|Photo from Plantsocialsports.com|
For women, co-ed sports generally offer greater athletic challenges. The play is faster and the skill set often higher than that of playing with other women, at any level; yet for men, co-ed sports represents relaxed play. For women, co-ed forces you to step up your game; for men, co-ed is designed to make sure that you tone down your game. Sharing the same playing surface provides anything but an equal experience.
Most co-ed leagues institute rules changes to make things "more fair" for women participants. For example, goals/baskets/runs scored by women equal more points than any goal/basket/run scored by a man. There are rules on the numbers of genders on the field at the same time, which often states that it is okay to have more women than men on the field but it is never okay to have more men than women. As much as these rules might have been appreciated a few decades ago, these concessions just don't cut it anymore. Yes, the opportunities exist to compete with men, which would have been unthinkable before but these "rules" also reproduce the ideas that ALL women athletes are at a disadvantage on the field/court/ice and EVERY man poses more of a competitive advantage than any number of women. It is also important to note that novice men who participate in co-ed sports receive no advantages and are never perceived of needing them.
As someone who loves to play co-ed hockey, I have recently run into 2 personal co-ed conundrums. The first is that playing organized co-ed hockey (versus open competition where gender numbers do not matter) means that I usually don't get to play with my fellow women players. Recently, I was asked to be a spare in a co-ed league where a minimum of 2 women were required on the ice at all times. We had 5 women at this particular game - 2 on defence, 3 at forward positions. The team decided to switch out woman-for-woman. In other words, a woman defencemen would change with a woman defenceman and women forwards would only change for women forwards. Thus, we met the gender quota but I never got to play with my friend! Half the fun of sports is socializing with your friends but the emphasis on avoiding male domination makes it extremely difficult for women to bond with each other while playing.
The second occurrence which got me thinking was the locker room. This rink decided that it was better to place women competitors in the same locker room and men competitors in the same locker room rather than having opposing teams in different rooms. Arguably, the whole point of sports is Us vs. Them but suddenly I found myself in the locker room with Them! So rather than attempting to build relations between genders and through teams this particular co-ed rink reinforces the notion that gender is the defining line between people.
I have been looking into co-ed programming in Western nations and have found that, unfortunately, everyone operates on a very similar basis - rule concessions for women and gender quotas. The best thing that I have found so far is the 'open' competition I mentioned earlier where gender and skill are irrelevant and everyone plays together; however, depending on the individuals that show up for this I can see it going very well or very poorly. I am on a quest to figure out if there is a better way for men and women to compete against and with each other. I suppose I should mention that most of the gender discrepancies we see in sports today exist merely because sports were never created with women in mind; and hence, sports showcase the biological advantages that men possess - speed, strength, power etc. If sports were designed with difference skills in mind (e.g., strategy, endurance, accuracy) I doubt that the need for extra rules and quotas would be necessary. Nevertheless, I believe there is a way for women and men to compete in the sports that exist today in a far more equitable manner and I am reaching out to my fellow bloggers (and blog readers) to help me out. If you know of any programs or participate in any programs that seem to be doing something right I would really appreciate a comment or please contact me.