Observations as a Spectator

Over Fall Break, I went home to New Jersey to see my friends and family. While I was there, I was fortunate enough to attend numerous sporting events for my former high school. Friday night when I arrived, I went to Lombardi Field for the annual Powderpuff football game. This is a game hosted yearly, in which girls play a competitive game of football, and guys cheerlead for the girls! This game attracts an enormous crowd, filling the bleachers every year. This specific game is also very relevant to the course in terms of both lectures as well as course readings specifically regarding gender distinction.

old bridge night mascot

Mascot for Old Bridge High School.

First of all, it should be noted that most high schools around the nation do not have a football team for girls. Is this an example of institutionalized discrimination against women? Is this simply because of historic traditions regarding that football was originally played by men? Regardless of why females playing football is not a common sight, it is clear that a distinction exists between males and females regarding sports. Some sports are generally played by men while others are almost exclusively played by women.

Powderpuff game where men and women exchange traditional roles at a sporting event.

Powderpuff game where men and women exchange traditional roles at a sporting event.

Even in “The Playing Fields of Eton“, by Mika La-Vaque Manty, it is stated that heavier runners get their own weight class. Heavier men may be slower runners than men who are not so heavy, so they get their own category to compete. To maintain fairness and equality, categories are created to help heavier men compete against others who have the same disadvantage in regards to the sport. Women are also significantly different from men, yet they do not get to play football for an official organization. There is no professional institution for female football players. While the integration of both men and women playing a sport may be seen as impossible, the pure existence of “single gender sports” says a lot about society. Specifically, the integration of both genders in football as well as any other sport is nearly impossible at least for a very long time.  Powderpuff emphasized equality in our school and made it known that girls can play football like boys, and that boys can cheerlead as well as girls can, but will this local high school game ever reach out to a higher level? I have never pondered that societal mystery until examining a long lasting high school tradition in regards to political theory.

A competitive game of volleyballbeing played by talented women.

A competitive game of volleyball being played by talented women.

The day after that intriguing and highly spirited football game, there was a girls volleyball game against a historic school rival. A game that was anticipated for months, very competitive in nature, and truthfully entertaining to watch, had attracted nearly no crowd. The bleachers to the main gymnasium had countless empty seats and the only supporters included me, some parents, and very few student fans. This connects to another major issue discussed in the readings. La-Vaque Manty, in “The Playing Fields of Eton” discusses how women rarely attract large crowds for sporting events. Even though legislation has been created for public institutions to treat men’s and women’s sports equally, sports for men have always generated more revenue. Women’s sports are rarely lucrative attracting only a small crowd at most events. The girls’ volleyball game was just as competitive as any boys’ volleyball game, and given that we were playing a historic rival should have made more spectators want to watch the game. As La-Vaque Manty discusses the social implications of the politics of women’s sports, I simply wonder why such a large distinction exists in spectator base. At the Olympic level, there are many spectators for events of both genders, but this is not so at every other level of competition. The fact that men’s sports and women’s sports are treated so differently, almost makes me question whether both genders are even playing the same sports. Sports are competitive, free, and voluntary, regardless of who is playing the sports. In

Running champion Caster Semenya, who was not allowed to compete as a female for some time.

Running champion Caster Semenya, who was not allowed to compete as a female for some time.

fact, sports are so competitive that fairness is ensured by the creation of classes either by weight in some cases, gender in nearly all cases, and disabilities. Caster Semenya for example, was considered one of the fastest women in the world, but she was harassed for her lack of certainty in regards to her gender. She went through numerous biological tests and regardless of her social classification since birth, she was tormented. Other women did not want to run with someone who seemed to be more of a man. This not only created great controversy, but probably has caused Semenya a fair share of emotional damage. Putting her in a tough position, the world would not let her compete in a sport she loved simply because of controversy regarding her gender.

Rosie the Riveter, a historic symbol of feminist power and equal ability for both genders.

Rosie the Riveter, a historic symbol of feminist power and equal ability for both genders.

Though competition aims to create equality in sports, it ironically tends to do the opposite, creating differences in both performance as well as spectator bases. If competition exists in sports for all, why is there a difference in the number of spectators? Going to the girls’ volleyball game gave me direct insight into this issue, making me realize that regardless of the equality that may seem to exist, in society today, there is unfortunately an underlying discrimination towards women in the United States. As discussed in class often, through guest speakers, course readings, and discussions, women and sports form a huge aspect of political theory. Considering how much can be assumed of human nature given gender differences and the sociological impact of sports, it is not hard to relate female sports events to political theory.

One thought on “Observations as a Spectator

  1. Although I agree with most of what you said, it is interesting to me that you feel that your school’s powderpuff game gave girls a chance to prove they can play football. At my high school powderpuff was a fundraiser for charity, and in my opinion that was the only reason their was even an audience to attend it. The senior boys “coached” us girls and most treated it like a joke. Although I played in the games and had fun, many argued it was sexist in nature since the girls couldn’t actually play on the real team. I wonder if people at your school felt similarly. I agree girls should have a chance to play particularly male sports;however, I don’t know if powderpuff is the right way.


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