It’s common throughout the world that women are either limited in their participation in sports or banned from the concept entirely. But one would think that in a progressive, Western society like the United States there would be a bit more equality and inclusion. I’m here to report that this is still only an ideal in our country rather than a reality.
As with many aspects of society, this separation and exclusion starts young. As a child I was ushered into dance and gymnastics, feminized sports if people even desired to call them sports. My brother and my male counterparts however were encouraged to partake in baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. I “rebelled” at the age of 8 and joined the recreational soccer league. I could choose to play on an all girls team or a co-ed team. I was all for playing with boys and girls, since in the fourth grade I played with people of all genders on the playground, but my parents told me that the co-ed teams would play too rough for my poor girly sensitivities. “They’re too aggressive,” mumsy told me. “You’re liable to get hurt.” If any of you know me, you know I’m not simply the type of broad to stand off to the side and let people walk all over me. Well I was even more aggressive as a child.
When my parents segregated me from male players, I think I lost a bit of my aggressiveness. I became more introverted and hesitant. I no longer went after everything I wanted and I held my tongue when I otherwise would have spoken. It’s hard to prove that this one decision made by my parents when I was in fourth grade had that much of an influence on me, but part of me thinks that it was a large factor in my personality shift. Sure, increasing social pressures and school changes compounded with this to make me more timid, but maybe if I had be allowed the opportunity to compete with boys, see them as my equals and match or exceed their aggressiveness, I would have been more equipped to handle the new pressures of middle school and junior high.
Even when women are allowed participation in sports such as basketball and soccer, they have separate leagues and are often encouraged to exaggerate their feminine sides to compensate for their masculine behaviors. Danica Patrick, a female race car driver, is an exceptional professional in what would be considered a masculine sport. But most coverage of her focuses on her appearance, so much to the point that she no longer resembles a driver. The bikinis she’s photographed in make her out to be more of a silly fan girl than the athletes that inspire the silly fan girls.
It seems that women’s options in terms of sports are few. They can participate in feminized sports, which most people don’t think of as sports such as cheerleading and ice skating, or they can join a women’s league of a masculine sport and have to choose between over-exaggerating their femininity for others’ sake or risk the media labeling them as butch lesbians. Luckily I’ve regained my confidence and some of my aggressiveness that is necessary to take control of my life. But many girls growing up in this kind of double standard society may not be so fortunate. If women are told that their best is still not equivalent to any man, they’re going to start believing it. It’s a shame to prematurely shut down half of the population’s innovative potential because society believes women shouldn’t dirty their hands.