Three weeks ago, I played in a coed intramural football game that made me rethink the equality of gender at Yale. I noticed, much to my disgust, that the men on my team assumed early during the game that we females were unskilled, passing the ball to us infrequently. But once I made it clear that I demanded to be included, they gave me a chance to prove my athleticism, and I was able to participate actively for the rest of the game.
While the men’s initial assumptions were unacceptable, my male teammates were hardly blatant, unyielding misogynists. But some of my female teammates disagreed. They cried sexism and labeled the offending males as chauvinist pigs. Some seriously discussed organizing a campus-wide female boycott of coed intramural sports. They wrote irate e-mails to several males on the team, criticizing their ostracism of women. They reduced the men’s failure to incorporate them equally in the games down to sexism.
I empathize with their frustration. Coed intramural sports are dominated by men. But to change this, we can’t just generalize this as an issue of pure sexism. Certainly there are underlying sexist misconceptions, but the reasons behind the partial exclusion of women are far more complex. The male participants did not exclude only females; there were also males on the team who did not receive much playing time because they could not play well or simply lacked the passion.
The more athletically adept will inevitably dominate any sporting event. Any competition will revolve around the most skilled members of a team; after all, someone needs to take charge. In the game of football, particularly, physical strength and speed greatly augment one’s capability; and, as a general anatomical truth, males are physically bigger and stronger than females. Some females can hold our own out on the field with males, but athletically adept males far outnumber their female counterparts.
But the general skillfulness of males cannot excuse their domination of a coed intramural game.. What has happened to the state of intramural sports, where students of all skill levels are supposedly given the opportunity to participate? Unfortunately, in almost any league, mere love of the game can’t guarantee equal participation. Even collegiate intramurals are greatly affected by the desire to win, making skill in influenctial in whether a person (male or female) is equally incorporated in the game.
Women who are concerned about unequal participation opportunities during certain intramural games need to vocalize their frustrations. A boycott is not the way to do that, for a boycott would not take any steps to prevent sexist assumptions from pervading the intramural scene. On the contrary, women should flood the IM fields so that men cannot possibly marginalize us as athletes. If we want to level the playing field, we have to show up and make our presence known. Continuing to do this is only a first step to removing any sexist assumptions that some males may have.
Men playing intramural sports should not hold women to a higher standard than fellow males. During the game, I vocally demanded that the quarterback pass me the ball, but I should not have had to do so. Having played competitive sports for my entire life, often challenging boys to pickup basketball, it comes naturally for me to force myself upon the game. But the fact is that I should not need to force the men to incorporate me any more than someone else.
This male standard for women athletes who want to participate in intramural sports does constitute sexism. If males aren’t going to pass the ball to me, it had better be because I can’t catch, not because I’m a woman.
Lauren Krywanczyk is a freshman in Silliman College.