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Me, Myself, as Mommy: Fighting unfair female stereotypes from within Northern Utah

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Dec 1, 2023

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Stephanie Snell Povey poses with a copy of her book, "You Can't Play, You're a Girl."

“‘You can’t play, you’re a girl!’

“Her father took her aside and quietly answered, ‘Steph, these men are telling me you can’t play little league because you’re a girl.’

“‘Why, Dad, this isn’t fair! Boys get to do all the fun stuff.'”

It was merely a generation ago women were barred from sports, skirts were the daily uniform and sex discrimination was as American as apple pie. In 1969, Stephanie Snell Povey was in the middle of that fight as a girl who wanted to be an athlete, to compete, to show the natural abilities she was born with, but that’s not how little girls were to behave back then. Fifty years ago, Title IX not only changed the trajectory for Steph but also for women throughout the country for generations to come. Before that, girls were told “no,” told they were “weird,” pigeonholed and forced into hobbies or futures that weren’t their passion.

Steph, now in her 60s, is still the athlete she was as a young girl, teenager and college student. Teaching a class of 10-year-olds, she realized her story of being negatively labeled and denied because she was a female athlete before Title IX, only to be ridiculed after it passed, was a universal story still playing out today in our changing landscape. Despite retiring from teaching, she decided her calling to educate wasn’t over, so she wrote a memoir, “You Can’t Play, You’re a Girl.” She uses this book as a tool to teach the universal truths of inclusion, acceptance and the fact we’re not all that different, sometimes stepping back in front of a classroom to share.

“I try to give a history of Title IX and some of the younger teachers don’t know what that is,” Povey tells me. “I’ll ask the girls, ‘How many of you have played on a recreational baseball or soccer team?’ Every hand goes up. Just think — not that long ago, there was nothing for girls.” Passed in 1972, Title IX is a landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Originally passed as a corrective measure for inequality in sports, it now has far-reaching implications in many programs, from my child’s 504 to addressing sexual harassment on college campuses.

As Steph writes in her book, “Title IX didn’t suddenly make everything better for female athletes. Overcoming narrow-minded attitudes, stereotyping and bias was an on-going challenge.” I would contend “was” isn’t the right word; “is” fits better, as the discussion of women’s sports continues to be soaked in bias.

Being one of the few girls who yearned to not only play sports but also wear shorts, work with her hands and wear her hair short, Steph survived situations that today would be straight up sexual harassment, maybe even assault. It wasn’t until Title IX and the creation of girls basketball that she found her tribe.

This group of girls survived the same labels, pressures and sneers to follow their passion for athletics. “We (the basketball team) were like family. We became each other’s family,” explains Steph. “I think when we are allowed to follow our passions, it builds perseverance. If you love what you’re doing, and roadblocks hit you, you’re going to find a way around it.”

It’s this message that led me to fall in love with the book, to then read it with my children who are constantly barraged with labels and expectations they have no interest in meeting. My daughter with short hair, who takes command of a soccer field when she’s not delivering a fire debate speech all while she rebuffs any expected beauty standards, lives with constant questions about who she is and what she’s about. All she knows is she wants to play. Steph understands, having raised three daughters of her own with different trajectories and goals: “They sing, they dance, they played soccer. My youngest even played college rugby. The things we love are the things we love. It gives you confidence and perseverance.”

Steph persevered until her dreams of little league, basketball, being a wife, mother and teacher happened. She moved past the classmates who put her down, the teachers who doubted her abilities and used what she learned to write a book that perfectly illustrates the continued judgements we see, and sadly experience daily, but they do not define us. Often, we hear how sports help kids find who they really are, what they’re capable of and how they want to live. Because of Title IX, Steph found that for herself. Because of people like Steph, fighting for girls to play, our daughters get to find it for themselves. “I have found for myself I can be many things. I can be an active LDS woman who teaches Primary on Sundays as well as a feminist who believes people should have equal opportunities,” says Steph.

“You Can’t Play, You’re a Girl” started out as a commentary on what Title IX meant to one little girl from Davis County in 1968. What it turned into is a slice of reality for girls sports in 2023. The labels, judgments and bias still exist when a girl is an athlete, a “tomboy” or doesn’t sport long curls and makeup. Steph ends the book with this, “So much has been accomplished in the days since then (1972), but so much more needs to be done in the world of humanity regarding gender, race and creed. We all do not share the same talents, but we all should have the equal opportunity to develop our talents whatever they may be.”

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 17 years.


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