Opinion: Powderpuff has undertones of sexism

Andrea Elsholz, Features Editor

Finally a chance for women to do something that guys normally do, and even better, the rules are modified to be gentler and less aggressive so the timid and fragile girls won’t get hurt. Wait, what? It’s just football. Girls put up with an immense amount of pain, but when they try something that is typically dominated by males, it’s suddenly too rough?

Over the years, powderpuff games have become a popular homecoming tradition. Women started to participate in annual matches during World War II as substitutes for men overseas, according to the Wesley High School Student News Publication. However, even though it may just seem like fun and games, powderpuff carries a stigma with it.

The very first thing people notice about powderpuff is the name. The term powderpuff actually refers to a delicate pad that is used to apply powder to the face. This gives a delicate and fragile connotation to the sport—and to the girls who participate. If the whole goal of powderpuff is to empower girls through a new experience, then why choose a name that makes girls seem delicate?

The name may not seem like something that important, but it’s the first thing people ever hear when they are told about powderpuff, which means they are immediately under the impression that girls’ football is weaker than guys’ football.

However, the name is not the only thing that may give people a negative impression of powderpuff; the game itself has been modified. Where regular high school football games are tackle football, powderpuff is flag football. Flag football is significantly less aggressive; to stop plays, a player must pull out another player’s flag instead of bringing them to the ground like they would in tackle. In fact, for powderpuff, if a girl brings another girl to the ground, they are penalized for being too aggressive and could be thrown out of the game.

Flag football is perfectly normal; most adult football leagues in Genesee County, though they are rare, are flag football leagues. However, when the game is made less aggressive only because the sole participants are girls, it lets people assume that this is because girls can’t handle as much aggression as the typical male-dominant tackle football games. Girls should not be penalized for being aggressive and competitive, areas that males are often praised for in sports. Treating people like they are weaker just because they are girls is what has fueled sexist opinions for decades.

Another reason powderpuff is strictly flag football is because the girls are not provided with the same padding, the same practice fields or the same conditions as the football players are normally given. For this year’s powderpuff game, the girls practiced on the practice soccer field behind the middle school, and were given one only one practice on Ivan Williams field, the football field, just two days before their match.

To clarify, the game itself is not the problem, but rather how it’s addressed and treated. The fact that such strong competitive girls are trying something new is wonderful, but powderpuff is portrayed in a way where no one thinks the sport, or the players, could ever be as competitive as football is.

The sad truth is, this issue is not unique to powderpuff. Girls are mistreated in sports all the time. And because athletics are such an integral part of the American life, if equality isn’t enforced here, then people will assume it doesn’t have to be enforced anywhere else.

It is a shame for powder puff to have such a degrading side to it, considering the idea that it was popularized as a way to promote girls getting involved in sports and playing a game that usually only men enjoy. But we shouldn’t have to try to promote this at the expense of degrading girls with a stereotype of femininity. We should embrace women and their capabilities; acknowledge them for their strengths, instead of trying to portray them as weak. Starting on the path toward a more equal playing field is not difficult; for powderpuff, it could be as simple as changing the name.