Sidelined by sexism

All school-sponsored sports should be supported, regardless of gender

Sidelined+by+sexism

Originally published in May 2013 print issue.

“Behind every great man is a great Senior Girl.”

That was the Senior Girls’ slogan for the 2010 football season.

Harmless, right? The football player goes out and does the dirty work on the field while his doting female attendants stay back in the kitchen, baking and making signs for him with markers and butcher paper. That’s the way it’s “supposed” to be. And the female athletes? Yeah, nobody really cares about them. Everybody knows the only sports worth recognizing are played by men.

Take a look around the Commons. The center is completely blanketed with signs celebrating the male athletes made by “their” girls. They’re impossible to totally ignore, and many of them hang there long after the sport seasons have ended — we may be otherwise tempted to forget how central the focus is on boys athletics at this school.

Go stand on the W and look up. You’ll see gaudy handwritten signs reading “Brandon’s gonna tame those Tigers” or “Michael mashes Cavs.” But do you see any sign left up for the girls soccer team on its dominant run to the State semifinals this (spring 2013) season? How about some acknowledgment of the softball team’s impressive regular season? The girls teams have been quietly outperforming the boys for years, but you’d never know it.

Fun fact: of the 30 State Championships won at Westlake in gender-specific sports, girls teams have accounted for 20 of them. But that doesn’t matter, because we’re seemingly stuck in the pre-Title IX days here, when girls were only allowed to play 3-on-3 half court basketball. The pedestal the boy athletes are placed on exaggerates how little attention the girl athletes receive.

The mixed-gender sports are also given the cold shoulder. Who is making signs for the swim team? When was the last time someone made cookies for tennis? Have the perennial State-contending golf teams ever been properly recognized? The student body doesn’t even pretend to care about these activities, and since they’re not male-dominated, no outside group dares to adopt or support any of them.

Although it was started exclusively for the football team, similar volunteering outlets to the Senior Girls have expanded to reach soccer, basketball, lacrosse, baseball and rugby. They put countless hours into baking cookies and cake balls for “their” boys before their big games. Granted, nobody is forced into being a Senior Girl, Soccer Sweetie, Courtside Cutie, Stick Chick, Bleacher Babe or Rugger Hugger, but the system is an excellent reflection of an unwritten gender hierarchy that too many still accept as the norm. Not only is the concept extremely sexist, but it reinforces the idea that the men are meant to go out and show their strength while the “weak and feeble” girls watch from the sidelines and provide moral support.

There’s a simple solution to this problem that the Hyline and the band have already adopted. Every year, they bring breakfast for each other on the dates of their major competitions. Although nobody is given individualized attention, both organizations feel supported. If, for instance, other organizations like volleyball and wrestling teamed up to support each other by attending matches and exchanging gifts, all sports would feel equally valued. This mutual appreciation doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as the support groups already in place, and it would be a step in the right direction towards building the confidence of all teams, sports and otherwise, while dropping the stereotype that Westlake has been accepting for years.

Long-standing traditions can sometimes be hard to pull away from, but it’s high time that we take a step back and look at the blatant sexism that’s been festering under our noses. It’s 2013. Our society has grown increasingly non-gender exclusive, and there’s no reason that Westlake should not follow suit.