Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports

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Oxford University Press, USA, 2008 - Political Science - 349 pages
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From small-town life to the national stage, from the boardroom to Capitol Hill, athletic contests help define what we mean in America by "success." And by keeping women from "playing with the boys" on the grounds that they are inherently inferior to men, society relegates them to second-class status in American life. In this forcefully argued book, Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano show in vivid detail how women have been unfairly excluded from participating in sports on an equal footing with men. Using dozens of powerful examples from the world of contemporary American athletics--girls and women trying to break through in football, ice hockey, wrestling, and baseball to name just a few--the authors show that sex differences are not sufficient to warrant women's coercive exclusion from competing with men; that some sex-group differences actually confer a sports advantage to women; and that "special rules" for women in sports do not simply reflect the "differences" between the sexes, but actively create and reinforce a view that women as a group are inherently inferior to men--even when women clearly are not. For instance, women's bodies give them a physiological advantage in endurance sports like the ultra-marathon and distance swimming. So, why do so many Olympic events--from swimming to skiing to running to bike racing--have shorter races for women than men? Likewise, why are women's tennis matches limited to three sets while men's are best-of-fives? This book shows how sex-segregated sports policies, instead of reflecting sex-group differences, in fact construct them. An original and provocative argument to level the athletic playing field, Playing with the Boys issues a clarion call for sex-sensible policies in sports as a crucial step toward achieving social, economic, and political equality for men and women in our society.

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Playing with the boys: why separate is not equal in sports

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McDonagh (political science, Northeastern Univ.; Breaking the Abortion Deadlock) and journalist Pappano convincingly argue the notion that sports, like politics, higher education, and employment ... Read full review

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What I find most interesting about this book, coming from the UK, is that it exists at all. No one in my country would write this interesting and thought provoking book.
Although it is mainly about
the US a lot of the issues have UK equivalents - Dan Imus = Gray and Keys, the banning of women's basketball in the US = the ban on women's football (soccer) in the UK, the "conatct sport" exemption in Title IX = Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. But there are surprising differences too. It is a big surprise to read about the number of girls/women in the US who have gone to court in order to win the right to "play with the boys" - most of them succsessfully. They are able to do this because of the Equal Protection Clause of the US constitution whereas in the UK we do not have a written constitution so any girl/woman wanting to play with the boys is stymied because of Section 44 (now section 195 of the Equality Act 2010) which says that in a " gender affected activity " which means sports" where the strength stamina or physique of average persons of one sex puts them at a disadvantage to average persons of the other sex" girls can be prevented from "playing with the boys". In other words women are judged as a group .An example: if Paige Sultzbach was British it is highly unlikely she would be allowed to "play baseball with the boys" because of the strength etc issue mentioned above.
A fundamental problem with this as the authors point out is that the law in the US (and the UK) states that women should be judged on individual skill not by the qualities of women as a group. So why on earth should sport be above the law? That leads to a situation where sports governing bodies (like the awful FIFA and UEFA) think they can do what they want and be exempted from any law they dislike - they still grumble about EU freedom of movement laws even though they apply to them too. Sport should obey every law. the rest of us have to.
While I don't agree with their most controversial point - that women as a group are not inferior to menat sport - it does not make their main point false. If women are good enough to "play with the boys" they should be allowed to. If they are not they can play with other women. This is called "voluntary" rather than "coercive" sex segregation and is the way to go. People who think that it is a case of women "having their cake and eating it" should remember that that already applies to youngsters in sport, and also women in education. It is perfectly fair. I happen to think that in the US they will get their own way. It would only take one Supreme Court judgement to send coercive sex segregation in sport in the US into the bin of history. I don't think it will happen in the UK as it would need the Government to repeal section 195 and IMO any UK government that tried to do that would be signing its own political death certificate.
This is a brave and thought provoking book. It will make you think of things you haven't thought of before. Did you know Babe Ruth was once struck out by a woman? This book will tell you the story. I highly recomend this to anyone who likes sport.


Whats the Problem?
The Sex Difference Question
Title IX Old Norms in New Forms
SexSegregated Sports on Trial
Inventing Barriers
Photo gallery
Breaking Barriers
Pass the Ball

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About the author (2008)

Eileen McDonagh is Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. She is the author of Breaking the Abortion Deadlock and The Motherless State.

Laura Pappano is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and The Washington Post. She is the author of The Connection Gap and is currently a writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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