Grassroot Soccer Coach Zeze’s story explores how gender norms and stereotypes in a typically gendered sport such as soccer can be harmful to girls, and how powerful soccer can be at overturning the preconceived notions of femininity and gender. The story also highlights why sexuality education must address the ways in which adolescents experience gender inequality in their daily lives, and how storytelling is a powerful way to engage participants and get them to talk about their beliefs and challenges.
By Zesipho (Zeze) Mankayi
I will never forget the day I played soccer for the first time.
I was 11 years old. I was wearing a Spiderman t-shirt, black shorts, and brown takkis (sneakers).
My cousin and I were out in the open space next to the garden. He kicked a ball to me… and I kicked it back. He said, “Zeze, this time, trap it with your foot, and then pass it to me.” I was soooo excited.
From that time, I played soccer almost all the time. I was so in love with it, I enjoyed every moment.
But I was shocked to see that people were not happy about this.
They would say, “Soccer is for boys, not for girls.” They did not believe that anyone can play any sport. People used to call me “tomboy…” They would say, “Even if you play soccer all the time, you’ll still be a girl.” Others would say, “You have to be careful, those boys you are playing with might rape you!”
I refused to stop what I love so much, just because of what people said and thought about me. I did not listen; I focused on the game. I was going to be a soccer star no matter what.
I just let their comments enter from one ear and go out the other.
Even today, a lot of people, especially boys and grown men, don’t understand why girls play soccer. Why not? We all have two legs. Some of us play better soccer than boys anyway!
I play defense for an all-women’s team in Khayelitsha. Last year, we won the Coca Cola Cup. It is the top prize in the biggest women’s soccer tournament in the province.
I know there is nothing a boy can do that a girl cannot do.
I wish society would know it too.
I wish all girls would stand up for what they love, and I wish everyone would stop getting in the way of their dreams.