The other day my friend and I were throwing a disc on the quad. Both of us are coming into college with multiple years of experience playing Ultimate, having played on competitive teams and captained our youth programs. We were reflecting on our first impressions of college Ultimate. We had been playing lots of fun but low-level pickup, usually split 50/50 between never-evers and experienced players. The women’s team historically has been a lot of more successful than the open program and as young women who had played competitive frisbee before, we were at the top end of players across all genders.
I made a comment about how horrible the pulls had been in the last game, “They went out every single time, half the game was retrieving the pull” I joked. We observed that when we had each taken a turn pulling, the disc had been in bounds both times. I posed the question to my friend, “Why didn't you offer to pull the rest of the game?”
Both my friend and I were content pulling successfully a single time instead of pulling for the remainder of the game and likely saving numerous innocent students walking to class. The boys would pull over and over again, pretty badly, maybe incorporating a spin into their windup and were still confident enough to continue.
The men playing in our pickup game were there to play pickup. They were there to have fun, mess around, and throw bad pulls with a triple spin windup. They were there to play casually and their actions within the game had no impact on our assumptions of their abilities as players. We knew that they probably could perform better if it was a serious situation. My friend and I were arguably some of the more experienced players there but didn't want to mess up our pulls because it could potentially impact the assumption our future teammates would make of our abilities.
This realization juxtaposed with the confidence I was feeling as an experienced player who was enjoying matching up on guys, talking about club and showing off made me realize that the reason I was able to be so confident was because I had already proved that I was good. I had been validated by my male peers and was at ease. The games were empowering to me because I had already shown that I could keep up and make plays.
My girl friends who had never played before were tentative to jump in, they were nervous about messing up and spent more time on the sideline than on the field. This reaction seemed normal to me because I was very familiar with being intimidated. However, once I began thinking about the gender dynamics within our daily pickup games I realized that at least 30% of the players were freshman boys who also had never played. They were eager to show-off, learn and become good at the sport and they did this with confidence that wasn't echoed by my female friends.
A lot of the insecurity I saw within my teammates was probably related to the gender division we had to play with on our mixed field. There were less girls who wanted to play and who were nervous about participating which meant that we often were playing 5:2 or 6:1.
All of these situations are familiar issues we talk about when we are discussing gender equity in Ultimate. I was aware of the presence of these incidents in our sport. I am writing this because I failed to notice things that, though minor, were happening right next to me, included me, and were making my peers feel excluded."My privilege as a student who was able to play Ultimate in high school gave me a confidence that was unique going into the pre-tryout season.
Thinking about this made me realize that the people who often face the most subtle, ingrained and problematic sexism is new players in this sport. We as a sport, registered in USAU and in pickup, youth, and college ultimate, have a problem with lack of female participation. How can we increase the amount of non-male participants if the sexist dynamics of athletics and sports, even in casual situations like pickup, are isolating to women and girls?
I end this post with that question. What can we do? As a community who recognizes the need for growth, who is leading the charge for conversations about gender equity and as a community that tends to consider ourselves progressive, make our pickup and introductions to frisbee more inviting? How can we make sure that girls don't need to prove themselves and instead are given a space to learn, grow, and throw bad pulls?
Introducing Inside Out, a weekly blog written by GUPI board member, Emma Piorier. Inside Out will reflect on Emma's experiences as a youth athlete within Club, high school and college Ultmate through the lens of gender and gender equity. The goal of Inside Out is to highlight the experiences of a youth female athlete, introduce thought provoking questions about gender in our sport and comment on current events within the Ultimate community. Emma hopes to create dialogue about the sexism that plagues athletics, dismantle the apathy we have towards subtle sexism and promote youth ultimate players.
Emma Piorier founded GUPI her senior year of high school when she became frustrated with the lack of inclusion, appreciation of and advocacy for youth female athletes in the Ultimate community. She is now attending the University of Puget Sound where she is playing frisbee, studying spanish and politics, hiking around Washington and writing for GUPI.