16 February 2006

Women in Sports

Today I read an excellent article in the SF Chronicle about the lingering inequality in women's sports. I don't want to sound like a uber-feminist or anything of those sorts, but, as a female athlete, this article spoke to me.

In her article, Gwen Knapp discusses how even in the "same" sports, the rules are different. In hockey, there is no checking allowed, even though the women are in full protective gear. In speed skating, the distances are different. And the list goes on.

In my own experience, I know there are different expectations put on women then on men when playing sports. A few years back, I played soccer for an adult club team. In addition to playing in my own games, I went to quite of few other games, including those of our male practice mates. At their games, it was rare for a fight not to break out, and they swore like it was going out of style. All of this with very few repercussions (perhaps a yellow card for a fight, but never for playing aggressively or swearing).

During this time, we had a game. And at this game, we had a referee. And said referee had rules and expectations of the little ladies he was officiating. There would be no rough play, after all, soccer was not a contact sport! There would be no swearing, women don't swear. And don't even think of running fast, it might destroy your ovaries! (just kidding on the last one) We rolled our eyes, and began to play.

Anyone who has ever played a women's sport knows that women are dirty. Perhaps because it is not expected, we tend to be sneakier than the men. My favorite move was always the hip-to-hip run, and the elbow to the tummy to get ahead. And I was a rather clean player. So to be told to reign it in because it was unhealthily, well, that was like telling us not to even play the game!

Back to the game. It was an intense game, with two teams that were good and probably both slightly hungover, so hoping to get the game over with. Both teams wanted to win. The ball went to one player, who promptly kicked it out of bounds, causing the ball to fall over the edge of the hill. "F*ck Me," she said. The whistle blew, and a yellow card emerged from the ref's pocket. What the!? She wasn't even swearing AT anyone, just herself. We all stared in disbelief, wondering how we suddenly landed back in the early 70's. She had to go out of the game, and we all had to watch our mouths, lest they get washed out with soap.

This would have never happened if we were men.

This is just one instance. I played lacrosse throughout college and the men's and women's game are like two different sports. The only reason the limitations on the women made sense was that we wore no pads. But to imply, in lacrosse, hockey, soccer, anything, that a women is more delicate and thus can't handle being pushed around by another athlete, to me this is ridiculous. You don't reach an elite level of your sport by being careful. And, at least to me, sports are a great building block for life; you don't learn how to push back until you've been pushed around a bit*.

*not advocating violence. In the context of this essay, I am talking about fighting back in sports, but also fighting back, not necessarily in a physical way, to adversity that one may encounter in life.

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