June 30, 2013
Caroline Pla started playing football when she was five-years-old, and by eleven-years-old she'd been playing in a local all-boys league for two seasons. To say that she was a talented football player and could hold her own with the boys would have been an understatement. But then the league decided that they wouldn't let Caroline play next season. Because she's not a boy.
Whether the justification was an unfounded concern for her physical safety or the perception that boys and girls shouldn't play contact sports together, it was clear that Caroline was the target of gender bias.
But thanks to her fight, which included a Change.org online campaign and an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that brought international support to her cause, the league decided to (provisionally) allow girls to play in the league.
Continue reading to find out how Caroline's determination and courage stamped out gender bias.
Q. Before being told you weren't going to be allowed to play next season, was gender bias something you knew about or talked about? What did you know about it?
A. I did know about gender bias. It was a subject gone over in school, and I was aware of it going on in our world. I knew that it was a problem that girls were not treated the same as boys and that it was unfair.
Q. Before this incident, were you aware of gender bias in your daily life? Do you remember people doing or saying prejudicial or disparaging things to a girl just because she was a girl?
A. Before this, I was also aware of gender discrimination in my daily life. There were always comments about how girls aren't as good as boys and stuff like, "You throw like a girl." Sometimes boys would think that they were automatically better than girls at something, just because they were a boy.
Q. What was your reaction when you found out that it was someone in the league who complained about you playing?
A. My reaction was just confused. I was confused about why someone would care so much about me being a girl. I was sort of surprised too. I thought, "So what if I'm a girl?"
Q. How did you feel when you realized the ban was simply because you're a girl?
A. When I learned that the ban was simply based on my gender, I was mad. Just because I'm a girl, I can't play football? It was unfair.
Q. Did it feel odd to be told you couldn't do something just because you're a girl?
A. Yes, because I was the only girl, and I was the only one that was no longer allowed to play. That was unfair and I was just so upset.
Q. You had the choice to fight the ruling or just accept it. What made you decide to fight it?
A. I needed to fight this rule. The rule was unfair and I wanted to change it, not only for myself but also for the other girls who wanted to play football.
Q. How did people react to your situation? To your decision to try to get the decision reversed?
A. People's reactions were great. Lots of people were very supportive and it felt good to know that people were fighting with me.
Q. What steps did you take that you feel were most important to getting the rule/ruling changed?
A. The most important part of this was the media coverage and the petition. They both got thousands of people to hear my story and support the cause. I didn't allow negative comments deter me from my goal, they only inspired me to fight harder.
Q. What role did the support from family and friends play in your efforts to have the ruling reversed?
A. Family and friends played the biggest role in all of this. Their support helped so much and I couldn't have done it without them.
Q. Has going through the process of standing up for your right to gender equality changed your awareness of gender stereotypes bias in your daily life?
A. Now I definitely know more about gender discrimination and I find it easier to recognize it in my daily life.
Q. Do you think girls are aware of the stereotyping—and the limitations on their participation that bias causes—in their daily lives? If so, how are they handling it?
A. I think that girls my age do not understand discrimination too well. They might be able to recognize it here and there, but I don't think that all of us have a full understanding.
Q. It's definitely hard for girls to protect themselves from gender bias when they aren't sure how to spot it or what to do about it. How important are programs like girlsCAN! for helping girls recognize and stop gender bias in their lives?
A. I do think that the girlsCAN! program will benefit girls. In school, we review gender stereotyping and biases, but I do believe that we can all benefit from a program like girlsCAN! to help us to more clearly understand discrimination, why it exists, and why it does persist.
Q. What would you like to say to girls who are going through, or who will go through, a similar situation to yours?
A. Just keep fighting for equality. It's all worth it. Don't let people tell you that you can't do something just because you're a girl. If you have the ability to do something, you should do it. Your gender should not be an issue. If you need to change a rule, stay focused on your goal and fight with determination, but most importantly, do it respectfully.