For those of you who don’t know, this past week was Women in Athletics Week here at the College. Organized by the Women’s Center and Multicultural Center, the Week celebrated women in sports and focused on the many issues they face.
I think that taking the time out to celebrate female athletics was great, but like so much in women’s athletics, I think this week was in some ways full of contradictions and ironies.
It is unfortunate that we still need to acknowledge female athletes as females while male athletes are accepted as simply athletes. In the classroom, we do not cherish a boy’s success because he is a boy or a girl’s because she is a girl – we simply praise them for their academic accomplishments as students. When we look at accomplished musicians, we do not classify them as male or female, we just admire their abilities. Why on the sports field do we still feel the need to classify a woman by her sex? She should simply be looked at as an athlete. We do not feel the need to clarify that a male athlete is male; it should be the same for female athletes. Although it’s been almost 40 years since Title IX was passed, we still struggle with these issues.
This struggle is apparent not only in our description of females in sports but also in the contradictory messages we send to female athletes. We are told to “play like boys,” but reminded not to be too aggressive on the court, field, ice, etc. Oh, and don’t forget to be feminine! We wouldn’t want to lose sight of our sex while we’re on the field. Fights are commonplace in men’s hockey, but how many have you seen in women’s hockey? A punch in the face is not particularly lady-like.
Additionally, we have certain expectations for female athletes that we do not like to have challenged. If a woman has a deep voice and is bigger, stronger and faster, she must not really be a woman. If she redefines our idea of sexuality, she is unacceptable in our world of our athletics.
In men’s sports, there is no box that an athlete is forced to fit into. To be faster, stronger and better is not only acceptable but also celebrated. In one of my classes last week, someone mentioned he wouldn’t watch the WNBA because there’s a better, more-exciting option out there. I’m not going to tell you that dunking and fast-paced games aren’t exciting. They are. I just think that women’s sports are short-changed if all that sports have become are entertainment. For example, I think women tend to play a more team-oriented game at both the professional and Div. I levels of basketball. They have to. Without someone to sprint ahead and dunk on every play, passing until someone is open is even more important. In male college and professional sports, competitions can become dunk contests. Although some of our players can certainly jam with the best of them, to Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mike Maker’s credit, this is not an issue here. He does an incredible job of putting emphasis on the team before the individual. If you watch our passing game, it is one of the best. If you turn on Sports Center, however, you will find individuals’ highlights often ranked high above those of the team.
While I have long thought that we do not treat male and female athletes differently here, I did hear something last week that gave me reason to pause and think about the issue. Apparently some students did not want to take the fan bus to Amherst for the NESCAC semifinals because the bus would be staying for not only the men’s game but also the women’s. Would they have gone if it were just the men’s game? I questioned if it were simply an issue of time, but someone explained that it was specifically due to a lack of interest in watching our women’s program. I’d like to think the reason was not truly because they didn’t feel like watching our women’s team compete. Our women’s soccer program is one of the College’s strongest. Like our women’s tennis and crew teams, they are one of our greatest contributors for points towards the Directors’ Cup, which we’ve now won 13 years in a row. Last year, the team lost in the national quaterfinals of the NCAA tournament; this year, it was one of our only fall season teams to even get a tournament bid. They tend to draw strong support. If you are one of their supporters, keep supporting. If you are someone who didn’t want to drive to Amherst because you didn’t want to be bored by their game, you should probably reassess how you define excitement and success. While female athletics are full of contradictions and irony, at the end of the day, they are no different from male athletics: Winning is still the most important part, and the athletes deserve respect and support for the efforts they put forth representing this institution. Regardless, let’s go Ephs!
Ali Piltch ’14 is from Bryn Mawr, Penn. She lives in Thompson.