Kicker Julia Knapp, the lone girl on her high school football team, is also the first female ever to score a point for her school in Troutman, North Carolina. Last week, after a heady homecoming football game, she also united two incredible high school tropes when she was crowned both Homecoming Queen and Offensive Player of the Game.
The “homecoming” tradition of US high schools is designed to unite alumni, community and school around a football game at the start of the season. In it, the crowning of a homecoming queen and a football star is a typically gendered dynamic that produces a symbolic (heterosexual) couple for the evening—the two roles are rarely combined in a single person.
But in recent years, traditions have evolved: Boys have been named homecoming queens, and a spate of high school homecoming queens have gained attention for also being football players themselves, from Mississippi to Michigan to Texas. Given the outsized impacts of the often-damaging impact of gender stereotypes in media on both boys and girls, images like Julia’s can help bust stereotypical scripts for people of all genders.
This is her first year playing football; Julia was recruited by team members who noticed her prowess in corner kicks for the school’s soccer team, according to her mother Susan. As she tells Quartz:
I’ve been following the NFL concussion studies and seen some of the documentaries on long-term disabilities to student athletes, so I had major concerns. She’d been asking to play football for years, and I’ve always said no. But I am also a feminist, and I decided that I needed to let her try, if she really wanted to do it.
My condition was that she only go on for PATs and Field Goals, when the risk of injury was lower. (She’d love to tackle if I’d agree to it!)
American teens and young adults appear to generally by trending away from traditional, rigid attitudes about both gender and sexuality than previous generations. Broadly reports that a J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group poll of Americans age 13-20 (with the relatively small sample size of 1000) found that over a third of those surveyed didn’t think gender defined a person as much as it once did. Seventy percent supported gender-neutral bathrooms in public spaces, and only 44% stuck to clothes that were designated for their gender when shopping.
Chances that the next generation’s pop culture depiction of American teen culture will involve yet another female ugly duckling-turned-prom queen seem increasingly unlikely. Good riddance.