In light of the primary elections with the Democrats, I can’t help but notice how Hillary Clinton vacilates between strong fighting woman and sensitive woman depending on when it serves her needs. Sometimes she makes a point of coming off as the “fighter” when challenging Barack Obama on some issue within a campaign speech. Other times like in New Hampshire or during a particular debate she plays the “woman card” in displaying forms of emotion that would allow especially women voters to feel sorry for her – thus rallying them to the poles. Women face enough struggles as it is without doing things that complicate and confuse the average cave man. And Hillary’s behavior reminds me of an experience I had with mixed female signals. I’ll explain.
A few years ago I was playing some pick up basketball on a Monday evening. Normally on those days, if no one else came to the gym I could count on Mack (male) and Sabrina (female) to show up to participate. One this particular day Sabrina came to play but Mack didn’t. This left Sabrina and me to go one on one. Sabrina is a very good basketball player. She played Division I in college and currently plays in several adult leagues around the metropolitan area. I’ve seen her play on several occasions. She has good ability and is highly competitive.
I am also a highly competitive player. And sometimes in a competitive setting, the game of basketball can get physical. However, I could hardly avoid treating Sabrina differently within the context of the game in terms of the physical contact of the sport. My social education told me that no matter how good a woman can be at basketball, she’s still a woman and shouldn’t be treated harshly by a man. When I guarded her defensively, I tried to avoid as much contact as possible. I really tried hard not to foul her hard, or get too physical with her. Although some contact is inevitable, I did my best to play with more finesse.
However, whenever she could push, shove, or poke an elbow at me to gain an advantage, she didn’t hesitate. Because she is such a good player, her style of play plus my intention to avoid using my muscle to influence the game helped her to get a few wins against me. I hate to lose, but I had a hard time playing too physically against Sabrina. That had nothing to do with her ability to play the game, neither my respect for her abilities. I just couldn’t ‘treat her like any other guy.”
As the evening went on I was starting to evolve a bit. First: I didn’t want to lose to Sabrina because I didn’t play the game correctly and as best I could. I also didn’t want to denigrate her by trying to play “soft.” I felt that in order to best respect Sabrina, women in general and the game of basketball I should really try to play as normal as possible. As I turned up my intensity and focused on Sabrina as the “opponent,” my performance was noticeably better. I began to score more points and show her that I could play the game too. On one particular play, as she was about to shoot I reached out in an attempt to block the shot and fouled her. She sort of gave me a surprising if not questioning look. I couldn’t be sure what she meant by the look. Sometimes when I play with guys, they act surprised if they get fouled on a play, or act as if they should be allowed to do as they please with little or no contact. That could have been what she was thinking. I couldn’t help but think however, that maybe she thought that I was treating her harshly or that I had crossed the line. Since I knew that she was a hard-core ball player, I dismissed the latter and decided to keep playing as if gender was not a factor in the game.
A funny thing happened shortly thereafter. She went for a difficult shot and made it though I had contested it vigorously. Without thinking about it, as she walked towards the free throw line to shoot her foul shot, I tapped her on the behind and said, “Good shot.” When I thought of Sabrina as a woman, I would have never done that. For that would be breaking rules of etiquette. But I had almost managed to forget that she was a woman, and I looked at her as a ball player who was very capable of embarrassing me by defeating me mercilessly. As competitive as I am, I’m still a good sport. So I don’t see anything wrong with paying a compliment even in the heat of battle sometimes.
Perhaps Sabrina was glad to see that I turned my level of play up. Perhaps she noticed that I wasn’t treating her “like a woman.” However she didn’t like the tap on her behind. She said, “Hey watch that.” She didn’t sound angry but stern nonetheless. I felt embarrassed. I did it at that moment without thinking of her as simply a female. I had done the exact same thing to countless men on the court during competitive play. As much basketball as Sabrina had played within her lifetime, I think it’s safe to say that she has traded that gesture with other women in the past without it being considered something offensive or sexual.
I tried my best as a player and as a person not to give Sabrina gender discrimination. For the time on the court, I wanted to treat her as a ballplayer first. But Sabrina reminded me, that she was a woman.