Feminism and Football: When Powderpuff Traditions Cross the Line

Photo by Abby Lass

By Abby Lass


When former secretary of state Madeleine Albright claimed that there was a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” at a Hillary Clinton rally, I remember feeling resentful. I was by no means obligated to support a woman solely because we share a gender any more than I was obliged to support a person of another gender in the name of diversity of thought. I agreed with the many people who claimed that we need look past gender and focus on a person’s qualifications and personality when deciding whether or not we stand with them.

The world has changed a bit— or perhaps not at all— in the time since Albright gave that speech. While my opinion on the issue has not necessarily shifted, I believe that last night I was been given a peek into that hell she was talking about.

Even though Newton South ended its official sponsorship of the Thanksgiving powderpuff game three years ago, many of the traditions surrounding the event still exist, most notably the Twitter war that took place this past evening. Starting promptly at 8 pm, a small group of junior and senior girls opened fire with a variety of insults that quickly filled up everyone’s newsfeeds.

While some of the comments were in good fun— I know I can personally relate to having “ramen noodle hair”— it was astounding to see how quickly this flame war devolved into a slut-shaming smackdown. Within minutes, girls were creating “starter packs” about other students consisting of people they had hooked up with and asking each other how it feels to be passed around like a bong.

These comments are cruel no matter who they’re coming from, but the fact that the fingers typing them are the same ones that pen essays about feminism and adorn themselves in purple for Empowerment Day is disheartening, to say the least.

I understand that we all need a place to vent, to release tension and to feel powerful for a moment, but the simple truth is this: if the first thing you think of when you want to attack someone is their sexual history, then you are not a feminist. When you dignify unwarranted judgement of a woman’s actions because they are supposedly based on truth, you are not a feminist. When you blatantly shame and discourage someone for the choices they make regarding their body and their sexuality, no matter the context, you are not a feminist.

Feminism is not relegated to the classroom. It is not to be kept in check only to be released for a school committee meeting, and it cannot be abandoned on specific days of the school year, even in the name of good fun. If you truly believe in equality, you don’t get to act like it only when it’s convenient. Whether you are a woman or simply a human being, we have all experienced this shame in some form or another. To perpetuate it, even out of sport, is to admit to the world that we think we’re above the lessons of acceptance and tolerance that we are preaching.

I’m not asking for a shutdown of this tradition or that anyone get in trouble for what they’ve said. All that I ask is that we try and conduct ourselves in a way that doesn’t leave the door open for even more misogyny.