My daughter is a bright, energetic, fiery 12 year old. She loves reading and building things, and most of all, soccer. She's pretty good at it, too, and currently plays with an academy team in the SAAC league in Ontario (that's an academy league) and has been identified by the Vancouver Whitecaps pre-residency stream as a kid who has some potential in training with them in Vancouver and Winnipeg (that's the only professional womens' team in Canada). Her academy is predominantly a boys' academy, although they do have a few girls. We selected it for her because a) she likes the challenges of playing in a boys' league where the play is more aggressive and faster and b) because her coaches are exceptional. She regularly contributes as a strong member of her team, rising to the pressure of the game, and is learning and growing to the expectations of her coaches.
So today, when she was playing alongside 1 other girl on an otherwise all-boys team, against an all boys team, i was a little taken aback at the comments of some of the parents from the opposing team. A boy on their team who was a fair bit bigger than all the others, was running toward the net. Our defender, the other girl on the team, was running him down, and stopping his ability to make a shot with excellent tenacity, was slapped by him as he ran. Rightly so, the ref awarded a card to the boy, and our girl kept on playing. Shortly afterward, two parents from the opposing team stated, out loud, their opinion that "girls shouldn't be playing with boys". Another mom from our team (of one of the boys) loudly opined that she was glad our team had the two girls, as they were strong members of the team, stronger than some of the boys.
Here's the thing: whether the other player was a girl or a boy (or an alien) in that scenario would not have made the unsportsmanlike conduct of the other player okay. So to loudly opine on the subject as if this had held some bearing over the ref's decision is disrespectful to the ref, and also to the strong and tenacious young women working their butts off on the field. Making the issue about the player's gender, rather than the other player's transgression is petty and false.
This happens all over the place. An acquaintance of mine who runs an (amazing) tech startup recently shared an experience of being told that she should get a man, or someone more "conventionally attractive" to pitch her project to investors to be more successful.
Why do people do this? They are intimidated. And that, to be frank, is cowardly. Let your skills show your strength, and let those compete with others. Feeling the need to call down others' work in order to justify your own inadequacy is weak and faulty, and isn't going to get you anywhere.
So to all the women out there, young and old, who hear these things every day as you are out there being fabulous and strong-willed, just know that it is worth it. They are intimidated by you because of your strength of will. It is easier for them to say you shouldn't do something than for them to improve their own performance. Just remember that, and keep on.