Gender and SPORTS

Note: In this post, when I say “man” or “woman,” I mean people socialized as such and who live as that gender, which means that they are probably cisgender, although it is possible that they are intersex, knowingly or not, or that they are trans, but closeted, because their profession demands cisgender conformity.

The other day, upon contemplating this Sociological Images post, my friend and I came up with the idea of affirmative action for gender on sports teams. While I don’t really know the first thing about any one sport (unless you count yoga or canoeing, which I bet you don’t), I am always infuriated by discussions of gender surrounding sports. This is a place where people seem to simply accept that men and women will never be equal. Even very progressive people have asserted to me that biological differences dictate the need for gender-specific sports teams. However, I think this is an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy: boys and girls are put on separate sports teams from the youngest ages; much more is expected and demanded of the boys; they cease being athletic equals at a young age and stop sporting together. Girls are not encouraged to pursue sports unless they cave to a milieu of social standards for straightness, thinness, and “hotness.” They are impaired in their pursuit of athleticism by eating disorders and ever-present sexist voices. Those who have reached the level of professional athlete have faced a veritable barrage of obstacles. Then they are used as examples of women’s inferiority to men.

What if sports teams had gender quotas? Say, fifty-fifty men and women. It would a revolution from the top, I think. On the elite teams, I think we would see a spectrum of athletic talent, with much overlap of men and women in the middle. Although it would perhaps be the rule that the most powerful athletes on such teams would be men, there would surely be many inspiring exceptions.

If professional sports teams made this change, amateur and school teams would surely follow. Over the decades, the ability gap between men and women would shrink, and we would see what the reality of gender differences are in athletic ability.

There has been much ado about intersex persons in sports, given the ordeal that the international community put Semenya through. I think that in this case, people would accept the self-identification of their athletes, as they should be doing now. I don’t know of any examples of transgender or genderqueer athletes, although I would love to be enlightened. The reality is that sports remains a largely homophobic, transphobic, and sexist enterprise. It’s up to us to envision changes, and speak up about them.

What are your hopes and dreams for the more tolerant future of sports? Do you know any trans athletes? What goes on at Columbia around these things (I can’t claim to know the first thing about that)?

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