Today is a day to blog against sexism, but I admit I am getting to it a little bit late since I just put my daughter to bed after a long day. Lisa McKay encouraged me to write on this subject, so this is my shot at acknowledging this worthwhile effort.
Do you remember hearing “You throw like a girl” during your childhood? I’ve been thinking about this all day as I went about my business, and it started to bother me more and more as the afternoon turned to evening and I drove to the babysitter’s to pick up my daughter. A statement like this is damaging on two levels: the person making it is denigrating females while also putting down the person on the receiving end (who more than likely is a boy).
This kind of attitude starts early in life. I have seen it countless times in the park, playground, or my own backyard. The truth is that boys and girls seem to play well together as long as it’s general play, like climbing on jungle gyms or swinging on swings. When it comes down to a game more defined by sex (jumping rope or playing baseball) the stakes seem to be suddenly raised. The boys shy away from the jump rope saying, “That’s for girls” while they are on the defensive if the girls show interest in the baseball game.
In my English composition courses, I like to use an essay called “One of the Girls” by Leslie Heywood when teaching the Example Essay. Ms. Heywood was a competitive track and field athlete and does an excellent job of highlighting the trials and tribulations that female athletes experience. While she admits “female athletes fight the same unrealistic images that everyone fights,” she also goes into grim detail how this leads them down the path toward the dangerous “female athlete triad” of eating disorders, exercise compulsion, and amenorrhea. We come to understand that the female athlete is under even more pressure (due to her gender) to be more than perfect and almost less than human.
I gain a good deal of satisfaction teaching this to my freshman classes by starting off with an example that unsettles the male students and sparks interest in the females. I say, “Imagine a tall, athletic female walks up to George Steinbrenner during spring training and says, ‘I want to pitch for the Yankees.’”
“Mr. Steinbrenner replies, ‘Yeah, you and everyone else.’
“‘Well,’ the female says, pounding a baseball into her glove again and again, ‘say I can strike out three of your best hitters in a row. Will you give me a job?’
“One of Steinbrenner’s people overhears this and senses it will be good for a laugh. Steinbrenner agrees and soon the female finds herself on the mound with Derek Jeter at the plate and Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield waiting in the wings. Jeter steps up to the plate and swings wildly at three fastballs. He walks away shaking his head. The guy with the radar gun tells Steinbrenner, ‘Every pitch was one hundred miles per hour.’
“Steinbrenner nods and points to Rodriguez, who steps up to the plate and is promptly fanned by the female. Steinbrenner watches intensely as Rodriguez walks away and Sheffield steps up. Three pitches later, Sheffield has struck out and walks back toward the dugout.
“Everyone is focused on the young female pitcher as she walks back toward Mr. Steinbrenner. She tosses the ball to him and he catches it. ‘Well, Mr. S., do I have a job?’”
The story stops there because then I throw it out to the class for discussion. My question is “Will Steinbrenner hire her or not?” Over the years the majority of the males in my class (years ago I used to say Jeter, Williams, and Martinez by the way) have become enraged at times as they discuss this story. One particularly stands out in my memory. He said, “Not that this would ever happen in a million years because a woman could never do that, but even if she did, there’s no way a woman could ever pitch in the majors. Just no way.”
The female students would engage their male counterparts in sometimes very heated discussions about this, but what really came across was that the males were actually very threatened by this scenario. It infringed upon their view of the sanctity of male domination, and not just in baseball, but in the world at large. The concept of a successful female major league pitcher didn’t just anger them; I think they were frightened by this and saw it as an undoing of their supposed superiority in all things.
So I do hope that we take the time to think about how sexism has shaped this world. Why does Hillary Clinton get such a thrashing from her critics, sometimes more brutal than anything a male enemy of our state would receive? Even the possibility of any female president shakes up the sexists who believe it will be the end of the world (though female leaders have proven now and throughout history to be very reliable and even downright successful in their tenure).
We owe it to every little girl in our country and the world to prove wrong the sexist agenda that portrays women as incompetent, incapable, and inferior. This kind of thinking has caused women to be oppressed by males throughout history, and it is obvious that in general men’s fear of women gaining power and independence has caused much misery and suffering for both genders.
It is about time to lift this antiquated veil of ignorance and shed light on women for what they really are and can be: the best of the best in almost everything that men can do, except for starting wars. Men have a lock on that one and probably always will; otherwise, everything else should be up for grabs and let the best man/woman win.