Mean Boys Can't Keep Girls Off The Soccer Field: #15Girls : Goats and Soda Brazil used to ban girls from playing the game. The law is now off the books, but that doesn't mean it's easy for girls to play 'the beautiful game.'
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Mean Boys Can't Keep Girls Off The Soccer Field: #15Girls

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Mean Boys Can't Keep Girls Off The Soccer Field: #15Girls

Mean Boys Can't Keep Girls Off The Soccer Field: #15Girls

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This month, we've been traveling around the world and talking to 15-year-old girls who are creating new opportunities for themselves, and sometimes they are pushing back against their cultures to do it. In Brazil, playing soccer when you're a girl is a subversive act. Girls can do other things in Brazil - play volleyball or dance ballet - but playing a boy's sport - that has consequences. Women's soccer was actually banned in Brazil for almost 40 years. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on this with producer Peter Breslow. And we should say, he's the father of twin 15-year-old girls who you will also hear in this story.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Peter and I are in Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas or shantytowns in Rio, and in front of us, a group of girls is playing soccer. They're kicking the ball on a kind of poured concrete basketball court surrounded by a high chain-link fence.

PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: Really, it looks more like a cage than a soccer field. But it's all they have in this neighborhood, which is known as Roupa Suja, which mean, literally, dirty laundry in Portuguese.

MILENA MEDEIROS DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Milena Medeiros dos Santos has a mischievous smile. Leaning against the metal fence, she tells us she's serious, though, about soccer.

MILENA: (Through interpreter) I don't know what I would do if I didn't play soccer. It's not just that I like it. I love it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They have to love it to want to play. It's culturally taboo for girls to do contact sports, and that turns into discrimination. Lahis Maria Ramos Veras likes to be known as Lala. She's got dirty blonde highlights and wise eyes.

LAHIS MARIA RAMOS VERAS: (Through interpreter) So when I started playing, I did feel like there was a lot of prejudice. They called me a macho girl. They called me a lesbian.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The only reason they're able to play in the first place is because of an NGO, Estrela Sports, which brings in a coach once a week and trains both boys and girls in the area.

So Peter, when we came to do this story, we knew that it was going to be tough for girls who want to play soccer. But it's been surprising just how tough it is.

BRESLOW: Yeah, really surprising for me. I mean, my daughters - and by the way, their names are Eden and Danielle. They started playing when they were 4 years old, so they were really interested in this story.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: I want to know what they wear when they're playing.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Maybe you should ask them why they like to play.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: Yeah and how they decided they wanted to play soccer.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: And if they have coaches when they're playing.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: And I know you told us they were made fun of. Maybe you can ask if it's worth it even though they're made fun of for their playing.

BRESLOW: We return to Rocinha, to Lala's home. It's a cinderblock house. We wind our way up to the roof, squeezing through a tight spiral staircase.


BRESLOW: When we sat down, we got some answers to my kids' questions. Lala says, yes, definitely, soccer has been worth it.

LALA: (Through interpreter) So they've stopped criticizing me some because I've improved a lot since when I first started. They respect me more now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As Milena and Lala are talking, suddenly, this.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Turns out it's not shooting. Its fireworks. Lala's mom has joined us, and she explains that the traffickers are signaling that the police are doing a sweep in the area. She's known as Tia Thais - Aunt Thais because she's the Brazilian equivalent of a soccer mom. She goes to all the games, supports the team.

BRESLOW: When we talk to her, it's the day after Brazilian Valentine's Day. And the night before, a 15-year-old boy stopped by the house to ask if he could date Lala.

THAIS: (Through interpreter) I like him. He did the right thing. He came and asked permission. It's very difficult today. People just hook up. No, that's the truth. They just hook up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lala tells us while he was talking to her parents, she sat on the stairs crying with worry that her parents were going to say no. After she tells the story, the girls have a question for Peter.

MILENA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do your daughters have boyfriends?

BRESLOW: I don't think so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaking Portuguese) - no.


BRESLOW: But they don't tell me things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaking Portuguese).


GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

MILENA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's possible.

MILENA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They probably do, maybe.

MILENA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're at the same age they are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But as Lala and Milena will tell you, being a young girl in Rocinha is a lot different than the states. Dating and even sex start young, really young.

LALA: (Through interpreter) I have a friend who lives here in this neighborhood a little bit higher on the hill. She's 10 years old, and she's pregnant.

MILENA: (Speaking Portuguese).

LALA: (Through interpreter) And I think sometimes, if she was playing soccer, would she be pregnant right now?

BRESLOW: Milena also knows this girl, but she says most young women don't ever get the chance to play soccer.

MILENA: (Through interpreter) If there were more incentives at the earlier levels of school for girls to play, I think more would play, if girls weren't just given dolls and makeup to play with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do they hope it'll bring them? You know, where will it take them? What are their hopes for the future?

MILENA: (Through interpreter) I hope it does bring me somewhere. But even if I don't become a soccer player, I do want to be a happy person. And I think it would be exciting to, one day, be able to, for example, meet your daughters in the United States, Peter.

BRESLOW: Well, maybe someday. But for now, we did the next best thing and set up a Skype session.

DANIELLE: Can you hear us?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yep. They can hear you. They said hi, you guys.


DANIELLE: So do you guys...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It started off a little awkward. There was a lot of talk about soccer. But then it quickly got to the good stuff when Peter got the big reveal.

MILENA: (Through interpreter) Do you guys have boyfriends?


DANIELLE: Do you guys?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They said that they both did, and they asked whose boyfriend is in the house that made everybody get so bashful on your end? And they want - and can he please come into the video chat?

DANIELLE: OK. This is my boyfriend, everybody.


BRESLOW: This is the first I'm finding this out.

DANIELLE: You, Dad? Dad, I told you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So that happened.

BRESLOW: Yeah, it did. And then Lala and Milena accorded my daughters the highest compliment.

MILENA: (Through interpreter) Could you guys actually come and play soccer with us one day in Rocinha where we live?

DANIELLE: That'd be so fun. We'd lose, but yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Speaking Portuguese).


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peter's daughters might just be right. We talked to some of the boys we saw the girls playing with, and they said, straight up, they didn't like playing with girls. But it wasn't because the girls weren't good enough or they were too weak but because they were too tough. I'm Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

BRESLOW: And I'm Peter Breslow, NPR News.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #1: It was nice meeting you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: It was really nice to meet you.





MCEVERS: That story is part of our series exploring the lives of 15-year-old girls around the world. And we want to know what was your most difficult challenge at 15. Tell us on Twitter. Use the hashtag #15girls.

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