The Many Pitfalls of Women’s Football

And, on a more positive note, how we can rectify them.

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"She can — and will — play football (whether you watch or not)." -Cassandra Negley, Contributor of Sporting News

Sophia Diaz, Staff Writer

When I looked up the definition of Powder Puff, I expected a description of the makeup applique, frilly, and delicate. Instead, I found something even worse – a blatantly sexist definition on the highly esteemed, popular website Merriam Webster: “relating to, or being a traditionally male activity or event done or played by women [i.e.] powder-puff football game.” The name implies, therefore, that when women take on a so-called masculine activity, they do it in a laughably delicate manner. It also directly verifies that Powder Puff Football is a display of allegedly delicate women playing a man’s sport. 

High schools across the U.S often partake in Powder Puff Football, a form of flag football played by female students. Girls who play this sport showcase their impressive athleticism, passion, and grit. This sport demonstrates all that a sport could ask for by the hard work put in by athletes, the excitement of an audience, and competition that draws one to the edge of his or her seat. “Powder Puff” Football is deserving of a title that reflects the competence and fortitude of the women who play it, rather than a tool of stereotypical femininity. I have to side with a close friend on this matter, who summed it up, short and sweet, by saying: ” just call it women’s football.”

Furthermore, various forms of the sport exist in the adult female leagues –  one of which is Lingerie Football, where women are forced to wear barely any clothing – their attire is akin to Lingerie, hence the name. As if their athleticism isn’t inherently deserving of our attention? Women who participate in this sport are serious athletes! To impress others with their looks is the furthest thing from their mind since they are there playing for the love of the game. In addition, the inconvenience of the uniforms provides yet another hurdle on top of the infinite other societal ones. These “uniforms” provide a precarious situation for the sport’s fierce athletes in more ways than one. In such a rough contact sport, ample padding and coverage are necessary; these uniforms make for a lack of protection and heightened susceptibility to injury.  Also, it often occurs that when players fall down on the job, uniforms reveal even more than women signed up for. Despite these hindrances, players’ opinions vary on the topic.

Employees at BuzzFeed, an online media source, took part in the tryouts of Legends, previously the Lingerie Football League. They found that the members of the team were surprisingly divided on the topic of uniforms: some simply tolerate them, and others rave about their empowering nature. Those in support of the uniforms praise their demonstration of women’s ability to be simultaneously beautiful and tough, a notion that much of the American public often rejects. While the women wearing them may be in favor of these revealing garbs, the public decides the success of the league because even if the sport gains attention through visual appeal, they’d be gaining an audience for the wrong reasons. Should the sport prosper, I personally would like to see this as a result of America finally giving well-deserved recognition to women as equal athletes to men, not solely due to women’s physique.

A more modest women’s league of American football exists in the Independent Women’s Football League, which supports many forms of women’s football, including flag football and a style akin to standard American Football (iwflsports.com). Women who participate in the professional league execute the game in a similar style to the NFL in regard to rules, uniforms, and contact, with a few minor alterations. Prior to researching, I had no idea such a league even existed! (Editor’s Note: As a lifelong football fan, I had no idea either.) The fact that most of us were likely as oblivious as I was when I discovered the league demonstrates how much attention we, as a nation, give to women’s sports and especially football. A lack of money, support, and interest leads to this shameful public negligence.

This unequal treatment of men and women’s sports is reflected in BuzzFeed employee Michelle Khare’s account of her day spent training with Legends, when she commented that “it was just another testament to how you can be at the top level of your sport as a woman … and you’re still not compensated fairly or equally” (“Women Try Lingerie Football”). Female athletes aren’t given anywhere near the respect, attention, or pay they deserve for their skill. In fact, women often have to pay to be a part of a professional league rather than the other way around. When professional female athletes are paid, it is in exponentially fewer digits than their male counterparts.

What can we do? The better question is, what can’t we do? We all have a role to play in this dilemma, and we must play it with decided vigor. From encouraging a name change in Powder Puff Football, to calling out sexism in sports when we see it, or simply attending more women’s sports games, everyone has the potential to improve the world of sports for women. We all have the potential to affect this matter – I challenge you to fulfill yours.