Lifting Girls Up Through Sports Literature
Meet 16-year-old author Paige Brotherton Written by K.L. Kranes
When it comes to girls and sports, the times have changed. In 1972, after the landmark Title IX legislation passed, only one in 27 girls participated in high school sports. Over 45 years later, that number has increased to two in five. Although the playing field is still not equal, women have 1.3 million fewer high school and over 60,000 fewer college sports participation opportunities than men, more girls than ever actively participate in sports.
But as often happens, particularly with stories for children and young adults, literature has not kept up with the times.
“There are girls who like to slide in the mud and get dirty, but there are not a lot of books for girls who like to do these sports,” says 16-year-old Paige Brotherton of Williamsburg, Virginia, author of Avery Appreciates True Friendship, the fourth installment of the Lady Tigers book series.
The series, started by her mother Dawn Brotherton, adds a relatable representation of girls in sports to the middle grade literature genre, expanding beyond the overarching subject to explore how athletics can shape a girl’s internal and external world.
“I find it important to represent female athletes because there aren’t as many out there,” says Paige, who I speak with while she waits for rowing practice to begin. “The best way to prove girls are physically strong and capable is to fill the world with such women.”
Sports played a large role in Paige’s life from a young age. In elementary school during free time, she chose participating in races over chatting with friends. Both the competition and the team camaraderie of sports appeal to Paige.
“I’ve learned the benefits of being on a team. I’m not just working hard because I want to win. I’m working hard because I want my teammates in the boat next to me to win as well,” Paige says.
Her passion for writing, however, bloomed later than her passion for sports. In 7th grade, while writing a story based on her experiences at school, she discovered her love for creating characters and bringing them through conflicts. Having been an avid reader her whole life, Paige immediately understood the importance of making characters authentic, no matter the setting.
“My favorite part of stories are the characters. It’s even more powerful when the characters are relatable and speak to the readership on some level. The nuances of human nature are universal, whether they’re found at Tatooine, in Middle Earth or on a softball field,” she says.
Therefore, when it came time to develop the next book in the Lady Tigers series, Paige had an idea. Having already tackled themes such as honesty, military deployment and sportsmanship, Paige felt the series should explore a more introspective topic for young girls—positive self-image. Concerned whether an adult writer could accurately depict the struggles girls face today in the tangled web of social media, Paige suggested she write the book and the publisher agreed.
“Self-image has been transformed rapidly to such an extent it’s a subject that needs young authors to tell other young readers they’re perfect and here’s why,” Paige explains.
Using sports as a springboard for a deeper discussion of self-perception and stereotypes, the book focuses on how girls compare themselves to their friends and often feel they come up lacking.
“As social media, general picture posting, and makeup reach ever-younger audiences, girls begin to compare themselves to the girls around them,” says Paige. “I want to explain how every girl has something special about themselves that the rest of the world wishes they had.”
Paige felt the backdrop of sports provided the perfect avenue to explore this topic. She witnessed first-hand girls lose interest in sports or become demotivated as the athletic gap between girls and boys widened, thus further affecting self-image.
“When I was in elementary school, a girl could match a guy in running and lifting. Now in high school, no matter how much I train will never be as fast as the guys,” she explains. “After elementary school, it only gets harder and makes girls feel inferior.”
Paige believes demonstrating how sports encompass more than just athleticism is critical. Through sports, girls can gain self-esteem and counteract the negative pressures and societal expectations often perpetuated by social media.
“We have to look at things girls are better at,” Paige says. As an example, Paige describes her experience in rowing, explaining how synchronization and communication are just as critical as strength. In her experience, when boys and girls first learn to row, the girls’ teams often perform better because the girls intuitively work together. It takes longer for the boys to catch up.
As Paige so aptly demonstrates both in her writing and herself, girls can derive a positive self-image from sports, if only they can break through the social cage and embrace the strength within.
“Aggressiveness is often seen as a negative trait, for girls at least,” Paige says, describing the stereotypes often associated with girls in sports and in life. “Which I believe is incredibly unfortunate as aggressiveness can also be described as a drive to seek out and earn what you want. I believe more women should wear this trait proudly as we step into the spotlight on the world platform.”
With young women like Paige Brotherton in the world, I think that just might happen.
K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.