It’s been three months since my last rant, but I’m back at it again because after playing the other night I had it, I just had it.
Since last time I’ve been pretty good at ignoring sexism on the court and doing my own thing, but sometimes I. CAN’T. EVEN.
It started innocently enough when I was playing with a guy who is nice and I like a lot.
“Don’t go back for defense,” he said after one rally. (Remember, telling me to not go back for defense is one of my pet peeves. A woman can, and should, cover the court. But guys tend to want the girl to stay in the front at all costs. Luckily I know better.)
“You can’t defend the back by yourself,” I said.
“Yes I can,” he said. “Trust me.”
So just to be a bitch I gave my opponent a smash opportunity and of course my partner couldn’t return it.
“Trust you?” I said smiling. Yeah, I’m petty like that.
There was another reason I gave our opponents a smash opportunity. Recently I’ve been working on defense, specifically receiving a smash. I’m getting much better but I can only reliably return two consecutive hard steep smashes. The third always gets me so I had smash return training sessions with two different coaches during the week. While playing with my club at night I wanted to continue practicing but in a game. I kept giving my opponents high returns so they would have a smash opportunity.
Sure, okay, I didn’t tell my partner and he said “stop giving them such high returns.” Fine. He didn’t know it was intentional. (Although he should. The first rule in doubles is keep the birdie going down and he thinks I didn’t know that?! But I digress….)
“Oh, actually I’m practicing returning a smash,” I said. “I’ve been practicing all week with Coach and I want to do it in a game.”
“Well, we’re playing a game, so don’t do that.”
“Yeah, but this isn’t a competition. I mean, this is just a fun game. And I need to train my smash return,” I said.
“You can train with the coach,” he said.
“I DO,” I said. “But I need in-game training!” I looked at him like he was dense. I didn’t know if it was a culture thing, a chinese language miscommunication or what. Why was he being a dick about it?
“Well, don’t give them smash opportunities,” he said again.
“If I want to do it, then I’ll do it,” I said (admittedly bratty, but I don’t like being lectured to.)
“But what if we lose?”
“Then we lose!” I said throwing my hands up in the air. “Will you cry? Will you die? Will the sun not come up tomorrow? Gah!” I said exasperated.
After the game he, and another guy, sat next to me and lectured me about how each game I should play to the best of my ability and blah, blah. I agree with them on some level, take no game for granted, but I kept arguing that I need to train in a game too. Returning a smash in a game is different than returning them with my coach standing on one place feeding me birdies.
It wasn’t that moment alone that pissed me off so much but that lit the fuse. The dynamite exploded a few nights later when I played with three guys. My partner spat criticism at me and my opponents played like two dead zombies. They had played normally the game before, and normally the game after, but for my game, since they had to “lower themselves” to play with a girl, they decided to put zero effort into it.
Admittedly I was playing with the two biggest sexists, both of whom I try to avoid. My coach has even told me before to avoid them because he knows the one guys attitude about women and my coach knows my attitude about blatant sexism. But I had trotted onto the court the exact same second as these two and we couldn’t bow out gracefully. We sucked it up and started playing.
So when they were playing like total dicks I lost it on court. “Play seriously!” I yelled. “What’s wrong with you?!” I kept yelling. “Why are you wasting our time if you won’t play?!” I saw it as a total lack of respect not only to me, but to the game of badminton and I was so mad I was all sputtering speaking half english/half chinese.
While two of the guys were the biggest sexist the third was a good guy. We are quite friendly so after the game I kinda railed into him about why he was being so disrespectful to the game of badminton and not even trying. “We shouldn’t have come anywhere near to winning that game,” I yelled at him. This nice guy actually majored in badminton in college and is a professional coach and his sexist partner is much better than me. They should have killed us if they put any effort into it but the score was very close.
“I know he doesn’t respect women,” I said pointing at his partner who kinda glanced at me. “But you’re better than that!” My friend kinda giggled and apologized and even helped me train a bit later (out of guilt) but I was just not having it.
Everything I had been ignoring came back. Like when one of my partners practically spat out “Keep your racket up!” after I had missed a shot. Or when another partner yelled at me after I accidentally hit the birdie directly to the person at the front of the net. “Don’t give it to them directly!” he yelled.
“You think I WANTED to do that?!” I wanted to yell back but I was trying to keep my cool. “You think my coach teaches me to ‘keep my racket down?!” I mean seriously. How dumb does he think I am to not know my mistakes.
I started paying attention to how guys speak to each other on the court. There is a guy who works really hard but is at a lower level than the rest of us. When he plays his partner almost never criticizes him and when he apologizes after missing a shot they always say “no problem” or “no, I set it up wrong, sorry.”
I’ve heard a few of the guys “teaching” him but they give a gentle “keep your racket up higher next time,” almost always followed by a “but no problem” or “we can do it” style encouragement.
And yet when girls play the criticism always comes out angry, and forceful. As if the girl is too stupid to know the problem or mistake herself even though the girls in the group are all at a higher level.
And while I could rant about sexism in the game, I know it’s not inherent to the male race or to badminton. Because I play with a few clubs now (one club all male except me) and no other club does that. A guy might gently say something, but in no other group is there a constant stream of angry criticism from the guys like there is at mine.
So it’s something with my club. And I think the problem is easy to spot. Out of 32 people, only 4 are female. Out of four females only one goes regular…me. I thought it was because my part of the city didn’t have many high level women but I went to another club last week and the place was filled with many high level female players.
So what happens? Women come, get berated and instead of getting angry they just think “I don’t need this shit,” and go somewhere else to play. I can’t blame them for that.
But I love my club, I love my coach and I love my court. They’re gonna have to pry me away with a crowbar to get me to ever leave. And I don’t mind being the only girl, as long as they treat me the same as each other. So I need to fix this problem.
The thing is my coach is awesome with women. Sure he yells at me all the time, but it’s not because I’m a girl. He yells at anyone who is his student. When he’s playing with normal people he’s friendly and encouraging. He never treats men and women differently and never expects anything less than top playing and equal partnership from women. His attitude towards women is something I really respect.
But he’s a guy, and a coach, so he doesn’t see what goes on because it never happens to him. He’s also the boss and needs everyone to be happy, having fun and keep paying him money. So he can’t help me a lot in this.
The night I was so angry I stayed up until 1am chatting with him about it telling him all the experiences I’ve had any why it might discourage other women. He knew the bad attitude of the two guys I played with. (They are very snobby and only want to play with people at a higher level and think they already know everything). But my coach is the owner and he can’t be turning away people who want to play.
“Just tell them to shut up,” he said.
“I can. But I don’t know if other women can. And I shouldn’t have to.”
I talked to a friend the next day, a coach and a high level player. He asked me if I sometimes felt guilty to my partner if I miss a shot or we lose.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “All the time.”
“Don’t,” he said. “There is no need. You try your best. You aren’t a professional. Everyone makes mistakes.” Then he told me about him and his men’s doubles partner who have been playing together for 10 years. “We never criticize each other. We trust each other. It’s why we are so good. When you are playing with someone, they shouldn’t criticize you. They can help you with training after a game. But during a game? Never. If you have to say sorry, say it only once at the end of a game. Don’t say it after every shot you hit poorly.”
So I’m going to need to make a big stink in the group. I’m actually not sure if the other women will stay silent, back me up, or try to save face and deny what I am saying. But I can’t let this male-dominated culture continue without saying something. Most of the guys in my club are awesome. I think they don’t realize what they are doing and with a little awareness they will stop.
As for me, I have a new rule. If someone wants to “teach” me they have to first tell my coach. Then he can tell me. I am no longer going to ignore what they say, but actively shut them up mid-sentence saying, “If you want me to learn something, tell my coach. I didn’t choose you to coach me. I don’t pay you.” Without a constant stream of criticism clouding my actions I’ll play a lot better.
As for that nice guy I played with who criticized me for giving high returns? He asked me to play with him again a few days later and before the game he said, “So, no practicing right? Play this game like it’s a real competition.”
“If I want to do something then I’m gonna do it.”
“Yeah, but…” he said.
“If I wanna do it, then I’m gonna do it,” I said giving him a cheeky grin. “Trust me.”
We ended up winning all our games that night.