Yeah, they are OK for a couple of girls. Image via Flickr.
1. I manage a coed softball team in Los Angeles. “Managing” consists of collecting fees and making sure everyone knows what time we're playing. “Coed” means that league rules dictate each team has to field three girls. Just three. In a city the size of Los Angeles, you'd think this would be an easy quota to fill. It is not.
2. Late last month, 12-year-old Maddy Baxter from Georgia was kicked off her football team for being a girl. Previously, in sixth grade, she played defensive end for the Strong Rock Christian School, a private academy in Locust Grove, Georgia. She had five sacks that season, according to her mom's stat-keeping. But when it was time for seventh grade football to start, she was banned from participating because “boys have lustful thoughts and might think of Maddy in an impure way.” They also read some passages from the Bible or something to justify this.
Now, a few things.
As an argument, men being better than women at playing sports seems to make sense. It can be seen through anecdotal evidence such as the above-described experience of managing a coed softball team. Plenty of times I've heard women express reservations to me about playing because they “aren't good enough.” It can also be seen simply in how the bodies of men and women differ. Generally speaking—and please note that “generally speaking” once more, as there are certainly plenty of women who could beat me up or destroy me in a game of pickup basketball—men are taller and stronger than women. This is due to all sorts of testosterone, gland secretions, muscles in their upper body rather than fat deposits, and other variables awarded in the jackpot of life. Someone sees that, and it's easy for them to come to the conclusion that boys are better at sports than girls. They see it as an inherent trait linked to genetics. To them, it's the same as men being unable to get pregnant and women never knowing the pain that comes with getting kicked in the balls.
The problem is, “boys are better at sports than girls” is an argument that's fucking bullshit.
Females are as skilled at sports as males, but there's two distinct roadblocks standing in the way making it look as though that's not the case. The first one, which will be quickly mentioned because vast volumes of sociological arguments have already discussed it, is the fact that females are not given as much instruction as males during their adolescence/growing-up-period.
You know that silly phrase “he/she throws like a girl”? Even though you hear it bandied about on playgrounds, high school gym classes, and frat houses, it doesn't make any sense. No one, male or female, throws like a girl. They either throw like someone who has had ample instruction on how to properly throw, or like someone who has not. (If you'll excuse me, that last passage was lifted from my piece about the Lingerie Football League, which proves the point about instruction versus inherent skills. Most of the quarterbacks in that league can throw further and more accurately than any men reading this could ever hope to.) This disparity is what happens when a generation of parents give boys footballs and girls Barbie dolls for their first few years. The difference is something that's been lessening with the institution of Title IX, girl-friendly youth instructional programs, and a new generation of parents who understand that boy does not equal blue and girl does not equal pink. But there's another, thornier bit of misogyny that may be impossible to untangle when it comes to the differences of the two sexes playing sports:
They were designed for men, to be played by men.
Sports currently fall into two categories: male sports, and females playing sports designed for me. Basketball, football, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, tennis, poker, NASCAR, and anything else you can think of were created during a time when women were expected to be at home preparing dinner and taking care of the six children while the men were out trying to get their balls into another team's holes. So, instead of the winner of a sport contest being determined by skills that women excel in (an extremely small sample based on my own experiences: flexibility, agility, nimbleness, intelligence, an insane pain threshold, investment strategies, teamwork, just fucking living longer), they were geared towards categories like “I can push you further” and “I can jump higher than you can jump.”
Maybe think about it like this: Way back in the day, when James Naismith invented the game of basketball, what if instead of making the height of the baskets 10 feet, he decided to make them 8 feet? In this alternate reality, your favorite team's roster would be composed of entirely different players. Gone would be the crazy high jumpers or 7-foot plus monsters, because height and flight would no longer be as important of an asset. In their place would be... Well, I don't even know. No one really does. I imagine thy would be more muscular and compact athletes, like a rugby players. The fact is, the average height of an NBA player would no longer be nearly a foot higher than the average male because that kind of height wouldn't be necessary. Height would still assist, as it does in just about every competition this side of horseracing, but it wouldn't dominate the proceedings.
Now, multiply that subtle change in game construction by every little bit of difference between how male and female bodies are designed, and you'll get somewhere near our current state of affairs.
“What's the big deal?” is, no doubt, a question on everyone's minds. “Women play women and men play men, so it doesn't make a difference,” they'll go on. Except that is does make a huge, vital, and indisputable difference in one particularly important category—income.
The WNBA will never overtake the NBA in popularity. Softball will never be as popular as baseball. If you're a top female golfer, or an Olympic female volleyball player, you may make a nice bit of change in endorsement deals. But you don't sniff what the top males make. Men will always make more money than women in sports, because there will always be more money in male-played sports than in female-played ones.
Spectators, when choosing where to spend their money, invariably choose to see the best players of that particular game take the floor. (Example: No one's paying top dollar to see hockey players shoot a basketball around.) So when it comes to watching the male version of a particular sport versus the female one, more money will always find its way into the coffers of the former. And that's always going to be the case, because ever since the first sport was designed—when the first two cavemen boxed the shit out of each other while a third sold tickets—they've been designed exclusively with the male skill-set in mind.
Which is all to say: The games are rigged. Equality does not exist, and will never exist, in the world of sports. Until, that is, someone has the powerful genital fortitude to scrap the current understanding of what constitutes as a “sport” and designs one with the female skill-set in mind.
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