I used to play basketball a lot when I was younger. I started playing when I was around four years old, encouraged because I was naturally tall and lanky. I was the captain of my high school basketball team and played as a part of the inter-college basket- ball team when I was in university. On Monday nights, I am one of three women in a group of more than 40 men.
It started out innocently enough, a weekly Monday night basketball game where anyone could play. There were no set teams so everybody — with skill sets ranging from those who almost became professional basketball players to those who had to clean off the dust from the shoes they used five years ago — got to play with each other. Everyone got an equal number of minutes to play. We kept score but no one ever kept track of who won or who lost. People were always laughing.
It all changed when it was decided that we should set up a league. This meant that there was going to be a draft, permanent teams, official rankings, jerseys and referees. Our minutes were no longer guaranteed. No one smiled anymore.
Our bodies, whether we choose to accept it or not, have political meanings ascribed to them simply for existing — the personal is political. Suddenly, being the only woman on a team of 16 men became something more than a weekly Monday night game for me. I was the lone woman in the theoretical room filled with men. Even if I was no longer having fun, I couldn’t stop going. If showing up was half the battle, then I was determined to at least win that half.
I started noticing all these things that reflected the bigger fight for inclusivity. I started hated going because my otherness was suddenly emphasized: there was so much more pressure on me to do well because of my body. Even if I was surrounded by the nicest guys off-court, during games they were predisposed to acting on their institutionalized misogyny. These are things they wouldn’t even know they were doing, like putting me on the bench and not putting me back in the game despite being the only player that scored points that entire quarter. I’d also get pulled aside after every huddle and get mansplained all the plays right before the game. I found that I had to sprint the whole time to make sure I didn’t get benched while my teammates got to walk from one end of the court to the other. I noticed that every shot I didn’t make got highlighted while my teammates would miss shots and still get cheered on.
There was an instance last week when my layout was blocked by this mammoth of a man. I was mad that he did that. After the game, he apologized to me for what he did. I was mad because he blocked my shot, because it was another mistake I had to make up for by running faster and playing harder. But at the same time, I was also mad that he felt the need to apologize. Because shouldn’t I have been okay with him blocking that shot? Shouldn’t I demand to be guarded against heavily and not complain when I get elbowed in the face when I’m playing against men? There’s a quote going around Instagram that says: “In a deeply sexist society, even women believe a lot of sexist sh*t.”
The fight for inclusivity demands that women be treated as equals, or at least we should no longer feel like we should be constantly proving ourselves, and that we have a right to be there. But the fight for inclusivity is also collaborative. It is, after all, a team sport.