Sunday, July 22, 2007

Little League

Little league was obnoxious when I was a kid: girls weren't allowed. Period. There was nothing even remotely comparable for girls where I was, no activity to get us outside playing with others.

I don't know what happens these days. I spent a bit of the weekend at a little league tournament, and not a single girl was in any sort of uniform or playing on the fields. Girls were playing or hanging out, in fairly large numbers, under the pipe and wood bleachers. And occasionally a parent would even notice they were there, or wonder why they weren't watching their brothers playing on the field. I counted six baseball diamonds; I gather that all were in constant use from 11am to 9pm on Saturday, and scheduled for more games on Sunday.

I see parents put a lot of time into the boys' little league thing. Practices during the week, batting practice places, games a couple times a week.

One of the parents I was with talked about how much boys learn about teamwork and such, but I was thinking that what the boys learn is that boys playing sports are important, and that girls, or boys not playing sports, aren't valued.

A boy playing baseball gets Dad's attention for hours at a time, playing catch, batting, shagging grounders. And Mom takes the boy to practice during the week, while his sister tags along, bored, to hang out under the bleachers. All the while, the boy learns that he's the most important person in the family so long as he's playing sports.

Girls don't get that sort of attention, that I see. Maybe in the world of girls' beauty shows? (I've never met anyone involved in those, so I'm totally clueless.)

In academics, there's been noise in the past several years about how boys in high schools aren't doing as well academically as girls, so that more women than men get into colleges by the numbers. Then there's noise about how men need special consideration so that sex/gender ratios in colleges don't become "imbalanced." So there's a sort of quiet undercurrent of movement to give men special "consideration" in college admissions.

There are a LOT of factors going into who applies and gets into colleges. But I wonder how many of the parents of the boys at the little league tournament this weekend spend as much time encouraging and cheering for their boys' academic efforts as they do for the little league stuff.

(This entry is based on my own observation. Feel free to tell me that as much attention and money is spent on girls' sports for ten year olds. I'd love to hear it. I'm not saying that these parents spend no time working with boys on school work, or that no one pays attention to girls, or that all boys play little league.)


  1. Anonymous6:10 PM

    i can't tell you women's sports get as much attention or money. I just spent an hour talking to my husband about his mother's internal list of feminine and masculine traits. She considers herself masculine in that she is good at math (very!), sensible and level-headed, doesn't like shopping and likes sports. on the other hand, this makes me pleased that my husband spends a good deal of time each week teaching our three year old soccer basics.

    I do wonder about this equality for men thing. I'm not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, yeah, okay. I'm not saying things should be imbalanced. On the other hand, if boys want to get into high school and do academically, they're going to have to compete. They're still the privileged gender from where I'm sitting, so I don't buy that they need special consideration to overcome bias.

  2. Growing up, very few girls played baseball, but we did play softball. There were (and I think still are) mostly male/dad coaches - my dad was one of them. Of course, he also coached my younger brother's baseball team (six years between us, so no conflict).

    Earlier this summer, I went to a few of my niece's softball games. Lot's of moms and dads and grandparents and other interested parties were in attendance and cheering vigorously. The brothers of the girls (and some younger and older sisters) were the ones playing in the park during the games.

    It would be interesting to see how parental attention gets meted out. I wasn't as into sports as my siblings, particularly team sports. I preferred books and time by myself. I liked golf because I could have time alone with myself while I played (not that I never played with others). It was more important to me that my parents recognized when I needed attention, and they did a decent job. Even when we were on trips for my brother's AAU basketball national tournament games, they made a point of doing things as a family, and things that I wanted to do (making it part vacation). And, I got a lot of reading done while sitting on the bleachers at the siblings' basketball, volleyball, and baseball games. And, I talked with my parents and others in the stands, so I was getting a lot of attention too.

    I think it's hard to tell how much time/attention each kid gets based on game attendance. But yeah, some people do get overly involved in the adolescent team sports world. Sorry this was so long - I didn't intend for it to be!

  3. Maybe the girls are spending time reading and doing homework while the boys are playing baseball....

    I suppose the parental attention for the girl's good academic performance takes place over the dinner table...

  4. meansomething8:06 PM

    The only sport my kid plays is soccer, and I have been impressed with the evenhandedness of our AYSO region: there are as many girls' teams as boys', all use the same facilities, have similar schedules, etc. There also seem to be equal numbers of cheering parents and cheering siblings. I guess soccer in the U.S. doesn't have the huge gender imbalance that there is in baseball, where after about age 9, baseball is played by boys and softball by girls; the boys who are really good might end up collecting a $1 mil signing bonus when drafted at age 18, while the girls who are really good might end up on the national amateur softball team (which, by the way, just swept the World Cup of softball and will be looking to collect a sixth consecutive gold medal in the sport at the Pan American Games this week), playing for,

    Both the soccer moms and soccer dads seem to be pretty supportive and involved, as coaches, referees, and volunteers. (Every family is supposed to contribute some volunteer time.) Dads do outnumber moms as coaches, though.

    But in baseball, what I see is close to what you saw. The teams are coed when the kids are young, and girls seem to have an edge then because they focus better on the coach and take directions well. At some point the teams become single-sex and the girls are playing softball. If they keep up with it, that is--because every weekend the diamonds seem to be filled with boys.

  5. meansomething8:14 PM

    P.S. Not to overdo, but your post also got me thinking about what activities get the most parental attention in our house. Soccer is probably pretty far down the list, certainly coming below homework and school achievement generally, but also below learning new skills like riding a bike or swimming; kind and ethical behavior toward others; things that take patience/creativity (craft projects, writing letters, building elaborate Lego structures); and being funny. Making one of the parents laugh so hard he/she spews coffee is also highly rewarded.

  6. You might want to find some statistical analysis. Otherwise, you do just have small sample size personal observations.

    The National Sporting Goods Association is a good place to start.
    (Could be disturbing though that cheerleading is on the rise.)

    You could also check Leisure Trends.

    Women's participation in sports is certainly up (thank Title 9) and as far as I know, working in the outdoor industry, manufacturers are making and selling more and more women's sport equipiment and apparel.
    Take a look, say, at or the Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition

    Sport industries are certainly trying harder to get more women (and young girls) to parrticipate. Naturally, it means more potential consumers, but I think it would be far too cynical to just think that.

    For a great example of a former "boys club" sport trying to involve more girls, take a look at the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation's "Take Me Fishing" campaign.
    One of thier best ads was of a young girl.

    I'm not saying that there isn't a patriarchal shadow over kids' sports, but I think that comes more from individual parents than the society of the sports themselves.

  7. I was one of those girls dragged along to my brothers' constant sports activities (baseball, basketball, swimming, every season had some sport, and I hung out under the bleachers with my library books during all of them). I did do softball, for about three years, but girls sports only lasted until girls were sixteen, as I recall. Also, back then, no funding. Don't know now.

    Now I've got the kid in Aikido, which isn't really a sport, both because I hate sports so much (b/c of this early experience? who knows) and because I'm wanted her to learn something useful while she was learning to use her body. But even here, I see the sensei focusing more on the boys in the class -- he has three daughters and a son himself, so you would think he might know better, but no. He does teach the girls, but his main focus is on teaching the boys. They get his attention first, and then he'll check on what the girls in the class are up to. And he's a decent guy. He is. I like him fine. He's just a product of the patriarchy, and it's in his bones: boys matter more.

    Re: patriarchal shadow vs individual parents, btw -- that's really the same thing, isn't it? I mean, where do they live? Oz?

  8. more anecdotal experience - my 16-year-old daughter's lego team is all girls (and they're winning state competitions) and each of those girls is on a sports team: volleyball, soccer (x2), swimming (x2), in addition some also play basketball or lacrosse, depending on the season.

    the little league, yup, one girl on the team when they get to being 13 year-olds.

    I see what you mean about parental attention following the driving to all of the activities. In a way sports are amplified because they are so intense - several times a week for practices and games, as opposed to music lessons which are just less frequent.


  9. this post and its comments certainly got me thinking about my own experience. i wasn't really involved all that much in sports as a kid, but i now coach high school rowing during the spring season and what i see in the girls that i coach is a continual negotiation between being a "rower" (sadly, still a solely masculine identity, articulated in language that reinforces qualities associated with a certain kind of "manly" behaviour) and being a "girl". on one hand they're proud of being ripped at the end of the season, but on the other, and these comments often follow in rapid succession, they worry about how their lean muscular bodies are going to fit into their prom dresses.

    i can only conclude that this dis-ease with their sporting identity has something to do with the culture of their specific sport which still emphasizes male participation (the british henley regatta, one of the most famous in the world, is still exclusively men, and it gets far more press than the special "women's henley" that is run a couple of weeks before it), and still adheres to a structure that is in many ways patriarchal. Title IX has done a lot of women's participation in sport in the US (I'm in Canada), but part of me thinks that if we're going to see the change in sport that many female athletes would like to see, we need to disassociate many of the core ideas of sport from their masculinist interpretations. I'm not suggesting that we do away with "competition", "power", "strength", etc. in favour of a more "female" code of sporting behaviour (those female essentialist ideas of co-operation, community, etc. sometimes give me the willies) but rather that we try to redefine these terms in some way that moves away from specifically gender-coded meanings. How can we do that when language itself is clearly gendered? I have absolutely no clue.

    On a practical, participatory level, I've tried to do this through my participation in sport both as an athlete and coach, and it's very much an in the moment, day to day kind of negotiation. Dismissing organized sport as "patriarchal" and not something worthy of a feminist, etc. isn't going cut it. Adopting the masculinist rhetoric of sport as a kind of "grrrl power" isn't going to work either. There's got to be a way to change the structure from within that offers a third alternative. As I said earlier, I haven't come to any definite conclusions or theorizations as to how to articulate this or bring it about, but I'm going to keep rowing (and biking and running and all that other stuff) until I figure it out.

  10. Oh, sorry ... one more errant thought:

    At the same time that we need to keep working at involving girls & women in sport, we also need to think about ways to get more women involved in coaching.