On Street Harassment

This is an article I wrote for my hometown’s local paper in the summer of 2015. Because of the subject matter, I was encouraged to share it on the Sport in Society Intern blog as well. 

            I love to run. Running has built my confidence, leadership skills, and physical and mental strength. I graduated from MHS in 2014 and just completed my first year at Oberlin College, where I compete on the women’s track and field team. This summer, I returned to Melrose and resumed my usual routes throughout town, expecting to enjoy running past familiar landmarks and people of my hometown. After a year of sheltered running in my very isolated college town in Ohio, I was rudely reminded of one of the biggest struggles a female runner faces: street harassment.

            Street harassment became a regular occurrence in my running regimen back in high school. As a freshman, I recall running with my distance group and receiving all kinds of unwanted attention: blaring honks from cars full of people we didn’t know, shouts and catcalls from pedestrians and drivers, and even being chased by groups of boys, some as young as 6th or 7th grade. I would finish those runs feeling afraid, angry, and ashamed, wondering why this harassment would happen. As a captain my senior year, I remember that same feeling of helplessness. I was supposed to be a role model for the freshmen, some who were nervously starting a sport, but I didn’t know how to facilitate a discussion about the intimidating and humiliating disturbances on our runs. There is simply no good way to handle it – you have to keep running and hope that it stops. All the while, we were running through familiar neighborhoods in a small town we called home.

            This summer I am interning at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. In a recent project, we discussed the lagging participation and retention rates of middle and high school female athletes nationwide. Although our sports culture is slowly becoming a more inviting space for young women, there are still many barriers. Street harassment is just one of them – imagine being fourteen again, still adjusting to your body as it rapidly moves through puberty, trying to train it to compete and feel healthy. While this happens, you are focusing on the road, on your breathing, on your body, when someone suddenly violates your space and concentration by screaming a comment at you, or takes it a step further by invading your physical space and running alongside you.

Other factors include economic barriers –something as simple as not having an adequate sports bra or access to feminine hygiene products. Additionally, women’s sports and female athletes receive less coverage by the media and are paid significantly less, as exemplified in this year’s world cup where the winning women’s USA team was paid 2 million dollars compared to the losing men’s USA team paid 8 million. In considering the many barriers that female athletes face, it is also important to note that female coaches only make up 45% of all coaches for women’s collegiate teams, which can serve as an indicator to young women that athletics are not a viable career. Combine all of these factors with the harassment many young women receive when practicing their sport, and it’s no wonder that we have such low numbers of female athletes.

            Speaking as a former MHS athlete and current collegiate athlete: street harassment is NOT a compliment. It is about exerting power with the intent of making someone else feel out of place. It is claiming ownership, claiming a right to judge and appraise another person’s body. When someone deems it necessary to shout something vulgar out of their car at a female runner, or mockingly run or chase after her for a block, you are indirectly telling her that sports are not a place for her. Studies have shown that street harassment impacts decisions to travel and walk alone, work out in a gym instead of outside, and even whether or not to attend events and functions. This is not to portray women as scared and powerless – we aren’t. My point is that street harassment impairs the ability to feel safe.

            My goal in writing this is to raise awareness. Parents – no matter how charming and kind your adolescent son (or daughter) may be, I implore you to show them this article. Although I believe many acts of street harassment are microaggressions meant to make women feel out of place and powerless, I also believe that many young men don’t realize what they are doing when they catcall or harass women. They don’t realize that they may be destroying a favorite running route where that person now no longer feels safe. They don’t realize that when they harass a young girl, they may be ruining a peaceful and therapeutic time for her. They don’t realize that by disrupting that girl’s run, they might be intimidating her out of her sport.

            There may be some backlash for this article. Some adults will say that street harassment isn’t harassment; it’s a part of life. To them, I say this:

            Three weeks ago, after a frustrating day of work, I ran up to the Pine Banks track to complete a workout. Afterwards, my frustrations were completely gone. I felt rejuvenated and happy as I began the short eight-minute journey back to my house. As I ran down Waverly Place, three boys began yelling vulgar things at me, running alongside me, and eventually blocking my path on the sidewalk so I could not pass. I am strong, I am fast, but in that moment I felt completely powerless. I was outnumbered by boys who were younger than me, but bigger and taller, and we were alone on a quiet street. After one of them reached out and grabbed my arm, I was forced to physically push past them, as I then began a terrifying sprint for home. I no longer feel safe running alone down that street, and I likely never will again.

            I love to run. But I should never have to feel like I am running for my life, should never have to rely on my strength to get out of that kind of altercation. However, this isn’t only about me –as someone who has gained so much from running, I want other girls to be able to experience it as well. Above all else, people should be able to feel safe in their town or neighborhood.

            Please, show this to your friends and family. Express your disapproval when a friend catcalls someone in front of you – all you have to say is “that was not okay.” Teach your son that girls do not need his comments to validate their worth. Teach your daughter that street harassment of any kind is never okay and never her fault. And perhaps most importantly, remind her: She is a girl, and that means she is strong, she is powerful, and she is unstoppable.

The author would like to acknowledge that male runners/pedestrians may be subjected to street harassment as well as women. She would also like to highlight that street harassment disproportionately affects those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum. This article is based upon the author’s experience as a female runner and countless stories shared by young girls and women across the U.S.


February Updates

It’s been awhile since my last blog post and in that time many things have happened here at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.  In early February, we had a panel discussion on “Increasing female participation in sports.” The panel speakers were Ms. Katie Hnida, Dr. Jennifer Mead, Dr. Justine Siegal and Ms. Rebekah Splaine Salwasser.  These women all have incredibly impressive backgrounds and were even more compelling to hear speak in person.  They all reiterated the importance of having a plethora of opportunities for women in sports and discussed the cultural implications of having equal opportunity to sport.  The roles that coaches, parents, communities and the athletes themselves all hold in increasing sports for women were discussed. Everyone can contribute to making sports appealing for girls and for ensuring that each athlete has a positive experience.  While the panelists all came from different sports and have very different stories, much of their advice was the same.  They all held an equally impressive amount of passion for the topic, which made the panel discussion inspiring and informative.

Over the past couple of months, I have begun doing more trainings and this has been really fun. Matt and I worked with a school in Quincy using Sport in Society’s Project TEAMWORK Curriculum.  I enjoyed working with these students, who were quite engaged throughout.  I especially liked doing the “Box Exercise” and breaking the class into single gender groups.  The girls really opened up for this exercise.  It was interesting to hear some of the more age-specific descriptions of what they say it means to be a girl. While the same message was conveyed, the specific words used by people I attended MVP Institute with and the middle school students were very different.

In addition to the Quincy trainings, Courtney and I worked with a school in Chelsea using the Boston vs. Bullies Curriculum.  This was also a fun experience, but was more challenging as a facilitator because the group was much larger.  The class in Quincy was no more than 25 students, whereas the group in Chelsea was close to 75 students.

This upcoming Thursday we are hosting a seminar series event on Getting the Most of Your Nonprofit Board Members.  Just like the previous events of this nature, Rick Arrowood, from the Nonprofit Management program here at Northeastern, will give the lecture.  I am looking forward to this, as all of his previous talks have been well done and informative, and all the other future events and trainings.

Michael Sam, A Bold Man

On Sunday, February 9, 2014 Michael Sam, a defensive end for the Missouri Tigers announced that he is gay. It has met with a variety of responses around the web. Overall media has been portraying a largely supportive message, commending Sam on his bravery and extolling his abilities. Michael Sam is also the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year and predicted to be a 3rd to 5th round draft pick this year. Whether or not his newfound political side will affect his draft pick is a hot topic. Just last year Jason Collins came out in the NBA and has yet to be picked up by a team. Now, Collins was entering his free agent status and picking up a player who invites so much attention is a tricky decision for any team in any sport. Did his being gay have something to do with him not getting signed? Probably, but maybe not. With Sam, however, if something like that were to happen we could be looking at a huge catastrophe for the NFL. The NFL has declared somewhat mixed messages about the defensive end, making public statements welcoming him into the NFL while certain officials comment that his sexual orientation is sure to cause issues in the locker room and may be legitimate reason for teams to pass him over. Michael Sam has demonstrated that he is a player worth having on your team; Defensive Player of the Year in arguably the toughest NCAA division is no laughing matter.  Many are interested in what will happen, but due to the recent rise in players and celebrities revealing their sexual orientation, some are already jaded on the issue.

            When I went on to check my various social media profiles I found a number of statuses that paraphrased were “Why is this a big deal?” “Why should I care that some college football player is gay?”  Granted most of these statuses came from my non-athletically oriented friends, but that makes this all the more frustrating. It seems that the homophobia built into hyper-masculine, contact sports has become so ingrained in the culture that it isn’t recognized as homophobia anymore.

            Speaking as a former football player I can attest to the homophobia innate in any locker room. Guys are taught that we cannot appreciate the beauty of another man’s body without it being gay. I cannot expound upon the beauty of Cristiano Ronaldo’s majestic gallop in the locker room without homosexual thoughts being projected onto the words I am saying. It doesn’t even need to be something that could be sexual: I remember being called gay multiple times in my locker room for showing up wearing Crocs on a hot summer day. Imagine how hard it would be to survive the locker room when everybody genuinely thinks you’re eyeing them up. I would hope that a professional locker room would be above these childish thoughts but after the recent debacle with Martin and Incognito my faith in the maturity of the NFL players has waned. Sam could indeed face steep odds when he gets drafted. Hopefully he’ll wind up in a place like New England where the value of the team overrides any petty issues like sexual preference, but who knows what the teams are going to do. I wish Michael Sam the best of luck in his professional career and hope he proves to the world that there is more than one way to be a great football player.


The Kickoff

How time flies they say, just yesterday, I took my intern ID picture, received my building pass and cubicle. Now, I am a certified MVP trainer after attending the rigorous, interesting and explicit three day training. I was exposed to real life scenarios and experiences that alleviated my thought and decision-making process. The society almost creates a lifestyle of which one must be emulate to be accepted. Men’s violence against women are some of the many lifestyles that the society has forced us to believe that it is normal. The institute propelled me to believe that women are the victims of the world in many instances be it, violence, taunt, appearance and discussions. This shameful act is evolving over the years that even the 7th graders at Hurley Middle School, where I play a big brother role to middle school students, a partnership Sports in Society has with the school, has emulated and caused harms to our society today. These 7th grade students have inherited some of our societal flaws, enabling them to violate women and objectified them and not making them an equal. For example, during a volley ball game, some of the boys refused to play or/and pair up with the girls insinuating that they are the weaker sex and have no knowledge of the game. This is the type of knowledge the society instills in many of our young youths today, creating a differentiation between both gender. They tend to create a notion that they are superior over the females and as a result, should be given utmost respect and praise. Attending that three day conference has broaden my knowledge about men’s violence against women and the role we as “Men” have to play in the society to promote love. Speaking of the roles, over the weeks at Sports in Society, I have since developed a better idea of the many roles I can play in the organization
My experience here at Sports in Society has been

At first, I was unsure of the role I could play but now, I fully understand the goals, activities and expectations of the organization. This change was as a result to the MVP institute, the partnership with the Hurley School, several trainings and professional development/Seminar series provided by the society. Although my long commute and sleepless nights seemed to pose a major treat, I was determined to gaining the best experience here at sports in Society and fully understand the role of sports in our society. Sports speaks in many languages that nearly none other can, that is why it is important to use in a developing a strong society. My experience here at Sports in Society for the school year may soon come to an end, but the network, knowledge and experience that I have garnered from my short time has propelled me to the self realization that everyone is their own capacity have a role to uplifting the society and whether be it in sports, dancing or teaching, they are the change we seek. Although I might have a short time with the organization, I am determined to making the best and leaving behind an exemplary legacy. Hence, the kickoff to a successful period of continuous learning, improvement and growth has began

Back to the Basics

Last week we hosted another one of our seminar series events.  The topic was Understanding Human Resources Management and Employment Law.  Rick Arrowood, a professor in the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management at Northeastern, gave the lecture. I enjoyed attending this seminar and learned a lot. I remember someone made the comment after the event that Rick has a way of making complex things seem so simple and understandable. I completely agree with this comment. With little knowledge of the nonprofit sector, all of the concepts and ideas Rick has talked about are new to me. However, he explains everything in basic terms. He gives real examples and cites relevant cases that bring to life the ideas. I like that he has catered the material specifically to that of a Sports Based Youth Development organizations and this has made the lectures even more interesting.

For the past few weeks, Prince and I have been helping out the P.E. classes at the Hurley School, a Boston Public School that is within walking distance from our office. The school is entirely bilingual, but many of the students speak even more than just two languages.  Each week I find myself impressed with the first grade class that completes their warm-up stretches by counting in four different languages. The classes are now currently on their basketball unit, which is especially fun for me as basketball is my favorite sport. It has been fun to teach the basics of the game to the students. I currently am an assistant coach of my college team at Tufts and have not coached younger players in a few years. It’s quite a different experience coaching these young students who have little or no basketball knowledge than it is coaching a college team. It has been both challenging and enjoyable to force myself to think about the very basic basketball movements and rules.  Explaining a layup to a first grader requires me to use straightforward vocabulary and to break down the simple basketball play into smaller and more understandable pieces.  With a more limited attention span of the students, the skills must be taught in a fun and engaging way.  I recently read a book on John Wooden, a famous college basketball coach whose leadership style and coaching tips are widely publicized.  Wooden broke down his teaching into four core components: demonstration, imitation, correction and repetition.  This is a great way to coach athletes at all levels.  Each component will look a bit different between the college team and the first grade class, but is a useful framework for me for both populations.

After the holidays we have exciting events and projects to continue to work on.  I am looking forward to continuing to make progress on our intern project with Matt and I am excited for the next event, which is a panel discussion on Increasing Female Participation in Sports.

Off to Middle School

After completing the MVP Institute in October, I was quite confident about moderating conversations on racial and sexual discrimination. Shortly after, Brian and I were assigned to one of Sport in Society’s many Project Teamwork facilitations at the Point Webster School in Quincy, MA. Project Teamwork centers more around bullying than racial or sexual prejudice. The kids are in middle school and boy is it a different experience than talking to a room full of concerned adults. Many of them clearly know the “correct” answers and spit them out in the shortest possible form to avoid explicit genuine involvement. It’s nostalgic in a bizarre way. Connecting to the students on a basic level is easy. We ask them questions: they give us responses. The hard part is engaging them on a conversational level.

There are twenty-five students and I have yet to hear a disagreement between them.  The MVP Institute spoiled me with heartfelt conversation stemming from a number of rational, emotional and personal perspectives on an issue that affects us all deeply. In the case of bullying, the kids seem almost desensitized to the topic. Thankfully there are a few who genuinely seem to care. One girl in particular has raised the issue of cyber bullying numerous times so it is clear that though we may not be getting through to a number of the kids, there are a few who certainly value the trainings. It has been an eye opening experience. I remember these sorts of classes when I was in school and how little I paid attention then. Now I understand the value of these conversations and wish I had heard more at that age. The raging chaos of hormones and developing social consciousness make it incredibly hard to know what values one stands for and how to actualize them, but with these conversations the seed of conscious thought is planted and slowly they will begin to choose for themselves what is and is not worth fighting for.


Valuable Lessons from Executive Directors

On Thursday November 21, we had the opportunity to learn from local SBYD organization’s best practices on running and operating a nonprofit organization. In a panel discussion, executive directors David Cohen (Doc Wayne), Stas Gayshan, (Space with a Soul), and Mary McVeigh (Soccer Without Borders) shared their insight on finance, accounting, and different ways of bringing outside parties in in their organization.

While working in the field of sport-based youth development, I learned sport and child development are combined on various levels. One important task of an ED is to continue to ensure that operational practices work towards this child development. “You wear many different hats,” but this makes you become less involved with the ground-work of the organization. Cohen spends quite a lot of time with the kids in his program. He knew little of the prevalence of violence in the city of Boston before joining Doc Wayne, but “it happens in our backyard”. To all panelists, knowing their program and making sure they remember why they got into the job helps them to really get to love their job. To Gayshan, work is not really work, “it is something I love.”

Running a nonprofit organization will teach you many valuable lessons. Learning how to say “no” was most valuable for McVeigh. To her, saying no had a negative connotation and could potentially narrow down opportunities for the program. But when her decision not to sustain one program resulted in other programs to become stronger, she understood the benefits. Saying “no” became easier for Cohen when he saw that it helps to keep the focus on Doc Wayne’s mission. In fact, Gayshan recommends that we reframe “saying no” as “opportunity management”.

Panelists noted the need to find people that buy into the organization’s mission, both on an organizational and operational level. McVeigh noted the importance of matching employee skill sets with appropriate task; for example, she keeps the coaches that have built trust with the children involved in the ground work where they work best, instead of giving them administrative and office jobs. Gayshan pointed out that universities should do a better job prepare students to work for nonprofit organizations. Teaching them to “open up their mind and think in solutions” will prepare them to “manage opportunities”. 

Towards the end of the panel discussion, panelists spoke to the benefit of partnerships and collaborations, which allow a nonprofit organization to focus on their priorities. According to Gayshan, “outsourcing takes some tasks of your plate.” This helps the staff to focus on the mission. “Consider help with administrative tasks and seek help with other organization that have the know-how” says David Cohen. He reached out to several other organizations when time was not on his three-people staff’s side. A partnership can also mean that you share a space with other organizations. Soccer Without Borders exchanged ideas on various organizational levels with Metro Lacrosse “because they were just down the hallway”.

This panel discussion provided me a new perspective on the SBYD programs I worked with these past months. There is definitely great knowledge behind the programs that makes all this work possible.

If You Can Play, You Can Play

On Thursday, November 14th, Northeastern student athletes filled the Blackman Auditorium for what they thought was just another boring event that the athletic director made mandatory. They slowly walked in and sat with their teams while looking at their phones and preparing themselves for what they thought would be the longest hour and a half of their life. Little did they know they would sit through an emotional and eye opening panel discussion by three remarkable athletes with three completely different personal stories.

At the beginning of my co-op, we were told to start thinking about a project that we would like to work on for the next 6 months. At first thought, I had absolutely no idea where to even begin. There are so many social justice issue topics that I find myself interested in, that I couldn’t make up my mind on just one to focus on. One day, after reading an interesting article online about the You Can Play Project and what their founder thinks of the current problems leading up to the Winter Olympic games in Russia, I remembered a panel that they had brought to Northeastern in 2011 and how amazing the turn out was. Particularly, I couldn’t help but remember how it helped one of my closest friends. This friend, very near and dear to my heart, had just come out of the closet to their closest friends at college, and things were still pretty new when they had this event. They were personally struggling with accepting that they were gay as well as fearing how to come out to their teammates and family. After hearing three LGBTQ panelists talk about their personal stories of coming out of the closet and the obstacles they had to face, my friend then started to take a step closer to accepting themselves. Now, two years later, they have grown into one of the strongest, determined and overall most remarkable human beings that have ever come into my life, and I am thankful for that every single day.

The You Can Play Project has a part of their organization called The Invisible Athletes Forum. This forum provides the athletic teams with insight and allows them to learn from some of sports’ most accomplished athletes. The Athletes discuss what it’s like to come out to teammates and family, how their sexual orientation as an athlete has affected their physical and emotional ability (if at all) in competitions, and how being gay in sports has impacted their lives. The panelists during this forum were: Caitlin Cahow, a 2-time Olympic medalist on the USA Women’s Nation ice hockey team, Jose Estevez, a former Boston College XC team member, and Tracey Britton, a former D1 soccer player and former Syracuse University assistant coach. Each one of these panelists had such a different story to tell, that it helped the athletes better understand the message that was trying to be relayed across.

As a current social issue in sports, I thought that if this panel could have done that for my friend, then maybe I could do that for another person and help them take that first step toward acceptance of their sexuality. If I could help someone not have that fear of coming out to their teammates and families, and assure them that they are not alone, then this panel discussion would be important to have at Northeastern. Did I know anything about planning an event? Not in the least. But, with the constant support and guidance from the Sport in Society staff, I was able to make this event happen.

So on November 14th, in Blackman Auditorium, Northeastern athletes walked in expecting the worst. But, when I left the event that night, I heard athletes talking about what they had heard and asking their teammates how they can change and not hurt anyone they don’t know is in the closet. This past week, after the event, I have had numerous coaches and athletes thank me for bringing the You Can Play Project to Northeastern. Not only did they take a lot away from it, but, I think it helped the department as a whole to better understand the challenges athletes can be facing even if you don’t know their struggling.

I believe that sport should be a safe haven for every athlete and that by eliminating locker room fear, negative language and identity oppression, we can begin to create an environment that will ensure equality, respect, and safety for all out athletes, and I hope that this forum helps to start this change for the Northeastern Athletic Department.

MVP applies.

MVP, or Mentors in Violence Prevention, centers around men’s violence against women. We recently had a training with Foundation Year in this curriculum. The 90+ students split up by gender and went into break out groups to talk about the topic of Men’s violence against women. Ricardhy and I worked with the young men, opening dialogue and conversation about this subject. Having the safe space of a single gender group, we started to dive deeper and deeper into what masculinity means.

The day was challenging and filled with differing views and perspectives. We started to see the idea of manhood that these young men were learning from society. This “culture of manhood” that tells men that they need to be dominant, controlling, or strong has been exemplified through the recent Miami Dolphins hazing/bullying case. We often think of bullying as something that occurs between younger boys and teenagers, but through the Richie Incognito case we see that bullying can be in the locker room as well.

“Bullying is a learned behavior. It is when a person or group tries to hurt or control another person in a harmful way and has three defining characteristics. Deliberate – a bully’s intention is to hurt someone. Repeated – a bully often targets the same victim again and again. Power imbalanced – a bully chooses victims he or she perceives as vulnerable” 

If you have been keeping up with the news, you may have heard about the actions that Incognito are accused of. However, regardless of if these allegations are true, we have learned a few alarming things about sports culture. The Miami Dolphins and Incognito have commented on the allegations, saying that this was the culture of the team. Incognito, in an interview, had also commented that this was how his friendship was with Martin.

The sports culture that the Dolphins spoke of may have been to blame for the uncomfortable situation that Martin experienced. This, however, is not an uncommon occurrence. Martin may have been the one to speak up recently, but it is common knowledge that hazing happens on most levels of sports, be it High School, College, or Professional.

It seems as if the topics of manhood that we speak about at MVP is one that can be applied to why these hazing incidents occur, and why young men are victims of it. If this idea of manhood has become the norm, does it make it okay? Are all men expected to act in this way? If we don’t, should we be bullied and hazed until we fit that expectation?

My personal opinion, and my definition of manhood would disagree with the “social norm”. To draw from a recent training I had with middle school students, one of the boys stated that just because you don’t fit the definition set out by society, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a man. And it doesn’t mean that you are a man if you do meet those expectations.

This case has begun to show me the real world application of the trainings we do. Though progress is being made, there is still a lot of work to do. Though this case can be seen as a negative, there have been some positive reactionary elements to it as well. The NBA took the opportunity to remind its players that bullying will not be tolerated. Athletes everywhere will continue to be viewed as role models and leaders, whether they want to or not. Whether its the sports culture, the culture of manhood, or just a personal belief that guides the actions of athletes will inevitably become mindsets and lessons to the young men of society who observe them with a watchful eye. Let’s just hope that it’s positive.

the one night a year…


The above line is from the movie Mean Girls, one of the more epically quotable movies of our generation, at least in my opinion. With Halloween on a Thursday this year, the typical festivities have been spread out of the past week and into this upcoming weekend. The party atmosphere in the city has been even further amped by the Red Sox World Championship win, with the celebratory parade scheduled for tomorrow. If the city of Boston was looking for an excuse to let loose and have a great time, the past week has given us more than ample opportunity to throw on a costume, a jersey, or both, and hit the streets.

As I’ve been partaking in the dual celebration of Halloween and the World Series win, I keep unconsciously recalling that line from Mean Girls. I’ve also spent the past week partaking in various trainings here at Sport in Society, where the language and meaning behind that quote continue to be a hot discussion topic. In the movie, the main character Cady Heron grows up homeschooled in Africa, and attends a cliché suburban American high school for the first time, unaware of the rituals, standards and intricacies of what she calls “Girl World”.

Towards the beginning of the film, still an outsider, she attends a Halloween party with the popular “mean girls”. Cady thinks Halloween is about dressing up in a scary costume: as she discovers, that’s considered a childish way to view the holiday by high schoolers. She wears an ex-Bride of Dracula costume with fake blood and fangs, while the other girls wear lingerie with animal ears. This contrast prompts Cady to make the above observation about Halloween and “slutty” dressing.

In a previous blog post, I talked about an activity we use during our trainings call The Box. For this exercise, participants come up with the stereotypical looks, careers, emotions, and possessions of the “ideal” man or woman. We write those stereotypes inside the box, then list the words people call anyone who dares step outside that on the outer edge of our box. This is typically separated by gender, with men listing terms for male stereotypes and women doing the same for females. After nearly a year at Sport in Society attending, facilitating and observing trainings with participants of all ages, genders, and races, I have never seen a person who is pleased with their gender stereotype. Or who perfectly fits within that box. Or who enjoys being called hurtful names like gay, slut, bitch, or pussy when they step outside their box.

Instead, every participant has expressed frustration with societal expectations based solely upon their gender, and when the men and women come back together to discuss their separate boxes, they’re both pleasantly surprised to find out that the other group felt upset and constrained by their stereotype. And yet, I think that Cady Heron, fictional character in a Tina Fey movie, absolutely hits the heart of the matter when she makes her statement about Halloween. It’s the only night a woman can experiment with her sexuality or express herself through socially “slutty” clothes, without being judged by other women. We all rightly detest our boxes; no one will ever be all of those fashion and career and mothering and attractive stereotypes, the “perfect” or “ideal” woman.

And yet we still participate in the construction of our own societal prisons; we gender police our fellow women. Every time we see a woman in something deemed “slutty” and then raise our eyebrows, or nudge our friend, or mouth something behind her back, we build our box just a little bit higher. So why? If no one wants the constraint of a little defined stereotype none of us fit into, why do we help build it? A complicated question deserves a complicated answer, and I’m afraid there isn’t room to do it justice in this post. But if we’re all doing it, then we can all stop.

I propose we extend the free pass, that magical, judgment free night of candy and costumes on October 31st. Let’s make it another night, and another, until Mean Girls becomes a beloved cultural reference of that time when we still policed ourselves into a tiny box no one fit. I have faith that as a society we can move beyond the “one night a year” and let people dress, act, think how they want to, without fear of being pushed back into the box.