Men give the field hockey skirt a go: on camera

On February 18, 2015, the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey League will hold a vote to determine whether players will continue to be required to play in skirts.  Help us make it a choice.  Please share.

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Vancouver field hockey players forced to wear skirts for (at least) another year

If you’d have told me when I was twelve, and writing my first speeches about equality for my local Rotary Club, that my first real experience of discrimination would be at the hands of a field hockey league, I’d have thought you were joking. Then again, if you’d have told me when I was twelve that at 28 I would be forced to play a sport I love wearing a spandex miniskirt I would not wear to the bar, I probably would have had a similar reaction.

As some of you will already know, I have taken on the mandatory skirt for women field hockey players as somewhat of a pet project. For those of you who don’t already know, here it is in a nutshell.

I’ve played field hockey since I was 13. It’s a great sport. But there is one problem. Field hockey is the last remaining sport (I know of) that requires its female athletes to play in a skirt. Why is this a problem? Because, as the United Nations and Australian Sports Commission recognize, feminine uniforms sexualize female athletes. This trivializes women’s sports, lowers self-esteem, perpetuates stereotypes, discourages participation and even promotes the sexual harassment of women athletes. I could go on, and in fact I have, here.

In Vancouver, women field hockey players have asked the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey League to be permitted to play in shorts no fewer than three times in the past few years. Each time their request has been denied.

The last request was made by my team on November 20, 2014.

On that day, I, along with several of my teammates, attended a meeting of the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey League for one purpose: to change the League constitution to give players the choice to wear shorts as part of their uniform.

We did not have in mind anything radical. We knew that many players like the skirt and so we had no intention of taking that away from them. We merely wanted to give individual players who, like me, might not feel comfortable playing in a skirt, a choice. And so we asked that “or shorts” be added to the definition of uniform in the League constitution.

“Each team shall have its playing uniform, consisting of shirt, skirt or shorts, and socks ready for use by the first league game.”

When it came time for me to introduce the motion, this is what I said:

“My name is Kaity. I am a member of Jokers IV. I’m here today to ask you to support my team’s efforts to make field hockey more inclusive by allowing players to choose between shorts and a skirt as part of their uniform.

This may seem like a trivial issue, but the truth is the mandatory skirt alienates women and girls who, for a number of reasons, do not feel comfortable in the skirt.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue and some of those people have been mothers and fathers of girls. And I can tell you that I have been told many times that some of these girls would choose not to play field hockey for no other reason that their discomfort with the skirt.

The reasons vary. They include self-consciousness about body image, cultural beliefs about modesty and plain discomfort with skirts.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me really sad.

I know if you are here today it is because you love field hockey. And I know you are keenly aware of its wonderful benefits including social connections, community engagement, improved health and stress relief.

I can’t believe anyone would want to purposefully exclude women and girls from these benefits.

Especially when the accommodation is so simple, and would in no way detract from the enjoyment of players who like the skirt and would choose to continue wearing it.

And so I ask you, please, support us in making this wonderful sport more welcoming to all women and girls.”

More than anything, I hoped that this invitation to usher field hockey into a new era of acceptance and inclusivity would be accepted. I hoped to conclude this campaign of mine knowing that, at least in Vancouver, no woman or girl would be forced to quit field hockey because of how the uniform made her feel.

But the field hockey community disappointed me once again. The hour debate that ensued was not about inclusion. It was about semantics and appearances.

Some members claimed to be confused by the wording of the motion. Did the amendment mean that whole teams had to wear shorts? How could the choice be the individual’s when the word “individual” did not appear in the amendment?

Other members thought the amendment must involve replacing the word “uniform” with “designated clothing” because uniform connotes one outfit and not a choice between two. (Just like you can’t call private school uniforms “uniforms” because girls have a choice between skirts and pants, oh wait…)

But by far, the prevailing topic of discussion was how the motion would impact the appearance of the players.

One member expressed the view that as Canada’s largest field hockey league, it was important that our players looked good. Many agreed that an important part of looking good was looking all the same. Another member said her club took a particular interest in the appearance of their players. If one of their players wanted to play in a ball gown, they would say no.

Another was not convinced that any players were discouraged to join field hockey because of the uniform requirement. Her players had always considered the skirt a badge of honour. She disagreed that the skirt sexualizes athletes and noted that shorts can be sexual too if they are short enough.

One member expressed concern that referees would not be able to distinguish between the different teams if the players’ bottoms were not exactly the same. (Oh course the different jerseys and socks would be no help in that regard.)

One club acknowledged that at least one of its teams would choose to wear shorts but expressed concern that this would impact a sponsorship deal it had with a particular uniform supplier.

Sadly, in that full hour discussion, I can recall only one statement in support of the principle of inclusivity. One. But even that statement was quickly followed with a “but” and ultimately did not support the motion.

This stands in sharp contrast to the reactions I’ve witnessed from the general public. Which generally have been reactions of shock and outrage that in 2014 this is still an issue.

Ultimately, someone suggested that the motion be tabled for another day. That motion passed by a vote of 55 to 26.

Defeated, my team made one last request: that until this motion is decided, the penalty for wearing shorts be reduced to a game card notion rather than being kicked out of the game. After all, that had been the penalty for the last three years and continues to be the penalty for other uniform infractions. No one was able to provide a satisfactory explanation why wearing shorts is penalized more severely than any other infraction. Nonetheless, our request was denied by a vote of 41 to 35. And so it stands, no woman wearing shorts will be permitted to play field hockey in Vancouver.

I am generally an optimistic person. I would love to believe that the members present on November 20, 2014 really do care about inclusion and really did just need some more time to discuss the issue with their teams. Two years ago I would have. But I’ve been here before. After witnessing three failed attempts to introduce the option of shorts to field hockey, I am starting to believe that there is real resistance to equality and inclusion in this community. I hope to be proven wrong in February, when this motion is raised for a fourth time. Oh, how I hope. But I am not naive. And I am not holding my breath.

-Kaity

Stepping Out of Line: How wearing shorts became a punishable offence

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The incident of September 27, 2014 has been described as a black cloud over the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey League. A shocking event that lit up the channels of communication in the field hockey community like never before. A scandal for the League and a source of shame for my field hockey club. The outcome was an investigation to which only one side was invited, a harsh rebuke and a grave threat about future “misconduct”.

So what actually happened that day?

The Truth

A few years ago, my wife and I decided that we would no longer play field hockey in a skirt. We were adults, we were playing in a beer league and we decided that it was time to openly reject the outdated and discriminatory beliefs about women’s sports that the skirt represents. So we went out and we bought shorts the same colour and approximately the same length as our teammates’ skirts. For while, we played without incident. And then September 27, 2014 happened.

On that day, my wife and I took the field in our shorts, as had become our custom. And at first, the game proceeded like any other. At some point in the first half of the game, one of the referees noticed that I was wearing shorts. When she asked me why, I told her it was an ideological choice.

At halftime, the referee spoke to my team captain and told her that she would have to make a notation on our game card that two of our players were out of uniform. This had happened before and so my captain agreed. However, after speaking to the mother of one of the opposing players, the referee changed her mind and decided that the penalty should be much harsher. She told my captain that no player wearing shorts would be allowed back on the field.

This caught me and my team off-guard. Being thrown out of the game is a pretty extreme penalty for a uniform infraction in a recreational league. Uniform infractions, after all, are very common. Players often don’t have the right colour socks or skirts, sometimes players wear glasses or hats, and in winter almost all of us wear leggings and shirts in various colours to stay warm. None of us had ever heard of such a serious penalty for such a minor infraction. In fact, in my seven years of playing in this league, I have never seen such a serious penalty for any infraction.

On top of everything, this penalty would have left our team short-handed. It was a call that likely would have cost us the game.

As a team, and under our coach’s direction, we decided to take the field. All of us.

As centre-forward, I stepped up to ball to wait for the referee’s whistle.   As I did, the referee told me that she would not start the game until I left the field. I told her politely that I would wait. And so that is what we did.

After a few minutes, the referee told us she was calling the game and that my team would forfeit. One of my teammates who had found the league constitution on her phone approached the referee and calmly advised her that the constitution did not provide for such a penalty. She told her that we have played in shorts for a long time and we had never been told that we might face such punishment. The referee told my teammate that she would discuss the matter with the other official. My teammate thanked her and then left her to confer.

The referee ultimately decided to let us play with the issue to be referred later to the Games Committee. In the end, the game was a tie. We shook hands with the other team and my captain apologized to the referee so there would be no hard feelings.

At no point in the game did anyone raise their voice, utter expletives or speak to the referee in anger. All my teammates and I did was express our disagreement with the skirt requirement and the unduly harsh penalty through respectful dialogue and peaceful resistance. We are a team of professional women after all and field hockey is something we do for fun.

Ironically, there were other uniform infractions on the field that day that went unnoticed by the officials. One player on the other team was playing in eyeglasses. Unlike the skirt requirement, the prohibition on eyeglasses has a fairly rational purpose. It is to prevent glass from shattering into a player’s eyes if hit by a ball. The player with the eyeglasses actually did get hit in the face that game. But the referees said nothing. It was at that moment that I knew the referee’s reaction was not about my compliance with the strict letter of the constitution. It was about my rejection of the belief system represented by the skirt. It was about a woman stepping out of line.

The Fallout

Any hope that I had that this would blow over and my wife and I could continue playing the sport we love without incident was shattered on the evening of October 2, 2014.

At 11pm that night, the women’s captain of my field hockey club forwarded to my whole team an email from the league president. Apparently, a complaint had been filed with the Games Committee about the incident of September 27, 2014. The Games Committee, made up of representatives of each field hockey club, deliberated on my team’s fate without ever giving us an opportunity to present our side of the dispute. It was recommended that our “poor conduct” on September 27, 2014 be punished with two of the harshest penalties available in this league: a red card for our captain with a suspension and fine and a forfeit of the last game for our team.

The league executive decided that this time we would be given a formal warning, but that stepping out of line again would not be tolerated.

In her email to our team captain, the league president, who herself was not present on September 27, said the following:

Now that the reports have been reviewed by both the Games Committee and the League Executive, I am writing to inform you that this kind of blatant disregard for the league constitution and total disrespect of the officials will absolutely not be tolerated. …

[The umpires] are there to uphold the rules of the league, FIH and FHBC and they are able to card a player who deliberately breaks any of these rules and are certainly permitted to red card any player who intentionally misbehaves in a serious manner towards another player, umpire or other match official.

The league will not allow umpires to be subjected to the abuse, harassment and aggressive behaviour as was witnessed last weekend and you were all very fortunate not to have been given red cards there and then.  Should you or your team mates repeat this type of behaviour, red cards, along with the game suspensions and fines that accompany them, will be issued.

A few days later, at our next game, the president of my club took it upon himself to wade into the dispute. Without the permission of my coach, he decided that it would be appropriate to deliver a speech at halftime about how ashamed we should be of ourselves. This man has never known what it is like to be a victim of sexploitation. He has never had to choose between a sport he loves and his principles. He has no idea what it is like being a woman in sports. And yet here he was speaking to a group of professional women about how we had humiliated our club and tarnished its good name and how we best do everything in our power to repair the damage we had done. He told us that our conduct was inexcusable and shameful.

He didn’t have time to finish his speech at halftime so he came back at our next practice to finish putting us in our place. When my teammate asked him what he had done as our representative to investigate the false allegations against us, he told us that it wasn’t his place to get involved.

Feeling a little confused? You are not alone.

My teammates and I racked our brains trying to remember what conduct on our part could be characterized as abusive, aggressive or harassing. We came up with nothing. We simply could not reconcile our collective recollection of the game with the conduct that had been ascribed to us.

My teammates and I are not thugs. We are professional women in our mid-twenties to early fifties. We are nurses, pharmacists, accountants, lawyers, paramedics and scientists. Some of us are even mothers.

The only thing we could come up with is that our rejection of the antiquated skirt rule was so offensive that any dialogue, no matter how respectful, was perceived as a threat.

Of course, it doesn’t matter anyway, because no one in the League or even in our own club seems to care about what actually happened. It seems that everyone is content to perpetuate the rumours and misrepresentations that have been flying around the field hockey community. Content to attack the character of professional women who have to work and live in this city.

The Silver Lining

DCF 1.0At a personal level, this controversy has taken its toll. In the last two weeks I have felt more sadness, outrage and disbelief than I usually feel in a year. I have been blown away by how strongly people feel about what I put on my body. I have even contemplated leaving this sport altogether.

But it has not been all bad. I have also felt tremendous gratitude towards my teammates and coach who continue to stand beside me in this struggle.  I have seen firsthand how strong, brave, insightful and passionate my teammates are, and it makes me hopeful for the future. My team is my silver lining.

Looking Forward

Buoyed by our teammates’ support and kind words, my wife and I decided that we will not be leaving field hockey. But neither will we give up the fight.

The League has taken away our voice on the field, but they can’t take away our freedom off of it. It is our hope that we will be able to use this ugliness as an opportunity to make real, meaningful change. Not with anger or violence but with hope and principles and determination. The first step is raising awareness so please share our story with anyone who will listen. And if this is an issue you care about, please contact me. This is not over. We look forward to hearing from you.

-Kaity

This is Part 3 of a series about Women in Sports. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Fit for the Bedroom, Fit for the Field: My beef with women’s uniforms

What do lingerie, bikinis and miniskirts have in common? If you answered a teenage boy’s wet dream, you are only partially correct. These three articles of clothing are also all sporting uniforms worn by women athletes. StateLibQld_1_45199_Two_women_sparring_with_a_speed_bag

Women have fought hard over the last hundred years for the freedom to play all the sports men play. And in large part, we have succeeded. The London 2012 Olympics were the first Olympics ever where women were permitted to compete in every sport contested by men. This is significant progress when you consider that in ancient Olympics a woman’s participation was punishable by death.

Wouldn’t it be great if that were the end of sex discrimination in sports? How I wish I could end this post here and congratulate the human race on its considerable evolution.

Sadly, equal participation does not mean equal respect. Women athletes continue to be differentiated from male athletes in terms of influence, resources and media coverage. But today I’m going to talk about another way women athletes are distinguished: uniforms. Let’s start with some examples.

Lingerie Football League

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“LFL65” by Sevan Pulurian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ll admit, when my co-worker told me about the Lingerie Football League, I thought she was pulling my leg. For those of you who don’t know about the Lingerie Football League, it is a full contact professional football league where women play wearing lingerie and the most basic of football pads. The women athletes are not paid, although the coaches and managers are. The league is marketed primarily to beer drinking male college students over the age of 21.1

The uniforms in this league may be outrageous, but the players are no joke. Women in this league are exceptional athletes who truly love the game. And they take it seriously, spending at least six hours a week practicing on the field, rehearsing and studying complicated plays. So why would they be willing to play in lingerie? Well for starters, this league is the only professional women’s football league. For these women, the choice is stark. The price of playing the game they love at a high level is to dress up like Victoria’s Secret models and risk having their tops or bottoms ripped right off. Yes, that sort of thing actually happens in this league.2

Beach Volleyball

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“Bump up” by Craig Maccubbin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Until March 2012, the mandatory uniform for a female beach volleyball player was a bikini. And not just any bikini would do, the bikini could have a maximum side width of 7 cm. By contrast, men beach volleyball players wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Fortunately, this rule was changed heading into the 2012 London Olympics out of respect for the cultural beliefs of some participating countries.3 While this rule change is commendable, it is a little disappointing that the International Volleyball Federation did not recognize that the bikini might be problematic for reasons other than religion.

Boxing, Badminton and Field Hockey

With the addition of women’s boxing to the 2012 London Olympics, the Amateur International Boxing Association faced a major dilemma: how would the spectators tell the difference between the male and female boxers? To address this serious problem, it was proposed that female boxers be required to wear skirts.4

Badminton’s international governing body faced a different dilemma: how could they attract more fans? Looking to beach volleyball for inspiration, the body proposed that female badminton players be required to wear skirts rather than shorts to achieve a more “stylish presentation of the players”.4

In both cases, there was uproar. And in both cases, the skirt was made optional.

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“China vs S. Korea, Women’s Olympic Hockey” by Ben Freeman is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Unfortunately, not all women athletes are so lucky. From beer leagues to international competitions, field hockey continues to require all female athletes to wear skirts.

So much has been written about the wardrobes of female athletes. But the question of what women should wear when competing in sports has a very simple answer: why not the same uniforms as men?

For the most part, the justification goes like this: in order for women’s sports to get media attention and funding, they need to attract an audience, and what better way to do that than to make it about sex. As the Lingerie Football League openly admits, sex sells.

The other justification I’ve heard is that skirts honour tradition. Now I don’t know about you, but as a woman I am always a bit skeptical of any argument based on tradition. After all, I can think of a good number of traditions that do not deserve honour. Nonetheless, I decided to research the tradition of skirt wearing in field hockey (and by research, I mean I asked google). It might surprise you to know that the internet does not have an answer. The best I could find was an educated guess by a long-term field hockey player and coach. Her answer to the most commonly asked question about field hockey was:

“I really don’t know. Wikipedia doesn’t even have a satisfactory answer so that must mean no one does. It might be a vestige of field hockey’s origins in the US. Constance Applebee, an Englishwoman, introduced America to the sport in the early 1900’s at women’s colleges like Vassar, Wellesley, Smith and Bryn Mawr. I imagine women didn’t have Nike tempo shorts back then, so they wore skirts and it stuck. I have no idea though.”5

no authNow to be clear, Constance Applebee did not wear a spandex miniskirt that is the modern day field hockey uniform. She wore a full length skirt. And not necessarily because she loved said skirt or thought it was a very practical uniform for field hockey, but because in the early 1900’s women were not permitted to wear anything else. Not out grocery shopping, not on an afternoon walk, not swimming and not to the ballot box (because of course another tradition of that time was that women were not allowed to vote). I shudder to think what my life would look like if other traditions from the 1900’s were as jealously guarded as the field hockey skirt.

So why is mandating a feminine uniform such a big deal? The United Nations and the Australian Sports Commission say because it sexualizes women athletes. The sexualisation of women athletes is so pervasive it even has a name: sexploitation. Sexploitation is a serious problem for many reasons, but here are the top 6:

  1. It trivializes women’s sports.

Feminine uniforms such as skirts draw attention away from the athlete’s skill and towards her body, suggesting that the value of women’s sports somehow derives from the appearance of the female athletes.6 Don’t believe me? A recent study found that sexualized images of female athletes in the media led viewers to see them as “less talented, less aggressive, and less heroic than athletes whose athleticism received more attention.”7 I think this comic makes my point.

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  1. It lowers the self-esteem of girls and young women.

Sexualized images of female athletes in the media prompt adolescent girls and young women to self-objectify and focus on outer beauty. Rather than empowering young athletes and having a positive influence on women’s sports, sexualized images actually lead women and girls to feel negatively about their own bodies and may result in lower self-esteem.7

  1. It perpetuates stereotypes about women.

Much of the freedom that girls and women feel when participating in sports is because it allows them to escape from the restrictions of traditional gender roles. However, sexploitation of female athletes reinforces gender stereotyping.8 Case in point, I came across a wikiHow article entitled, “How to be Ladylike (Teens)”. The article, which had been viewed 37,556 times, consists of 17 directions to teens who are “having trouble being ladylike.” Amid suggestions such as “dislike dirty things” and “don’t smile too much” is the following:

Avoid sports, especially football, basketball and other manly sports. Being sporty and fit may be nice but sports does not make you seem particularly ladylike, though horse-back riding does. If you are interested in sports, field hockey is a classic women’s sport in the US and involves adorable skirts!”9

  1. It discourages participation in sports.

The sexualisation of women athletes creates a certain expectation about what an athlete should look like. Studies show that the pressure many female athletes experience to conform to that standard results in decreased body esteem, distracted playing and poor game time performance.7 And for some women and girls, a revealing uniform is reason enough to choose another sport or even no sport at all. Sexy uniforms may be culturally inappropriate for some women, they may be seen as sexist or embarrassing, they may make women feel more self-conscious about their bodies and they may alienate lesbians who don’t conform to the stereotypical heterosexual image.8

  1. It promotes sexual harassment.

The United Nations and the Australian Sports Commission have both found that sexploitation puts athletes at greater risk of harassment, exploitation and violence from persons within and outside their sport.8 In Canada, this is a real problem. In a survey of female athletes, 40-50 per cent reported harassment in sport.6

  1. It is darn impractical.
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“Wedgie” by Nathan Rupert is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My wife refers to the field hockey skirt as the $40 wedgie. Anyone who has watched a field hockey game knows why. From what I have read, volleyball players have a similar problem. And then there’s the poor women of the Lingerie Football League who are seriously under-padded and who risk losing what little uniform they have altogether.

I’m sure you can think of many more reasons why sexy or feminine uniforms are a problem, but the bottom line is despite the major strides women athletes have made, they continue to receive less respect, less dignity, less worth than male athletes.

This is an issue I care about personally because field hockey, the sport that I love and have played for over 15 years, is one of the worst offenders. Believing, as I do, in equality and respect for women’s sports, I decided to challenge the antiquated skirt rule. What I was met with was anger, indignation, prejudice and, I’ll say it, hate. For my efforts I was chastised, shamed and threatened with the harshest penalties known to field hockey. And I’m dying to tell you all about it. In my next post.

-Kaity

This is Part 2 of the Women & Sports series.  Find Part 1 here.

Sources:

  1. Pass, Run, Walk: Lingerie Football and Slut Walks: Melanie Persaud http://blog.ywcatoronto.org/pass-run-walk-lingerie-football-and-slutwalks/
  2. Lingerie Football: So Sexy or Just Sexist? Female Players Say They Love the Game: Juju Chang and Allison Markowitz http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/lingerie-football-sexy-sexist-female-players-love-game/story?id=20318487
  3. Uniform change for all beach volleyball events: FIVB http://www.fivb.org/viewPressRelease.asp?No=33699&Language=en#.VDlhXn5ra00
  4. At London Olympics, women’s athletes’ wardrobes are source of debate: Liz Clarke http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/at-london-olympics-womens-athletes-wardrobes-are-source-of-debate/2012/07/26/gJQAPcrQCX_story.html
  5. Field Hockey FAQ: Jane Beall http://wlusidelines.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/field-hockey-faq/
  6. Women, Gender Equality and Sport: United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Women%20and%20Sport.pdf
  7. Media Coverage of Female Athletes and Its Effect on the Self-Esteem of Young Women: Scott Aligo http://ydi.tamu.edu/wp-content/uploads/researchBrief29_final.pdf
  8. Sexploitation: Australian Sports Commission http://fulltext.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2000/ascweb/sexploitation.asp
  9. How to be Ladylike (Teens): wikiHow http://www.wikihow.com/Be-Ladylike-(Teens)

Skirts, Grunts and Falling Uteruses: Women’s complicated relationship with sports

To say I wasn’t a very athletic kid would be a considerable understatement. My first attempt at monkey bars when I was 6 left me with a sprained arm. When I was 7, I was taunted by the kindergarteners for still having training wheels on my bike. My step-father, bless his heart, tried to introduce me to soccer when I was 8. My only real memory of my soccer days was the time I tripped over the ball in practice and wound up on my face.

So it was a big surprise to my parents when I fell in love with field hockey in grade eight. Field hockey, after all, is a pretty challenging sport. Not only must you stickhandle with only one side of a very short stick, but the ball is comparable to a bocce ball in weight and has the tendency to soar when hit by a novice player. Anyone who has been hit with a field hockey ball knows that it can be a pretty dangerous sport. To start, I wasn’t very good. But after hours upon hours of stickhandling in our backyard I got the hang of it and started to excel.

491482_31106062Some of my happiest memories from high school are tied to field hockey. It was the first time in my life I could identify as an athlete. That was a pretty big self-esteem boost for a nerdy kid. Being part of a team also lead to some amazing bonds with my teammates, many of whom became my closest friends. There was only one problem with field hockey. The uniform. As you may know, field hockey is the last remaining sport that requires its female athletes to wear a skirt.

As an adult, I continue to play field hockey in a women’s league in Vancouver. Unfortunately, my love of the game has recently been overshadowed by controversy. The game I love and have played for over 15 years has come into direct conflict with my strong belief in women’s equality. But more on that later.

Because of the controversy in my own life, I decided to explore the relationship between women and sports. As you might guess, it has been a difficult relationship marked by division and discrimination but also by accomplishment and empowerment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASports started opening up to Canadian women by the end of the 19th century. However, at that time, women were encouraged to participate in sports such as horse riding, skating and golf, activities that were considered graceful and ladylike. More vigorous exercise, such as riding a bike, was discouraged by some doctors who were concerned it would cause damage to the uterus or, God forbid, would produce a female orgasm.1

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in North America and with it increased participation in women’s sports.1

Today, the sporting world looks very different than that of the past. Across the country, women are participating in high numbers in sports including those traditionally seen as masculine or inappropriate for women.1 Women athletes such as Hayley Wickenheiser and Christine Sinclair have become national heroes. This is a very good thing, not only for women and girls but for society as a whole. Participation in sports may seem trivial but its outcomes are anything but.

Studies show that participation in sport and physical activity can prevent a myriad of physical illnesses which account for over 60% of global deaths. Participation in sports can also promote psychological well-being through building confidence and self-esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. This is especially important to adolescent girls who are significantly more likely than boys to have seriously considered suicide by the age of 15. Participation in sports can even lead to social change. The United Nations identified sport as a key vehicle to the promotion of gender equality. According to the UN, participation in sports expands opportunities for education and for the development of a range of essential life skills, including communication, leadership, teamwork and negotiation.2 Sadly, the positive outcomes of sport for women continue to be constrained by gender based discrimination in all areas and at all levels of sport and physical activity. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some modern day headlines.

“Grunting” Controversy Continues on Wimbledon’s Opening Day3 

412106_8549This headline is not a joke. It refers to the real controversy in women’s tennis about the players making unladylike “grunting” noises when they hit the ball. Some officials apparently find these noises so disturbing that players have been warned that they could be fined for making excessive noise. One tennis coach was of the opinion that a series of graduated penalties ranging from the loss of a point to the loss of a match should be implemented to cut down on excessive grunting. One former Wimbledon champion actually went so far as to claim that the role of female tennis players is as much about “selling sex” as their physical ability. He suggested the best way to reduce the amount of grunting in women’s tennis is to, “Just play it back to the women. It sounds disgusting, ugly, unsexy!” So why do tennis players grunt? Different explanations have been offered, but they include to help the player relax, to bring confidence, to apply maximum force to the ball, to increase core stability and strength and to intimidate the opposition.4 Notwithstanding of the legitimacy of these justifications, it would seem that many coaches, officials and spectators are willing to reduce women’s competitive advantage to preserve the sex appeal of tennis.

The Outrageous Reason Why Women’s Ski Jumping Was Banned From The Olympics until Now5

Can you guess what that reason might be? I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same reason women were advised not to bicycle in the 1890s. That’s right, high ranking officials thought ski jumping might mess up your uterus. The president of the International Ski Federation in 2005 said, “Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” The good news is women ski jumpers were finally permitted to compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics. So far, there have been no reports of falling uteruses.

FIFA Women’s World Cup: gender discrimination allegations dog promotional efforts6

legs

Kobe Bryant ✔ @kobebryant This is @DrinkBODYARMOR athlete @sydneyleroux after playing on turf! #ProtectTheAthlete #USWNT 3:24 PM – 13 Aug 2014

As you might know, Canada is set to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, Canada’s recent announcement that the tournament would be played on artificial turf rather than real grass has caused quite the uproar. The Men’s World Cup is played on grass because artificial turf is an inferior playing surface which leads to more physical injuries. Need proof? This picture, tweeted by Kobe Bryant, shows Sydney Leroux’s bloodied and bruised legs after playing on artificial turf. A group of elite international athletes have actually filed a lawsuit over the issue alleging gender discrimination. “They would never in a heartbeat think of putting anything less than grass for men,” said former Canadian national player Carrie Serwetnyk. “They’d protest. It would be a scandal.”

And of course we cannot forget the issue that is in headlines again and again, the one the United Nations describes as a constant area of controversy and resistance, the one I have been waiting to speak publically about: women’s uniforms. But I’ll get to that. In my next post. -Kaity

Sources:

  1. History of Canadian Women in Sport: Tabitha Marshall http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-history-of-canadian-women-in-sport/
  2. Women, Gender Equality and Sport: United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Women%20and%20Sport.pdf
  3. “Grunting” Controversy Continues on Wimbledon’s Opening Day: Margaret Hartmann http://jezebel.com/5300061/grunting-controversy-continues-on-wimbledons-opening-day
  4. Wimbledon 2014: Why do women players grunt: Kathryn Dobinson http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10919656/Wimbledon-2014-Why-do-women-players-grunt.html
  5. The Outrageous Reason Why Women’s Ski Jumping Was Banned From the Olympics Until Now: Tony Manfred http://www.businessinsider.com/why-womens-ski-jumping-was-banned-2014-1
  6. FIFA Women’s World Cup: gender discrimination allegations dog promotional efforts: CBC News http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/fifa-women-s-world-cup-gender-discrimation-allegations-dog-promotional-efforts-1.2756465