By: Isidora Savković, Senior Media Planner, DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions
As I was preparing that morning to mark International Day of the Girl as a volunteer at Inspiring Girls Serbia, I stood in front of a mirror and watched a 30-year-old woman in a dress and heels with styled hair and makeup slowly shrink and turn into 8-year-old Isidora — messy hair, glasses too big for a kid’s nose, scratched knees, and timid but feisty. I’m no longer in front of the mirror, now I’m at my second-grade school gymnasium. I’m standing in front of a 6-foot 250-lbs man showing rugby to the boys in our class who tells me, “This isn’t a sport for girls, go play jump rope with the other girls.”
And BOOM! First punch: Why can’t I do something because I’m a girl!? I’m growing up with my brother and sister, Mom and Dad treat us as equals… but the reality is different. In reality, girls run into that exact phrase from their earliest age: That’s not for you, you’re a girl! When children are small, they don’t know what’s “for girls” and what’s “for boys” — that’s what society foists on them as they grow up. “Don’t play with those dolls, you’re not a girl!” or “Why are you chasing that ball like you’re a boy!” And then kids grow up feeling that if they love something that isn’t “intended” for them, they will be rejected, which is the most dreadful thing in the kids’ world. And then they continue to fit into stereotypes they’re not even aware of. But something in me didn’t let me silence that voice of a 6-foot man who told me I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl. I was growing up, and so was my desire to prove the opposite to the whole world.
I’m starting the first grade of the Kruševac High School — which means a year of rebellion, desire to prove myself, to be different, to be myself, to be revolutionary, to change the world — and in all that haziness of puberty I come across a leaflet: “The first women’s rugby club in Serbia launches. Try something different, play rugby.” The 8-year-old me screams with happiness! I come to the first training, completely confused, but liking everything — organized mess, falling, getting up, bruises from impact. The bruises on the body go away, but the one I got from hearing that the sport was not for girls started to heal only now. And then come the first match and the sentence, “You just started, you’re going to lose!” And another BOOM! Only this time in the opposite direction — we win. A year without matches and the sentence, “You’ll be running around for another month or two and the club will shut down!” And another BOOM — we’re going to the Group B European Championship in Belgium.
Then comes the year of my arrival in Belgrade to study, when I stop playing rugby because there are no clubs in Belgrade. But this time I didn’t wait eight years — I’m starting my own club with two other friends. And then of course, “Come on, why do you even bother? Who will come to your club?” “Who will train you?” “Where did you get the money to pay for club maintenance?” And a bunch of scary sentences for three 19-year-olds. Another BOOM: It’s 2014 and we’re celebrating the club’s fifth anniversary, with a double-digit membership, as Serbian champions, and I have a second college degree as the first female rugby coach in Serbia and the captain of the national team.
In the same year after who knows which European championship, the coach of the National Sports Academy from Sofia comes up to me and asks if I want to sign a contract for the season with his club. With them, I win the silver medal at the European Universities Games in Rotterdam (EUSA).
And then I go back to the body of a 30-year-old whose dress is covering bruises from training for the 2021 World Cup. I walk into a classroom full of girls on whose faces I recognize the same mix of fear and curiosity I felt at their age and I tell them, “I play rugby. What’s your superpower?”