Women’s v. Men’s: A False Dichotomy

Today, Emily “EBae” Baecher penned a piece for Ultiworld about perception of women in Ultimate and the comparison drawn between women and men in our sport. This arose from her attending a Boston Whitecaps tryout, where she was the only female, saying a few words about that experience and her view on women’s place in pro Ultimate, and the slew of responses that elicited.

EBae’s article today illuminated some of the experiences female Ultimate players go through. While I can’t relate directly to those, her words did spark an emotional response from me that I felt compelled to share.

For over five years, women’s Ultimate has played a central role in my life. Once I began writing about women’s Ultimate for FullFieldHammer, and eventually here at Ultiworld, I came across a question more and more often: “Do you love women’s Ultimate?”

To me, the answer is that I love Ultimate. EBae’s piece brings up troubling examples of people focusing on the differences between the men’s game and the women’s games.

I think of the similarities: the intense effort of the athletes, the stories and personalities of a team, the challenges of navigating a season, and uniqueness of the quality of person that tops our sport. From the broadest characteristics of Ultimate to its vast minutiae, the majority of aspects of women’s Ultimate and men’s Ultimate are the same.

I have been guilty of some of the behaviors EBae described in her piece; behaviors that create a negative environment for women’s athletes and aspiring female Ultimate players. As isolated comments, thoughts, or even jokes, it is easy for me – as someone who does not share the experience and plight EBae does – to disregard those behaviors and to think of them as harmless. Seeing them together, however, paints a darker picture.

And then I think of the young women I coach. I think of the women I speak with at every tournament, watch, marvel at, and respect. I think of the freshman girl who returns to school in the spring, after falling in love with the game in the fall, tells me how much she threw during her winter break, and asks me if I think she can handle one day.

I know I don’t want to be credited as a contributing artist who helped paint that darker picture. I don’t want to be responsible for coloring the experiences of those women and I don’t want that freshman girl to let anybody tell her she can’t handle one day.

It is important to recognize what EBae has done here. Not only did she deliver an important message, but she recognized that she had the opportunity to step up, even if she didn’t really want the responsibility. It takes guts and kudos to her.

We have a chance to use this moment to be better, by focusing on the things that the women’s game and men’s game share. We have an opportunity to shift the focus from the gender modifier that separates those communities to the sport that binds and unites them. As a community, let’s not waste it.

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