Boys & Girls, Soccer & Ballet


In some ways, Brazil is socially progressive. For example, Brazil just recently passed a law dictating that states could not deny registration of marriage for gay couples.

Yet, when it comes to children, the country, even its biggest city, is far behind the times.

Since we arrived in São Paulo, my daughter has wanted to play soccer. I soon inquired with some Brazilian mothers about where and how she might join a team. I was promptly told that soccer is for boys.

Fast forward a couple years. We now belong to a small club, one know for soccer, having been founded by a British man who holds claim to bringing soccer to Brazil. I was excited to have my daughter participate. Yet again, the soccer team is all boys, and though she isn’t able to join until she is 6 years old, I’m guessing we might get some push back.

A friend of mine has a daughter who is playing soccer at our school. She is a year older than mine. Every time she attends, the boys tell her she shouldn’t play and she doesn’t belong because she is a girl. The little girl was so upset by this that despite the fact she loved to play soccer, she would instead play sick when it was time to go. When my friend addressed this issue with the teacher, it was suggested she take her daughter out of the sport and put her in something else because the boys are better than her (actually not true).  The teacher went on to suggest that perhaps she is going to be growing into doing “girl” things soon. ( The American Society does have a soccer league in which both boys and girls participate… but it can get complicated to get to the locations.)

On the flip side, two friends have little boys that want do to ballet. One was bullied out of his sister’s ballet class by a little girl. The other held strong and I hope he continues, but has gotten grief from other boys.

Another friend had a teacher tell her little girl that wearing “boy” costumers, like super heroes or Ben Ten, was “muito feio,” or very ugly.

If we lived in a rural area at one of the extreme ends of Brazil, or if this were the 1960’s, I might understand. And yes there are some parts of the U.S. and some families in where these attitudes are predominant, but these attitudes are fading.

São Paulo is South America’s largest city. How could these attitudes be maintain and accepted by society? Yes, religion could have something to do with it. Important cultural celebrations, like Carnaval and Festa Junina hold fast to the roles of man and woman. Brazilians are so relaxed on so many levels, I wonder why on the issue of gender there are still so many restrictions.


Gallery | This entry was posted in Culture Conflicts, Expatriate Info & Advice, Living in Sao Paulo and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Boys & Girls, Soccer & Ballet

  1. Andrew Francis says:

    Sounds a bit like culture clash to me. Sure, American girls play soccer a lot and Brazilians don’t care much for women’s football (even though it does exist). On the other hand, every time I hear an American mention the WNBA it’s to say how silly it is, that no one wants to watch women playing basketball whereas, in Brazil, the best players are household names.

    As another example, I get upset that so many common sports (common to me, of course) are non-existent here in England. Basketball, volleyball, handball, skateboarding, surfing, martial arts, … should I carry on? 🙂 Instead, over here they get very excited about sports (I use the term loosely) like cricket, darts, snooker, bowls, netball, rounders and so on. I could try (as I sometimes do) to convince people that some of those aren’t sports at all and that they should just play the same games as the rest of us but that’s a pretty pointless exercise, isn’t it?

    • I don’t know where in England you are living but all those sports available in England and it’s nonsense to say they are not. Millions of people all over the world would disagree about what you class as sports, how can you say Cricket is not a sport.(I personally detest cricket but it is a sport). Just because it’s not big in America therefore it’s not important is that what you are saying? Martial arts is big all over the UK and surfing in Cornwall and Devon is very popular. Netball and rounders oh sorry should we bow down and call them basketball and baseball because you say so? Well you have bastardised the English language you may as well start on sports now. When you say the rest of us, who do you mean, because there is a lot of ‘the rest of us’ that are not American. The British invented Football for goodness sake or has Hollywood changed that now?

      • Andrew Francis says:

        Maggie, my intention was not to criticise England but rather to illustrate how my expectation of sport coming from Sao Paulo is very different from the options available in London. Neither one is wrong, they’re just incredibly mismatched. I think that might be the same with BAB and women’s football in Brazil.

        However, I stand by my claim that volleyball and handball, to cite two examples, are non-existent in the UK. Even the 2012 Olympic commentators were quick to point out that the next time Brits were going to see either of those sports again was in 2016. Bear in mind they’re sports that are played competitively all around the world, unlike some favoured by Brits that only seem to attract a handful of Commonwealth nations.

        • Interesting conversation (though I’m not so sure I’m following it). What’s also interesting is that we belong to an English club here in SP and there are some hard core players of that game with the yard and those balls – balls that are too small to be a soccer ball, yet way bigger than baseballs. Here in Brazil, the game seems to be called “balls.” What is the actual name? They keep asking us if we want to join a team, yet I don’t know how to refer to it. BTW – they keep the lawn for this game at precise measurements. And were not too happy when my daughter decided to race across it on her imaginary horse.

        • lol You sure caught me on a bad day, sorry,I’m laughing at myself now. But we got the conversation going anyways.
          To help you out and say sorry for my rant:) my friend from London gave me these links for you, he’s sports mad and American.

          volleyball both indoor and outdoor

 for league games and teams.

          • For handball
   Englands oldest handball club founded in 1970’s
            They’re just a few but he assures me there are many more sites and places to play. I think what the Olympic commentator must have meant was we wouldn’t be seeing these sports on TV. Hope you manage to get a game.

          • Andrew Francis says:

            Not to worry and thanks for the links. You’re right, it’s hard to find some of those sports on TV (even with God knows how many hundreds of channels on Virgin Media).

          • Yes, thanks for the links!

      • Andrew Francis says:

        That reminds me, the Greeks called, they want their words back. You’re going to have to make up new idioms (well, not “idioms” because that’s Greek) for everything from mythology to technology, drama to mathematics, theology to pentagrams, you get the idea (no, my mistake, you can’t have that one either).

        And stop bastardising their Olympic Games while you’re at it. 🙂

  2. harmamae says:

    I noticed that too when I was in Brazil. I usually travel with a group, including girls, from North America who mostly all do like to play, so many of us usually did play when a game was going on. It wasn’t usual for girls to play, though.

  3. Kristin says:

    Okay, clearly I have to comment as the mother of the boy who is in ballet. Nico is 6 years old and very self-confident. It is not only that he loves ballet but that he simply doesn’t care what the boys say about it. He just wants to do it so he ignores it. Several months ago he also joined our club’s gymnastics “team” which is also all girls. Next week he will have his demonstration class–they posted news about it at the club, with the invitation to watch the club’s “meninas” or girls. I had to go after the club to change the signs.

    I know the little girl who is facing problems in soccer in school. She has now joined the soccer class that my boys attend. She has gotten comments from little boy in the class (he is Irish/English–not Brazilian) but none of the others have even noticed she is a girl. Meaning they only care about practice and playing–if she’s going to get in it and really play, then she can play. And she is–unfortunately the burden of proof is on her that she can kick butt. I have confidence in her.

    Nico is already training the rest of the world (and it is not only in Brazil that he faces the ant-ballet for boys and ditto gymnastics–the US is not a lot more open on boys doing those things) on gender issues. At the swim club, they have two folders of coloring pages for the kids while waiting for class. A boy folder and a girl folder. When they hand Nico the boy folder to choose, he hands it back and says to them “there is no such thing as boy stuff and girl stuff.” Now the receptionist knows better. Of course, his twin brother would be mortified if you asked him to color in a princess. So which part is nature and which is nurture? And I am all over him if he says that girls can’t do certain things…it starts with the parents, you know…

    • Good for Nico. I’m proud to say I know him. He is going somewhere in the world for sure. I hate to see these kids go through this, my daughter too, but it will make them stronger. And you are absolutely right, it starts with the parents.

    • Katie says:

      I know first hand what that “burden of proof” is like.
      I myself was the only girl in the 90’s playing water polo on the boy’s high school team. There were only a handful of girls like me in Southern California. (where the sport is most popular)
      Honestly it was hell a lot of the time. But I didn’t give up and by my senior year it was voted on to add girl’s water polo as a CIF sanctioned sport.
      Title 9 got me an athletic scholarship in college and I earned NCAA All-American status my senior year.

      My point in all this: There is NO reason for kids to stop playing what they want to play because of gender. Stay strong and don’t give up!!

  4. anon blog fan says:

    This is interesting to me, because it reminds me of something I learned in college (I was a developmental psychology major). We read something about how as a sport rises in importance in a society, the more likely it is to be gender-segregated. The example that was given was the existence of co-ed soccer teams for young children and the overall popularity of girls’ soccer in the US. Our society sees that as acceptable because honestly, there’s no prestige attached to it (whereas in a country where soccer is everything, even something like a co-ed team of five year olds would be unthinkable). On the other hand, as the previous poster mentioned, women’s basketball in the US is an afterthought and women’s football is maybe a once a year ‘powderpuff’ novelty, because our culture sees those as the important sports.

  5. This Wednesday retired soccer stars Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain will be in Sao Paulo talking to girls about soccer!! Very timely!

  6. I’m late to the conversation here but I absolutely detest this here too! I played soccer all the way up to the collegiate level and you better believe my daughters will too (once they’re old enough). Thankfully, there is a trainer who comes to our apt complex and teaches the kids soccer who we know well and we plan on signing up our oldest once she’s finished with her current activities. That being said, we can’t account for what other kids say which is a real problem (especially since my oldest is very sensitive and takes these kind of comments to hear).

    I find it funny that while I work in a very typically male-dominated field, (everywhere else in the world that is) here in Brazil it’s filled with females. Yet, the second that you step outside of your predefined gender role here all hell breaks loose. The best my husband and I can do as parents is continue to challenge the stereotypes and follow our children’s lead. I figure we must be doing something right because our oldest wants to be a female hulk next Halloween. 🙂

    • Good for your daughter! You are right – we can only deliver the message to our children that it’s all right to be who you want to be. I know – it doesn’t make any sense. Brazil has a female president but girls can’t play soccer?

  7. Pingback: How I Know Things Will be Different | born again brazilian

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s