Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pretzel in the Rye

The Voice section of the SJ-R has an article on a girl at New Berlin High School (the Pretzels) who is participating in her fourth year on the football team. If a young lady wants to strap on some pads and mix it up with the laddies on the gridiron, that’s fine by me. The article doesn’t mention what kind of playing time she has earned at her lineperson’s positions, but I assume that if she’s been blowing-up backfields or pancaking pass rushers, it would have been mentioned. Still, her commitment and courage are admirable.

To my knowledge, the only impact females have had on male football teams have been at the place kicker position, as immortalized by Kathy Ireland’s star turn as Lucy Draper in the 1991 classic, Necessary Roughness.

Also in the early 90s, Sacred Heart-Griffin suited up a female soccer player at that position. As I recall, the story played out as an after school special as her initial introduction to the team, at the head coach's urging, was met with derision from some of her teammates, but ended in collective triumph after she tacked on the final extra point in a 49 to nothing route of their arch rival the Visitors.

While I harbor no fundamental gripe with girls competing on boys teams when a girls team of that sport isn’t offered, I don’t think that this progressive attitude would hold true in the opposite direction.

I can imagine a scenario in which a family relocates to Springfield from California where their twin, 6’3” sons had played competitive volleyball for many years. Since there are no school-sponsored male volleyball teams at city high schools, the pair join the girls team. Does anyone doubt the pronounced impact they would have on the competitive nature of the matches that they participate in? An average team would suddenly be state championship caliber. So does anyone doubt that they would somehow be prevented from playing?

Gender equity is important in terms of opportunity and compensation, but it doesn’t mean that men and women are on equal ground in all aspects of life, athletically ability being one area where men happen to excel in comparison to women. But while the notion of a male dominated society is still prevalent and largely accurate, there is new thought that maybe our sons are getting short changed in some respects as well.

Carol Gilligan, a Harvard social psychologist, made hay back in 1982 with her book “In a Different Voice” that put forth the idea that girls are routinely silenced in a male society and that they are put at a disadvantage in an educational system that favors a learning style more favorable to boys. She received much praise in the media and among many educators, but was ultimately scorned by research psychologists who could not only not replicate her findings, but in some cases found that it is boys who are struggling more in the educational system. Gilligan was also criticized for not releasing her research data that supported her claim, a move that is considered “unacceptable in empirical research.”

Around 56 percent of college students in the U.S. are female. Given that the population is pretty evenly split, with females holding a slight edge, this is a fairly significant difference. Considering that it wasn’t all that long ago that the prevailing wisdom was that women were best suited for domestic roles, it does appear that they are now navigating the seas of scholarship quite ably.

A recent article in Newsweek told of a school in Kentucky that is addressing the issue of gender and learning by dividing classes according to sex. Here too they claim that boys are at a disadvantage due to the fact that since most teachers are women, especially at the elementary school level, a system of education that favors the way the female brain has been shown to process information predominates. Critics argue that while there is evidence of differences in brain function between the sexes, it is insignificant compared to the differences that occur between individuals within the same gender. It’s obviously an area that merits more study before radically redesigning the classroom.

I don’t agree that if girls are indeed surpassing boys in the classroom, that it is necessarily due to some inadequacies in teaching methods. Maybe girls, on average, are just smarter in many respects. I certainly hope that the perceived slights to males as the result of the feminist movement don’t lead to the establishment of men’s studies programs at our universities, as such things are usually more concerned with ideology rather than scholarly pursuit. We don’t need a bunch of Holden Caulfield wannabees sitting in a circle and beating tom-toms while whining that the world is hostile to their inner being, when they should be reading the classics or drinking beer.

In a somewhat related note, the article on the New Berlin football maiden included a mention of a young man who is the only male cheerleader at his school. Although male cheerleaders are common at the collegiate level, they are rare in high school so it is unfortunate but not surprising that the young man admits to being the subject of much ridicule. Given that fact, I would think that it takes much more courage and toughness to do what he is doing than it does to play on the football team. It’s not really a path that I want my sons to pursue, but if they did, I would feel safe in knowing that if they had the fortitude to carry through with it, then they would have no trouble accomplishing anything else they set out to do in life.


Monkey Boy said...

Love the use of "lineperson." Was that in the story or is that yours?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

"Lineperson" is my creation, a nod to the gender-neutral crowd.

Anonymous said...

Are we sure that is a girl?

Anonymous said...

There are many studies which have been replicated which show teachers tend to lavish boys with significantly more attention in the classroom than boys. Other studies show that girls begin to clam up in science, and math class when entering into adolescence.

Yet, girls make up for this "freeze treatment" by spending more time studying than boys.

The fact that females graduate in greater numbers is proof that females take education more seriously than males, and use it as a means of entering the workforce at a higher level.

Yet, as we see despite the extra effort they're compensated less than men - even in the same jobs.

I've seen enough small boys suit up to know that if a female wants to play in a male sport then why should we prevent them.

But you raise an interesting question, about how to handle a situation where a boy wants to play on a "girls" team.

Perhaps teams can be graded on some more scientific value?

Weight, height, and BMI ranges perhaps?

Then the whole idea of gender gets tossed out. Yes, one type of team would be mostly males, and the other mostly females, but it would be based upon a scientific method, and not gender.


Anonymous said...


I meant that teachers lavish more attention on boys than girls.