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Pushing the Gender Boundaries

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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
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Pushing the Gender Boundaries

Mary Sagaria

When women and men participate in sports dominated by the opposite gender there is often overwhelming objection to individuals defying the norm. Often women are the people who attempt to participate in so called non-traditional sports. But just as importantly, men are struggling against a similar resistance. An example of this is when men participate on field hockey teams dominated by women, creating positive and negative implications to the game and also socially. However, individuals who make the move across gender boundaries in any sport are helping pave the way for equality in a sector of our society that is still bound to traditional sex roles.

Historically field hockey was introduced in the United States to women. However, the game that originated in Europe and is played virtually all over the world is also played by men. The anomaly of only women playing field hockey is just an issue in the US and has lead to the recent controversy of men participating on all female teams from elementary school to the college level. Although title IX requires that equal opportunity for participating in sports be given to both males and females, the debate on the costs and benefits of this statute is still heated.

Those who oppose men participating in field hockey claim that their presence on the field will change the nature of the "women's" game. The greater strength of men could make the game more aggressive or even violent, and potentially overpower the female athletes who are participating along their side. There has been a valid and long-standing claim, stating that female participation in sports provides an arena where girls and women can become empowered and gain confidence to face life's battles. Many people see men as a threat to this value suggesting that a mans presence on the field could intimidate the women, thereby dominating the game, and taking away a safe place for girls to grow and find their own strengths.

Another argument in opposition to men participating in field hockey, as well as other female dominated sports is aligned with the idea of equality. It is suggested that despite title IX, females have yet to gain gender equality and are still not given the benefits that their male counterparts receive. Therefore, male participation in the traditionally female sports would be giving men opportunities that women are still fighting for. To many, this clearly is a setback in the struggle for gender equality. However, this contested point is also pivotal in the argument for those who see the participation of men in field hockey as a positive aspect to the game and also to society as a whole.

When advocates of title IX and gender equality in sports speak of the term equality it involves both men and women. By seeing equality as a product of two components, it is unfair to fight for opportunities for women, and then deny opportunities for men. In fact, by not only tolerating men's participation in traditional female sports, but also supporting them in their endeavors, it may allow for a smoother transition for women who are attempting to do the same in male dominated sports. The positive implication of male participation in female sports goes beyond the social and cultural realms by benefiting the nature of the game of field hockey itself.

The separation of the sexes on most athletic teams in the United States while having its benefits, does not allow for the potential positive outcomes of integration. When women compete with and against men on the field hockey field, the gender barrier placed by society that claims women are not capable, strong, or confident enough to be challenged my men, is completely broken down. In fact, by incorporating men onto women's teams women prove to themselves that they are more than able to play with men, by holding their own ground as well as pushing themselves to a higher level. Once it is recognized that women can play with men and vice-a-versa, segregation of teams by gender, that has historically seemed important, has the potential to disappear.

By looking at field hockey as an example of men participating in gender specific sports, it can be concluded that there are positive and negative outcomes of pushing traditional boundaries. However, it appears that benefits outweigh the costs on this issue by a wide margin. Even for those who do not believe men should enter the segregated world of female athletics, the only way to achieve gender equality in sport or in society at large is to allow for equality for both women and men. There is no way women can conquer the world of male dominated sports, if women don't accept men into their world.

Comments made prior to 2007
I have just read your article "pushing gender boundaries" where you talk about men's presence in field hockey. I played field hockey when i was young, and had to stop in high school because there was only a female team. What i found your article fails to mention, is that, although currently field hockey is seen as a woman's game, it is only recently. Field hockey was introduced as a men's sport in the 1908 summer olympics in London, however it wasn't until 1980 when the womens event was added in Moscow ... Devin, 23 April 2007


Eric P's picture

The history is true, but

The history is true, but gender role in sports and athletics was a big deal in the United States, man and women had different intrests, but America ideals, and American culture allowed more women to enter with in male sports.