I’m not a sports gal. One of the easiest assessments I tackled in high school was the question of whether to sport or not to sport. Students who participated in athletics had their Wednesdays and Saturdays totally sucked up with no time for smoking cigarettes in the woods or slamming out an English essay in record time. Wasting my time on a school bus with the annoying chatter of other high school girls and the overwhelming smell of sweaty socks? No thanks. Give me a mile long walk to the local pond with a few pals, scandalous poetry and bathing suit in hand. But in my role as a teacher and benevolent overlord in the dormitory, the fact that my good friend is the athletic director here, and finally given that my lovely husband wants us to be involved in campus life (he’s so good it’s gross), we found ourselves at the girls JV field hockey game this past Saturday. Late September afternoon sunlight, a bucolic scene of rolling grass fields and a winding river, with all of these trappings, it was not difficult to convince myself that I was having a lovely time. I had to have been having a better time than those girls all hunched over with their field hockey sticks. How do they keep running around bent forward at the waist like that? And suddenly I focused in on a disturbing reality: the girls were wearing skirts. SKIRTS!
During the Olympics this summer the blatant double standards and rampant sexism at play in the media’s coverage of the games were being called out on a daily basis. Or at least the outrage was clear in my well curated Facebook feed. Seriously, thank you online friends for being so cool. And if I unfriended you at some point, well, now you know why. You’re probably a racist or misogynist and I don’t have time for you at least not while I’m trying to spend some quality time in the bathroom.
But why are there men’s sports and women’s sports, really? I mean, dig down and ask yourself why? Shouldn’t the goal be to just have sports? Hormone levels certainly impact things like a person’s body size, muscular strength, etc. But an 18 year old girl could certainly out perform a 14 year old boy on any number of athletic challenges. An 18 year old, 160 lb girl could also throw a shotput further than an 18 year old male cross country runner. So what is the point, what is the purpose of division along gender lines? And why on earth are we putting 15 year old girls in skirts on the field? I’m told it is even worse for the female volleyball players. They are basically in tight booty shorts which readily allow a female athlete’s lower buttocks to be on full display during a game. I’d still rather smoke a cigarette (not really, gross) and read some Anais Nin but sports are cool, I guess, and certainly athletic contests are a huge part of our culture. In high school, boys can absolutely join the field hockey team, girls can be on the football and wrestling teams, so I know it can be done. But if a boy played field hockey would he have to wear a fucking skirt? Does the skirt somehow make it easier for these athletes to tilt forward in that weird awkward position for a whole game? Is there any functionality that helps these field hockey athletes play their game by wearing a skirt? Is women’s volleyball such a different game from men’s volleyball that without exposing their butt cheeks the game just couldn’t be played? If a girl plays football are we going to get her a kilt to wear instead of the regular spandex pants? It has been over 40 years since Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “battle of the sexes” exhibition tennis match. Why are there still male and female divisions of athletics? Division. Just think about that word for a minute. Then wrap up the divisiveness in some pink ribbons and be sure to showcase it during non prime time hours.
Speaking of showcasing, I had a rare moment of clarity and outrage this summer. Chris (the aforementioned husband) is on the nominating committee for the Boston Music Awards so this summer he was telling me about the categories on the ballot. All of a sudden I turn to him and I’m like, WHAT THE FUCK? Why are there separate awards for best male vocalist and best female vocalist? Seriously why? Is there a category for best gay guitar player? Best Islamic percussionist? Why does it make any sense for there to be separate categories for vocalists? Why so much differentiation where it does not belong?
It’s not easy to be a female musician or a female athlete in a world where I’ve been told repeatedly that I, despite expectation, don’t “play like a girl” and going to “the game” on a Friday night means going to the boys’ football, basketball or baseball game. We need to celebrate and uplift the women of our communities. But putting them in skirts and continually having separation of categories and expectations based on gender? I don’t think so. We need to be celebrated for sure, but do we need to be so dramatically differentiated? How can we champion female vocalists but simply have a best vocalist category? How can we recognize that girls should be able to play sports and, yes, might not be as big or as strong as the boys on average but should still have the opportunity to compete in athletics? And all the while fighting the good fight can we please get these girls into some decent athletic clothing?!
If young women want to dress in identical uniforms and run around a field looking much like prisoners out for yard time, that’ fine. And if women want to participate in Lady Fests, music festivals featuring acts with mostly female members, I’m all for it. But we need to seriously think about how we call out gender differences. It is important to recognize oppression, to celebrate accomplishment of underrepresented or marginalized folks, but let us ask ourselves where and when gender is an important part of categorization. Do we need to make what’s between our legs matter in an awards show? Makes no sense to me. If two young athletes are participating in the same athletic endeavor, why do we put girls in one outfit and boys in another? Does wearing a skirt during a field hockey game somehow protect our vaginas in a way that shorts would not? Someone hand me a poetry book, I’m going for a walk.