Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I or D Part 5- Gender Equity

This will be the last post in the series. I am sure that many folks will be glad to see me get off my high horse. This post will address what is to me a critical area in which our sport has an opportunity to set itself apart from most other sports (and virtually all field sports). By putting men's and women's divs side by side at its showcase events, the sport has not only differentiated itself, it has indicated its priorities and values.

Now, there are no rose colored glasses here. While we have been successful, in a general sense, of physically putting men and women equally on a tournament pitch, there is, in terms of "backroom" sentiment, clear disrespect toward the women's division. One needs only look as far as The Count's post on Day 4 of Nats to get a pretty clear view of this sentiment. Other spectacles such as the Sockeye heckling debacle two years ago further this point. Finally, one needs only to talk to the women involved in the formation of the division in the early 80's to get the sense that the creation of a women's division was met with great reluctance back in the day. Luckily for us, good sense prevailed. This is not to say that we should all enjoy watching women's Ultimate, or that we shouldn't be critical of its quality of play. The point is: a policy of gender equality is good for the sport because, due to differentiation, it places us in line with some of the small social steps we have made in the last 30 or so years and, unlike most other sports, gives us an advantage as both genders have access to participation under one umbrella.

Ultimate might be perfectly aligned to be the field sport of the post Title 9 era. There are examples like the WNBA in which the "men's" division has promoted its development , but, for most field sports, if they even acknowledge the "better half", it comes in the form of griping about losing its funding due to Title 9. Of course, there is usual line of rationalization about why it 'ok" to ignore women athletes based on "objective" data (men can run faster and are stronger), but then we have the NFL rolling out with great pride the fact that women make up 43% of its fan base (up from 35% a few years ago). While the NFL is basically Neandrathal in terms of promoting any kind female involvement in the sport (other than eye candy), they have all of sudden seemed to wake up to the fact that they have, until recently, basically ignored 50% of their fan base (read: potential income). With this kind of example, why make things hard for ourselves?

Ultimate is obviously behind most other sports. Most of the other field sports have roughly 80 more years of organzational experience than we do. Very few, however, have a structure in which women and men are treated equally. This is a clear opportunity to not only offer assets like positive role models to both genders, but we have a relatively equal playing field of experience to draw upon, in terms of leveraging this as an asset.

I think it could be argued that gender equality could be THE most important thing that our sport has to offer. More than the flight of the disc, "purity" of the sport, SOTG, etc, etc. As we move into the future, we will probably need to clearly state our values and priorities. I think there are not a small number of us that feel that a policy of gender equality could, in the future (if not already), come at the expense of our ability to promote ourselves. Hopefully, a clear statement of values will help us negotiate potential difficult decisions.

I do think it is important that we view the divisions with a clear and informed mind. I personally found this year's Riot v Fury final the most compelling of the final games. Why? The story was interesting. It is naive to assume that faster and stronger athlets are ALWAYS more interesting. From a broad point of view(meaning over the last 2-3 years), the Fury win has to be considered an "upset". It is been stated several times in the Ultimate blog world that a good story like an "upset" makes sports exciting. As such, I found it very interesting to see Fury systematically take Riot apart...great stuff. Kicked the men's ass.....in my opinion.....

So, to review, the context for this series of posts was to churn the waters for the panel discussion on "The Future of Ultimate" at the upcoming Ultimate Coaches and Players Conference. It now looks like the UPA is going to participating in this panel discussion as they are, obviously, working on a Strategic Planning initiative. It is my hope that subjects like media, technology, self-officiating, and gender equity can be part of the discussion as I think they will be important parts of our next steps into the future.


Finucane said...

Here's Alex's quote, to save people having to look:

I get to watch Fury disembowel Riot. I guess I'm excited that Riot didn't win more in a row, but that is about all I can muster up in terms of caring about the game. More on streaks below. I would make more commentary on the women's game, but it's really difficult to do without being dishonest with myself (or pissing other people off), so I will leave well enough alone.

So he doesn't like watching women's ultimate, and suggests the quality of play is bad. I reproduce this here in case people got the impression that he was disrespectful, which is what I thought after reading George's reference.

I think a bigger shame is the top two teams don't have a game closer than 15-8 until they meet in the finals. And 15-8 was an aberration; most of their victories at Nationals were on the order of 15-3.

gcooke said...


I was saying that Al was disrespectful. It is clear that there is a fine line between voicing one's opinions and voicing disrespect. I probably took too many liberties in terms of interpretation. I was responding mostly to the unsaid bits which, as Al says himself, go unsaid as they "piss people off". So I am probably not being totally fair here.

What is the disparity in score a bigger shame than?


Julian said...


I also think that development of the women's game is crucial to the future of the sport as a whole. Much of the Ultimate played around the country and around the world is mixed-gender, and I know we struggle in my local league to field enough women (let alone women with experience or knowledge of the game). Promoting growth in the women's division can only help overall growth, IMO.


Alex de Frondeville said...

Keep in mind that at the time I watched this game, I was very hungover. But not when I wrote the post. I don't mean to denigrate the women playing ultimate by any means. There are some incredible athletes, and the change/improvement in the last 10 years is much greater than that of the men's game, both physically and strategically. It is just hard sometimes to still watch the fundamental errors or athletic shortcomings, the drops that should NEVER be drops (where the woman doesn't look 100% comfortable catching it). I think I posted this somewhere else, but for lack of a better description, for me the highest compliment for a woman's throws and catches is that she does them like a man. As in they aren't the awkward throws or catches of someone who didn't grow up playing catch with their parents or siblings, but are recent arrivals in team sports. That is the biggest change, because of Title 9 and otherwise, that women are exposed to physical activity MUCH earlier in life, so they now have more of the base coordination.

And those are my brief thoughts (and sort of defense, but not really, as I was probably being disrepectful). And I also agree that it was great to see Riot get crushed after they were touted as being the next dominant team.


gcooke said...

Just a general comment, I hope that it was clear that I was specifically talking about having men's and women's divisions side by side at tournament. This post was not a discussion of Mixed Ultimate.


gcooke said...


Thanks for writing. As I said above, I was probably a bit harsh, and it is really unbecoming to cast one upon the fire. I am really in position to be above examination. I respect the fact that you acknowledge your language without flinching......

I think a positve environment is one in which we hold each other to high standards, we can voice criticism, but at a base level there is confidence that men's and women's Ultimate both...."belong".


dusty said...

I'm not sure anyone has argued that Women's Ultimate doesn't "belong," but rather that some individuals and groups don't like watching it as much as the like watching men's ultimate.

I'm in favor of Women's Ultimate being side-by-side with Men's and frankly, I can't think of a single ultimate player I've spoken with who would disagree.

Am I missing a subset of the ultimate community when I think of this as a non-issue? Or are you framing this in the context of "Perhaps we should consider the alternative if we are taking stock of where we are as a sport?" Or even "We should be aware of how we deal with these issues even if the question of 'Should the two divisions be side-by-side?' has already been answered.

gcooke said...


Thanks for your interesting comments. The context of this series of posts is "as we progress into the future...what are our values, priorities, etc", and "what is going to place pressure on us to move away from those values".

Self-officiating is a good example from last week. My comments were not meant to comment on our individual sentiments (my comments about Al's post notwithstanding) as much as to address these issues from a policy basis.

It is pretty easy to say "Everyone one agrees that gender equity is a good thing" in this time when whether we do or not makes little difference. However, we have already seen that market forces put pressure on this value of ours. There was a debate on RSD last spring, I believe, when the question was asked why there was so little women's coverage on Ultivillage. I want to be very clear that I am making NO value judgment about Ultivillage...my point is to say that market pressures challenge gender equity as a policy. The MLU is another example: no women's div....no one raised a stink about that.

If, for example, ESPN were to offer us free airings of Ultimate under the condition that it was men's only (reasoning justified that it was the most exciting, athletic, or what have you)...should we go for that? Or does that violate our values and priorities? Is gender equity intrinsic enough to our sport that we would say No to such an offering? And...if we say Yes..does that lead us down a path where our other values can be compromised? Or...to look at it from another point of view....if we adhere to a policy of gender equity...does that limit our potential? This is the context of the post.


dusty said...

I'll choose to take "interesting" as a compliment instead of the way it is usually applied to the crap I spew.

The context of the I/D posts in the past had always seemed more directly relevant to the planned/unplanned progression of the sport. This one left me searching for that same connection. Your comments here clarified the context well. Thanks.

I was bringing in individual sentiments as a juvenile riposte to the use of Al's comment as somehow representative of, well, anything other than one ugly-hat-wearing-handler's opinion.

A number of interesting notions were sprung to mind when you brought up airtime being offered to the Men's game while not the Women's game:

1. Do we value equal gender representation or equal gender opportunity? That is, both men's and women's ultimate were displayed and the network chose the one it liked better. Is it more important to value the representation or the opportunity? For that matter, do we value ESPN's opinion enough to let their choice change our perception of gender equality even if we were to allow a broadcast? Just because ESPN shows more men's soccer than women's soccer (or vice versa, my point remains the same) does not require the players or "the sport" to value one gender differently than the other.

2. Is it accurate to describe the Men's and Women's games as equal in the first place? From my experience the strategy, relative values of skill-sets, psychology, and the like are remarkably different depending on the gender with whom you play. Are they even the same game from an aesthetic or tactical standpoint? An analogy with a strong correlation seems to be tennis. The power game of the men is far different than the extended volley game of the women. As a result, one is more popular than the other (in this case, women's tennis). Again, does this imply anything about the way that tennis players or "the sport" thinks about gender?

3. Is a group of players (even one as small as the ultimate community) tied together closely enough in their beliefs to accurately say "These are Our Values." You can't generalize about basketball, soccer, football, baseball, hockey or whatever in that way. Are we nearing the time when Ultimate breaks from the cultural moorings of the 60s and becomes a Sport instead of a counter-culture safe-haven for college-educated white liberals with spare cash who feel guilty about being competitive? Or, more eloquently, are we on the verge of no longer being "some laim assed hippy shindig?"

gcooke said...


I was honest when I said "interesting" as I think your first comments helped me to clarify a few things about my initial post.

I appreciate you adding to the conversation with some challenging questions. While I obviously use this platform as a way to express opinions, I have been trying to frame things in terms of questions about issues. A couple of comments:

-I think the idea of the diffeence between representation and opportunity is an important distinction.

-In terms of values, I think it is safe to say we are all not on the same page. I do think, though, that now is a good opportunity to start to think about values, and, perhaps, take advantage of not being "stuck in our ways".


parinella said...

If, for example, ESPN were to offer us free airings of Ultimate under the condition that it was men's only

Two comments on this:
1. Suppose it was the Oxygen network, and they wanted to broadcast women's ultimate. Even the most testosterone-filled asshole would be in favor of it.
2. A similar example has already happened, and the UPA and WFDF emphatically stated they are in favor of gender equity, whatever that means exactly. The World Games are coed, and it is not even eligible for consideration to change that, according to some notes from the WFDF site (I think it was from the Worlds Congress held coincidentally with WUCC last year).