the key to a lot of things in the progress of women in society. The better they (I use they as I’m a man) can articulate themselves, acknowledge to themselves what they like/don’t like (in men and in general), and lose all the weird guilt that they get in adolescence, the better off they and we will be. Maybe you’re on to something with gender-segregated education in adolescence. A major key is to improvement is the 12-15ish age range.

    • joannalohman says:

      It is very true. Liz brought up a lot of issues that had never really crossed my mind. As they say “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Thank you Liz for educating us

  7. Katie Lynch says:

    Thanks for this really interesting post–and thanks to the commenters for their additional insights. This article strikes me as particularly timely, since Title IX continues to come under fire in the USA. I feel so fortunate that the question of “whether” I would be playing sports as a child was never raised. Which sports and for what teams–those were the questions my parents had to debate, and I’ll be forever grateful to the frontrunners of the movement for women’s equality in athletics.
    I love that you singled out Vero as one of those frontrunners for Spain, and I have to believe that your and Lianne’s presence on the Espanyol women’s team is also a positive development for both the club and the league.
    I always learn so much from reading about your reflections on your experiences, so thanks again! Eager for the next installment.

  8. Pingback: How do we affect change? « The Only Journey Is The One Within

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