While thinking about possible topics for this column, I sat, looked around, thought about Yale and my experiences as a female varsity athlete in the past four years, looked around me again, and I saw — the female athlete.
During the early 20th century, the idea of the female athlete was unknown and largely discouraged. Since we often read Freud in classes at Yale, most of us are not surprised by his main argument regarding gender: the woman is passive and the man active. Although Freud never discussed the idea of the “female athlete” within his work, he did construct the “passive” image of the female being. Later, in the 1950s, DeBeauvoir theorized that women — who are expected to conform to society’s ideals — desire to play sports, but don’t experience the aggressiveness, risk and adventure that males do.
The female athlete was accepted if she participated in figure skating, gymnastics or tennis — sports categorized as feminine. However, she was stereotyped as masculine or lesbian if she enjoyed participating in male-dominated sports.
Fortunately, the image of the female athlete changed in the latter part of the 20th century. In the 1970s, there was one event at Yale that sent a message to the entire nation on the lack of gender equality in sports. The Eli women’s rowing team did not have equal facilities — no showers, no funding, no fair treatment — and it decided to demand its rights under the Title IX legislation. Nineteen teammates entered the office, stripped off their sweats to reveal “TITLE IX” written clearly across their backs and chests. The event was prominently covered by the national media, including The New York Times.
More recently we have seen images of Brandi Chastain, the female soccer player who scored the winning goal in the 1998 World Cup. Photos of her in a sports bra were highlighted on every channel, newspaper and magazine. Even though these images were somewhat sexualized and controversial, such coverage was unheard of for women just two years prior to the golden victory.
Presently, there is still a discrepancy in media coverage, fan support and funding between male and female sports. Yet we should recognize the successes and advancements within the female sports arena: television, magazines and movies are popularizing the idea of women playing all sports. There is more medical and physiological research showing that sports participation, training and exercise lead to a healthier lifestyle, provide a positive social environment and lower the risk of injury with age among both men and women. The rise of women’s professional leagues and the increase of women’s Olympic events give female athletes the opportunity to grow within their sports. They also provide more visible elite female athletes as role models for aspiring girl athletes. Today we have a female competing in the PGA tour, female weight lifting in the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee considering women’s baseball (yes, hardball!) as a summer event, media coverage of female NCAA championships, and the National Women’s Hockey League in Canada.
However, we just need to look toward our immediate environment on the Yale campus to recognize the predominance of the female athlete.
Here is what some of the varsity female athletes on Yale Campus are achieving:
If we were asked to pick one female varsity team as being “hot” this year, it would probably have to be the Yale women’s squash team. It secured both the National Championship and Ivy League title with defeats of No. 2 Trinity and No. 4 Harvard during the regular season. Then, to add to the honors, on Feb. 22, Yale defeated Trinity again in the championship round of the Howe Cup.
The women’s basketball team started this season with some exciting tournament play in Seattle and New Orleans. Despite the chance to be challenged by new teams and to gel together, the Bulldogs endured a slow start in league play. However, the women found a way to make their mark in the past few weeks by beating Harvard Feb. 14 (62-59) and Princeton Feb. 20 (59-56, OT). Recently, the Elis had a huge 78-70 overtime win versus Dartmouth (presently second in the Ivies) Feb. 28. If Yale wins against Cornell (March 5) and Columbia (March 6) at home this upcoming Senior weekend, it still has a chance to make an impact in the Ivy League. The possible victories could help them climb from eighth to sixth in the standings.
The women’s ice hockey team has gone 5-1-0 in its last six league games, which includes a big overtime 3-2 win versus Colgate Feb. 13, a 4-0 shutout versus Cornell Feb. 14, a 3-1 Senior Day win versus Vermont Feb. 21 and a 3-1 win against then-nationally ranked No. 8 Princeton Feb. 25. Yale is now securely sitting in sixth place among the 10 teams in the ECAC, heading into a weekend series against its Ivy rivals — Harvard and Brown. The Bulldogs will most likely be facing the third place team in the league (once determined) in the first round of playoffs, the weekend of March 12. The 2003-04 women’s ice hockey team, although very young, found a way to come together, demonstrate character and win in the second half of the season. The team has presently tied the school record for most wins in a season with 12 and is looking to break the mark this weekend.
There is plenty of track and field season left, but Yale’s female members have already started to get recognition. Recently, sprinter Katrina Castille ’07 and jumpers Molly Lederman ’06 and Joslyn Woodard ’06 were named first team All-Ivy after winning their events at the Indoor Heps.
It’s the hard work and dedication of individual female athletes that led to these successes. Today, women are expected to stay strong and conditioned to compete in their sports. Every day, female varsity athletes at Yale train in the varsity weight room, sometimes alone or with their teammates, working hard and moving weight. In addition, like our male counterparts, we practice almost daily, sometimes twice a day. We prioritize training in the summer and plan our classes, diet and job opportunities with our athletic goals in mind. Our lives are slightly different than the regular female Yalie — but it’s by choice and by passion, not for pay and sometimes not even for glory, but because we love a sport and a team.