by Danielle A.
Sport has always been something that has been a significant part of my life and has shaped my identification and personality in countless ways. Growing up, I played just about every sport that I could find the time for; but one sport in particular that has had my heart since I first picked up the ball is rugby. Luckily, I am still engaged in this sport by playing for the team here at UNB, as well as coaching during the high school season.
In class, we’ve discussed factors around gender inequality in sport, and during these discussions I’ve brought up multiple examples about rugby. I’ve not only brought these examples to attention because I’m a female rugby player, but I also feel that women’s rugby displays a strong example of women pushing back against the stereotypical actions and expected behaviors that surround them. These are stereotypes such as being gentle, appearing dainty, and being physically weak compared to their male counterparts. Playing rugby totally rejects these stereotypes and women are able to freely display qualities and actions that, historically speaking, would only be performed by men.
Rugby seems to be the only contact sport (that I can think of) that both men and women’s rules are gender inclusive, meaning that both sexes abide by the same rules of the game. Whereas in hockey, women are not allowed to body check while men are. But interestingly, if it so happens a woman is playing on a men’s hockey team, body checking is still allowed. I’ve recently read an article that focused on a study of university women rugby players. It stated that because men and women have the same rules to play by “it was a source of pride” for the women ruggers to be ‘equal’ to the men (Ezzel, 2009). It seemed that the women in this study felt empowered by the fact that the rules were the same, and I can absolutely agree with them as I feel also a sense of pride from this.
Another interesting point from this article that highlighted gender inequality within sport was that sports that are played by both sexes generally do not follow the same set of rules for the game/competition “male athletes, and men’s style of play, are the standard in those sports played by both men and women, good play and good athletes are defined by the men’s game” (Ezzel, 2009). I find this a little offensive, but it definitely is the truth. Most women’s sports (with the exception of rugby) have little to no physical component, and show limited aggression because ‘that isn’t how women are supposed to act’, while men’s sport are granted with the acceptance (and I also believe encouragement) of extreme physicality and aggression, to support the hegemonic masculinity image/qualities men are supposed to display. And from an entertainment perspective, the physicality and aggression is what people want to watch, which is why I think men’s ‘style of play’ is generally the standard of good play and displays the best athletes within the sport.
Although I think the concepts of gender inequality within sport, at all levels, is gathering attention from the athletes, the media, as well as scholars, I still see a large gap that exists. I am hopeful that overtime this gap will close, but in the meantime I will be participating in a sport that allows me to show my athleticism and aggression while resisting the typical female stereotypes.
Ezzel, M. (2009). “Barbie Dolls” on the Pitch: Identity Work, Defensive Othering, and Inequality in Women’s Rugby. Social Problems, 56(1), 111-131.