Lancaster Polo recently published an articled called “Ladies: Stop Putting Yourself in Goal,” which for the most part I think is really awesome. In fact, I have been mulling over writing an article entitled ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Goal’ for months about this very topic – but alas, Crusher beat me to it!
The article more or less says that the polo community needs to stop relegating women to always playing goal, and that women need to be more assertive in playing out on the court. As Crusher wrote,
And I want you, guys, to knock it off. And I want you, gals, to stop letting that shit happen.
I could not agree more (with the exception that there are more genders than just men and women, and to make sure that all genders are being included in this. So for now let’s assume we’re talking about cis-gendered men and everyone else).
Personally, I’ve been playing polo on and off for 5 years. Now, when you hear 5 years of playing polo you’d then think that I’m really awesome at playing polo. In fact, I am not. I’m solidly alright at polo. Much of this has to do with long periods of not playing (sometimes over a year), and never playing with one club for more than 3-4 months (soon that is about to change – Boston Bike Polo represent!). But another reason is that I have always been one of a few women, or the only one, where I’ve played, and it has only been in the last 6 months to one year that I have really started playing out of goal. I’m now a pretty awesome goalie, but playing goal isn’t nearly as fun as taking zinger shots on the court (in my opinion).
In my experience as a female polo player, on the whole I haven’t been encouraged to play out on the court. In pick-up, it is often expected that I will be the last one back and that I will play goal. And god forbid if I don’t play goal and the other team scores, teammates will often look at me as if to say ‘where the fuck were you?’ Now, add on to that already being hyper aware of being the minority gender at pick-up, and it creates a power dynamic where it feels downright uncomfortable to bring this up. Because if you do, people respond by saying: 1. You’re crazy. 2. You’re crazy and PMS-ing (no joke. I’ve gotten this response) 3. What are you talking about?! This is a co-ed sport, therefore no forms of exclusion exist in the polo community and how dare you try to talk about it! Or (rarely) 4. You’re right. Let’s talk about this. (That’s happened maybe twice.)
Case in point, I played my first polo tournament with two awesome dudes. They are great guys, and I don’t blame them or harbor bad feelings, but I played goal for the entire tournament. In fact, someone was keeping stats and I had the highest shooting percentage of the entire tournament – 50%, because I took 2 shots, and one of them was a (awesome) goal. And at the end of the tournament I was pissed at myself for not playing out more, and wondering to myself what I was doing there.
One of the biggest points of the article is that we, as a polo community, need to recognize that women are treated fundamentally different than men. New and veteran male players are treated with a different level of respect and expectations than women. And now many female players are dealing with this weird imbalance of having played for a long time and still struggling as offensive players. (Of course there are many women slayers out there who do get the respect and expectations they deserve, because they readily kick ass).
One thing that I find problematic about the article, as someone else also voiced in the comments section, is the title ‘Ladies: Stop Putting Yourself in Goal,’ because it implies that this is an issue for women to solve. And although I agree that women could be more assertive on the court, I think that it’s blaming the victim to put the burden of changing a culture that excludes women on women to change. Change needs to come from all angles and genders, but there needs to be a recognition that men are the ones who hold more power (and numbers) in the polo community, and therefore they have a greater responsibility in changing this dynamic, and encouraging female players in their club to take shots and play offense on the court.
Of course I also wish that this article about women in polo had been written by a woman player/slayer. But what is truly shitty about this whole situation, and what I am questioning to myself, is that this is something that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but haven’t for fear of backlash from people I play with. I don’t want men I play with to feel like I’m pointing fingers at them, or to become the constant punch line to jokes asking if I think I’m playing in goal too much. That to me points to the deeper problems of gender politics in polo, and so I hope that Crusher’s article opens up these conversations more and helps women to feel like they can start these conversations in their clubs.
Now that this is out there, I’m going to go to pick-up tonight and hopefully play goal more or less the same amount as my teammates, and try to score some awesome goals. Happy weekend pick-up everyone.