Kaitlyn Piecora: Gender bias in intramural sports

Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.

College campuses are known for being some of the most accepting environments one can step foot on, yet there is still one area on these campuses where stereotyping based on gender continues to take place: intramural sports.

Women are breaking boundaries in all other areas of university life. They are respected as equals in both the classroom and the research lab, but the obstacle that has yet to be overcome is the bias that women cannot compare to the physical strength of their male counterparts. That bias makes itself known in the rule books for all intramural co-ed sports teams offered by the University of Florida.

UF has comprehensive rules for each intramural sport that it offers (which can be found on their RecSports website). For the sports that offer a co-ed league, the rules include a separate section that consists of guidelines for adapted gameplay. It can be inferred that these adaptations were created in order to ensure a fair and equivalent game experience for both men and women, but in actuality it sends a message to participants that gender bias is an acceptable practice at UF and creates an unfair advantage from the perspective of male participants.

The main reason these gameplay adaptations seem out of place is because all participants in the intramural programs have the option to sign up for the league of their preference. Therefore, it can be assumed that the men and women who sign up for co-ed leagues are making a conscious decision to play on a team with both males and females.

With that being stated, the university’s rules for co-ed flag football require a “closed” play after any play in which the ball is caught by a male. In a closed play, the ball must either be caught or thrown by one of the team’s female players. This rule is included in order to help ensure that all of a team’s players, regardless of gender, receive equal opportunities to participate.

To any female who has experienced the frustration of elementary and middle school boys refusing to pass the ball to a girl, this may seem like a well thought out and appreciated guideline. But as stated before, the men participating in these leagues have opted to play alongside women, thereby invalidating the necessity of such rules. If any of the males are still in this middle school mindset of not passing to female teammates, they have the perfectly acceptable option of joining a men’s only league.

There are plenty of testimonies from men stating the similar concern of hurting the women that they are playing against. This all stems from the bias that women biologically cannot stand up to the strength of men.

This could easily be a good time to go into comparisons of the male and female anatomy, but instead, it can just be reminded that the sports under discussion are recreational and therefore kept as non-contact as possible. In recreational circumstances, it is unlikely to find participants that just entirely out-shine the athleticism of fellow competitors to the point that the environment becomes a dangerous one.

In the article “Leveling the Playing Field: Negotiating Gendered Rules in Coed Softball,” Faye Linda Wachs states that “by defining difference, one inherently creates an unequal situation because of the presumptions of what these differences mean.” Co-ed sports should be an environment in which the overlap of both men’s and women’s athleticism can be appreciated. The only thing gender specific rules successfully accomplish is creating a divide between the genders and their capabilities, just the opposite of their supposed purpose.

Kaitlyn Piecora wrote this column as part of a University of Florida anthropology class, “Sex Roles Cross-Culturally.”

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