Saturday, September 30, 2006

Should Women Play Sports?

The following article from Ladies Against Feminism really made me start to question whether it is in the best interests of women, especially Christian women, to engage in competitive sports.

For most of human history, competitive sports has been a masculine activity - closely linked to the martial tradition of preparing for war.

In our era, sports have become something very different - dominating our culture. Churches are expected to adapt their schedules to accomodate sporting events. Universities have long since abandoned Latin, Greek, and rhetoric and many have become little more than a conduit for the football team (as well as other sports). High school sports have become a bastion of cut-throat competition, as college scholarships often hinge on performance.

Competitive sports, especially high school, college, and professional are really not about exercise and learning teamwork. They have become big business. They're not about fun and relaxation, but rather have to do with money, college admission, and career opportunity.

This is why feminists pushed so hard for Title IX. Women were being left out of the scholarship derby and the career ladder. And this is important because the secular culture wants women to get college educations so they can get jobs and be competitive in the marketplace. This isn't about women not getting enough exercise - but rather it's about getting scholarship money.

When in the history of Christianity did Christian women play competitive sports? My devout great grandmother never did. And yet, even without all the valuable lessons little girls supposedly learn through competitive sports, she was able to raise three children as a widow in the early 1900s while working full time. Neither of my grandmothers, nor my mother (nor any of her female relatives) took part in sports. And yet, they managed to raise their children and to work when they had to. Their lives as Christian women just don't seem diminished because they didn't suit up and shoot hoops. My wife never played sports (nor did any of her relatives), and I'm just not convinced she is less of a woman or person as a result.

In fact, Christian women did not play competitive sports for some 19 centuries.

But things began to change around World War II, as women began to work outside the home. By the 1980s, the push was on for more women in sports.

On the whole, has sports been a good thing for Christian women? Do women dress more or less modestly as a result? Are women more or less feminine as a result? Are women more or less submissive to their husbands as a result? How about the roles of women in the military - better or worse? How about the way in which men and women treat one another - has it gotten better or worse?

I see a lot of bad that comes from organized competitive sports (for both sexes) - and very little good. Ironically, most people are fatter today than in the "bad old days" when women were "oppressed" by not being jocks. You'd think that with all of this emphasis on sports, most people would be healthier. But this really isn't about health. rather, this is social experimentation. As a result, we see women pushing for combat roles in the military, advocating for unisex sports (even contact sports), and not striving for modesty and submission. A female soccer player whipping off her shirt at the end of a game in the olympics to reveal her sports bra has become iconic of an entire generation of female athletes.

I hadn't really considered the cultural impact of women in sports until reading the above article. The author simply made points that I couldn't refute. Of course, I'm in no position to tell anyone whether or not to play sports, but I'm certainly entitled to my opinion, and to enforce that opinion in my own home. I'm of the opinion that girls in organized competitive sports is a very difficult thing to reconcile with God's Word regarding the feminine vocation. I think it's a bad thing, even though it's pretty much unanimous among Christians and non-believers, feminists and conservatives alike, that women and girls ought to be involved in organized, competitive sports.

Personally, I think women ought to work out, do aerobics, lift weights, run, do pilates, yoga, and other sorts of healthy exercise. I'm all for that. It's just the competitive stuff that I think is overly masculine and not particularly helpful to encouraging girls to be ladylike. I do, however, believe women should get martial arts training - not the phony tournament and trophy "belt mill" variety with huge "studio" windows and ridiculous claims, but rather genuine and serious martial training in hand-to-hand self-defense that isn't all about trophies and competition. Women need to know how to take care of themselves and to react if they are attacked. But then again, this is self-defense training, not a "sport."

In terms of great examples of Christian womanhood, I'll take any of the women in my family (who never played baseball, volleyball, softball, wrestling, basketball, boxing, football, or hockey) over any sweaty jockette with her school name written on the buttocks of her short-shorts.

I think this is simply one more encroachment of the feminist culture into the Church, one more surrender we've made to the secular at the hands of the baby-boom generation. Isn't it sad that the younger generations of girls haven't a clue how to bake a loaf of bread, but they can probably tell you exactly how to squat down over home plate or how to throw a pick on the basketball court. We're so much more "enlightened" these days, aren't we?


Favorite Apron said...

Hmmm. Something to think about.
Someone in my house was watching Million Dollar Baby this week and I was completely turned off. Women shouldn't be boxing - something very wrong there.
I ran track and cross country in h.s. and college and those experiences were very positive and formative.
I have to say I"m on the fence.

poor miserable sinner said...

Women playing sports? Eh, doesn't really bother me to much. Though I do believe that if women are going to play sports then in the interest of being "equal" then there should not be any male or female only sports.

Women should have to compete at the same level in the same leagues as men. For example as Favorite Apron says women shouldn't be boxers. Believe me if the women's champ were to have to face the men's champ in the same weight class there would be NO women boxers.

I think you would see women's involvment in competive sports disappear if this were the case.

joannmski said...

Well, I am usually in agreement with you, good Fr. Hollywood. In this case I believe I must disagree. My experience as volleyball team captain was quite helpful as we prepared the lenten soup suppers. One person needs to direct, assess the skills of the others, and each of them contribute in their area of strength. One person designated a greeter, the next a soup scooper, two grilled cheese flippers, etc. Get the team excited, provide some leadership and let them all do their best. Everyone ending in a huddle, "Go St. John's"! :-)

But seriously, team sports are a pretty good experience for girls/women. I know some girls who are in line for cheerleading scholarships to college. Goodness knows, they will use that skill for the rest of their lives. Men always need encouragement.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear friends:

I agree that there are a lot of good things that come from playing sports, and I don't mean to sound inflexibly dogmatic about my criticism. I enjoy watching my junior high students play volleyball, and I know they enjoy having teachers come to their games to cheer them on. Their coach doesn't let them taunt and strut and carry on like inebriated Roman soldiers pillaging in Gaul - although I can't say the same for some of their opposing teams!

In an earlier time, our culture stressed that women were ladies and men were gentlemen, and sports were completely different than today. There was honor and chivalry for men, grace and beauty for women, and sports were a distraction from the grind of daily life.

The problem is that in the current culture, sports have become way too important. Also, with the gender-line constantly under attack, chivalry and grace are being pushed to the edge by brutishness on the part of players and spectators alike (the stories of profane parents punching out little league refs is far too common).

Female athletes (unlike in times past) are encouraged to play, look, and act like their male counterparts. Their attire and personae have become masculine. It's a strange confluence of trying to look like boys, but also adopting suggestive sexual imagery as well. Little girls are encouraged to be neither!

Unfortunately, a lot of cheerleading has become little more than pole-dance training, a kind of vocational program for the girls. The State of Texas just last year considered legislation to ban cheerleading squads from doing sexually suggestive moves (the bill was killed before getting to a vote - perhaps some of Foley's buddies were on the committee). The skirts have gotten shorter, the shirts tighter, with more skin and more pelvic thrusting. Of course, not all cheerleading programs are like this, but with some of them, one has to wonder how Christian parents can allow their daughters to be pimped out in this way. It's really very sad.

I think we're on a bad trajectory here with regard to women and sports, and I can think of a lot more wholesome things for girls (and boys) to be doing than being shuttled to and from practices every night and having to stay up all hours to do homework (which is often simply neglected).

When I taught high school, the students were required to maintain a 1.9 average to play sports - and the coach opposed raising it from where it was before: 1.6! I suggested it be raised to 3.0, and all I heard in response were crickets. I had high school student athletes who read at grade school levels and actually got failing grades in religion class.

Sports has become a demigod.

I do wish there was a way to roll back some of the increasing masculinization of girls in our society (especially athletes). There is no doubt that girls today are far more violent, vulgar, and crass than ever before - more likely to do drugs, engage in promiscuity, and get involved in gangs - things that used to be a male bastion. You've come a long way, baby! This doesn't bode well for society - the hand that rocks the cradle and all...

Maybe there will be a backlash among young people. But for the time being, it only seems to get worse. The last time we bought girl scout cookies, we thought there were boys on the box! Yikes!

How long before the women athletes will be getting caught in scandals involving testosterone injections (of course, their beards may be a giveaway to the judges...).

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments, y'all!

Hayleyrugby said...

Well…. I have to say I do not agree with you at all. I have to ask you, have you ever played a competitive sport? There is nothing like working your body to complete exhaustion, feeling like you can’t push any further, then feeling that last surge of energy to get you through the rest of the game. The only thing on your mind is they sport you’re playing. Not work, not school, not family, not significant others….just what you have to do next. To me, playing sports is the closest I have even gotten to God. To push you’re self to the limit is a true test of your faith. I can only pray that God gets me through the next 30 seconds, the next play, or the next tackle.

You say people don’t learn much from playing sports…ha! Sports are strategic, you must learn plays, learn to work as a team, and learn to trust. The people you are on the field with become your family. In the game of rugby you have to trust your team mates with your life. I have never been a part of such an amazing group of women. They support each other in every aspect of their lives on and off the field.

As for sports and monetary gain…. It’s not even realistic to place all sports players in that category. The majority of people playing sports know that they will never sign a big deal to play in the major leagues, for the NFL, NBA, WNBA, etc. They play because they LOVE the sport. They love how it makes them feel, they love the people they play with, they love what they get out of it. There are so many club sports out there that are not affiliated with a high school or college. It’s a group of people who loved a sport so much they started a competitive team.

These people dedicate a large portion of their time to organizing the team, practicing, scheduling matches, traveling to other cities to play, and fundraising. Tell me all this work doesn’t teach you something…

You say sports make women more masculine. You must not know many masculine women. They would be masculine with or without sports because that’s who they are. Besides what you consider ladylike are all superficial characteristics. You want a woman who takes care of her man. You want a woman who can cook, clean, be respectful of men, quite, docile, etc. Basically you want a subordinate. That’s really sad. Why would you want to be in a relationship with someone you weren’t equal with? Honestly, I think people who want that have personal self esteem issues.

As for your quote “Isn't it sad that the younger generations of girls haven't a clue how to bake a loaf of bread, but they can probably tell you exactly how to squat down over home plate or how to throw a pick on the basketball court. We're so much more "enlightened" these days, aren't we?”

Yes it is sad that younger generations, both male and female, do not know how to do simple tasks like baking, but honestly, does that have anything to do with “enlightenment” I think not. I would much rather have my daughter know what it’s like to be a part of a team then learn how to bake a loaf of bread. You gain so much more from sports that an out side spectator could imagine. Sports allow women to gain confidence in thermeslve.

While playing sports isn’t madatory in developing a well a rounded individual, not all people have the ability, it is wonderful way for both men AND women to feel the exsiliration of being a part of something that is greater than them. It’s a religious experince in itself. I recommend it to anyone especialy you.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Hayley:

Although it is completely irrelevant to the argument, I've played a lot of competitive sports. You're trying to deflect the focus onto a personal issue - which is known as an "ad hominem" attack - ditto for your ignorant remarks about my "self-esteem" and the relationship I am privileged to have with my wife.

You're also putting words in my mouth. I never said "people don't learn much from playing sports." It's a matter of priority. A university exists for the purpose of education. However, one has to be in total denial to realize that in many universities and colleges, the classroom is secondary to the gym floor or the football stadium. There was a time when the "student-athlete" was a noble goal - whereas it is no secret that the emphasis has shifted. For example, I taught at a high school where a 1.9 GPA was needed to play sports - and the coach wanted it lowered to 1.6! Yes, that's in the best interest of the kids, isn't it? Personally, I would have raised it to 3.0. I had students who literally slept in the classroom, but never missed a practice. It's simply a matter of priority. In our culture, sports have overtaken things like education, reading good books, engaging in conversation, and living well.

Your remark about sports being as close as you've ever been to God is a genuine shame - at least if you are a Christian. Jesus explains how to be close to God: His Word and His Sacraments, prayer, service to others, and experiencing the forgiveness of sins. He is there for you, in Word and Sacrament - physically and in the flesh. He never promises to be present for you in a particular game that you like to play. There is a sad confusion these days about God and entertainment. Jesus was not having fun and playing a game as he died on the cross for you. You have made my point about the elevated self-importance of athletics and athletes. What ought to be a joy, a hobby, a distraction, a means to mental and physical health, or even in the case of professional athletes, a job - has now become a *religion.*

We're all entitled to our own opinions as to what are ladylike characteristics, and the "superficiality" of them. You and I obviously disagree. My wife, for example, loves her husband and son. She runs our household, and it is a place we all love to be. It is not simply a flophouse in between extra-curricular activities. It is a *home.* She bakes bread from scratch, makes a mean creme brulee, cares for the animals, looks after the property, diagnoses the computer, buys healthy food, pays all the bills (way better than I ever did), and lives out the Christian vocation of womanhood as a pastor's wife. My son has never seen a "daycare." Oh, and before you leap to some stereotypical conclusion that she's some backward wallflower with no self-esteem, she's a former Microsoft MCSE, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, and one of the most intelligent people I know. My wife exudes "joie-de-vivre." And while she has never been a *competitive* athlete, she would often shock people (which was always amusing) with her raw physical strength - especially for her size (lifting weights and doing aerobics doesn't have to be a public spectacle). There is a personal satisfaction in having a strong and fit body - even without the need for public validation and showing off.

Submission is not about being unequal. It's about voluntarily submitting to others out of love. Jesus did this when he stooped to wash the disciples' feet. Jesus did this in taking humble human flesh. Whenever we accept less for ourselves than what we're "entitled" to out of love for others, this doesn't denigrate oneself, but rather is a glimpse into what it is to be truly human. Our selfish, hedonistic culture has no clue about this at all.

If I were to make my wife my equal, I would only be dragging her down to my level. I can't expect everyone to understand that, but Christian men who live in a truly traditional home know very well what I mean by this. If you want equality with me, you're setting your sights too low. Which is one of the sad things about women who try so hard to be masculine. I believe they are the ones with self-esteem problems. I believe the people who truly hate and loathe women are feminists.

Parents are "submissive" with their children all the time, giving up things they really love (like sports, fancy cars, nice vacations, big homes, etc.) for the sake of providing an intact and loving home for their children. I disagree with you that providing a home for spouse and children is "superficial." Raising children may not be as earth-shattering as a rugby game, but it is kind of important...

But if at the end of the day (or at the end of a life) - the only thing you can identify in your life as a meaningful, transcendent experience involves running around with a rugby ball - well, to each his own.

Personally, I prefer the likes of all the strong, feminine women in my life - my heroic great-grandma, my truly genteel (and yet courageous) mother, my graceful and elegant wife - none of whom felt the need to be validated by a crutch like sports in order to "discover" their "self-worth." They already had it. They knew (and know) they are loved, valued, and are capable of anything.

Funny, all of these women exude(d) self-confidence, and never had to play a sport to learn to have self-confidence, trust, teamwork, etc.

That *lack* of self-confidence among many girls these days (and the need to get it artificially through sports), seems to be the *real* problem. Why must a girl "validate" herself on the athletic field? Maybe that athletic idealism is contributing to the *lack* of self-esteem on the part of girls who can't (or don't even want to) punt, pass, or kick.

Thanks for getting the gears turning on this issue for me once again. This is worth further exploration. Thanks for writing!

Coach said...

Wow. Such a long discourse, such little substance.

"In fact, Christian women did not play competitive sports for some 19 centuries."

In fact, NO ONE played competitive sports for some 18 centuries. Men's sports began in the 1800's. Team sports around the turn of the 20th century (give or take a decade for the sport of your choice.)

Are sports over emphasized? Yes. Are there excesses? Yes. But name an area of life where the fringes don't go to excesses.

Your fringe is one I just don't understand how you got to. I don't understand a lot of your arguments.

"He (Jesus) never promises to be present for you in a particular game that you like to play." Funny, I thought He promised to be with me always.

"There is no doubt that girls today are far more violent, vulgar, and crass than ever before ..." And you can not say the same about boys?

"I had students who literally slept in the classroom, but never missed a practice. It's simply a matter of priority." It was a matter of priority, the student/athlete was more interested in practice than your class. Maybe practice was more interesting than your class.

Sports, for boys & girls, men & women, can teach valuable lessons, provide an avenue for building up one's body and spirit. There are other activities that can do the same, but sports are, in my opinion, a better way to learn the lessons.

Sports, for boys & girls, men & women, can be an avenue for people to overreact, act out and take things to an extreme. There are other activities that can do the same, but sports are, in my opinion, one of the most popular ways to demonstrate these negative behaviors.

To say sports should not be for women is a very narrow-minded outlook.

Lydia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia said...

I agree with what Coach posted.
I am an 18-year-old female, and continuing my softball career at a division I school. It is a privilege to continue my career in college, and the scholarship I am receiving is allowing me to attend a private school that I would not have otherwise been able to afford. As to the argument that colleges stress sports over academics, the university I will attend emphasizes the importance of academics over athletics. If I would have a class scheduled for the same time as practice, I would go to my class.
Throughout high school I have maintained a 4.0 grade point average and played softball and volleyball every year. I have noticed that most of the female athletes I play with also earn at least above average grades. In fact, many of my teammates earn higher grades in season than out of season because they are being forced to manage their time better.
I feel that sports have helped me maintain my values and overcome peer pressure. I have never performed sexual activities or drank alcohol. Playing sports has given me a positive body image. I don't feel the need to dress promiscuously and I love knowing I am capable of defending myself.
Because of softball I have learned how to be disciplined and perseverant-hitting is a very difficult thing to learn. I have learned to sacrifice myself to move a runner over. I have learned to remain respectful and hustle off the field when an umpire calls "strike three."
I think sports teach girls self-respect and independence, qualities that are usually lacking in women with low moral standards. It is important to teach girls that their self-worth doesn't depend on their appearance, rather it depends on what goals they set and achieve in their lifetime.
Father Hollywood, the relationship between you and your wife sounds wonderful and full of respect. I don't doubt that you give up something for her as she does for you, but what is it? I agree with you that a child is most likely better off growing up with a parent around, but it almost sounds like you think a wife’s sole responsibility is to take care of the home and her children and do what the husband thinks necessary.
Also, male and female is something that one can be born with, however masculinity and femininity are gender roles prescribed to males and females by society. You must first define femininity before you state that women are becoming increasingly un-feminine. If you mean that women are more self-sufficient and more active members of society, then this is a positive. If you mean that they are wearing pants instead of skirts and t-shirts instead of blouses, what loss is that to society? Is it wrong for women to focus on things other than “grace and beauty”? Is it wrong for women to have no desire to sit on the sidelines? Simply because competitive sports are fairly new for women doesn't mean that they wouldn't affect women in a positive manner. New isn't always bad. And I promise you that a little competition won't damage our "feminine graces" one bit.

Steve55 said...

Social psychologist Jean Twenge states in her writings that women who participate in competitive sports develop masculine traits. I can see that in some ways sports may help develop certain positive traits for all who play (male and female) but the price that women pay for it is losing their femininity. Jean Twenge goes on to further state that today, women score equal to men on masculinity testing. Here Is her quote:

: "The average 1990's college women reported more "masculine" traits than 80% of Boomer college women in the early 1970's. The change was so large that by the early 1990's men and women's scores on the scale of so called masculine traits were indistinguishable. The generational change in masculinity had turned the very definition of the scale on its head: clearly these traits were no longer masculine, but simply human" (Generation Me, pg 12)