Phys Ed Class Segregation: Positive or Negative?

By Rachel B.

We grow up spending eight years in elementary school participating in mixed gendered Phys Ed classes with our peers and being introduced to a variety of sports and activities. Why is it that as soon as we enter the next chapter into high school as more mature youth, we suddenly need to be in a segregated Phys Ed class? I remember entering grade 9 and being disappointed that my Phys Ed class was all female and that I wouldn’t be able to participate with the boys. I did not understand why our classes were segregated when they had been mixed from kindergarten until grade 8. I found the all-female class less competitive and not as enjoyable. I was used to playing sports with boys and competing against my brothers after school. The types of activities that we participated in during gym class were predominantly female influenced and typically less aggressive and not as engaging. Some of the male dominated sports that I enjoyed, such as floor hockey and dodgeball, were not a popular option amongst the girls. Girls were often conscious of their appearance and wanted to participate in something that was less vigorous so they would not be sweaty for the remainder of the day.

The high school that I attended had segregated classes for grade 9 and 10 only and then became mixed gender in grade 11 and 12. Gym class was mandatory in grade 9 and 10 and then became optional in grade 11 and 12. I do not understand the rationale behind this program decision. This approach did not encourage continued participation by many females when they reached grade 11 due to entering a mixed gender class. I remember being a minority with only a few other girls in the class in grade 11 and 12. I understand the reasoning behind segregating Phys Ed classes to help some students feel more comfortable and confident to participate in sporting activities. In class, we discussed the popular constraints faced by adolescent girls. These constraints include being too competitive, lacking confidence, issues with body image and shyness. However, none of the other classes offered in high school are segregated by gender. I think that being able to work within a gender-neutral atmosphere and participate in an active environment is critical for enhancing successful students. Having mandatory gender neutral classes starting in grade 9 may lead to an increase in continued participation during the upper grades. Although the gender segregation approach may be benefiting some, it may also be hindering others who have a competitive edge and prefer to be challenged by the opposite sex. As well, research has shown that male only team sports reinforce gender stereotypes that devalue femininity and promote sexism and misogyny (Anderson, 2008). An integrated approach allows males to become more familiar with the experiences of females, thereby influencing their view of females as worthy and competent athletes (Anderson, 2008).

Segregated gym class also becomes a problem for those adolescents who do not identify with a specific gender. A binary model may not meet the leisure needs for members of the LGBTQ community. As Phys Ed is a compulsory course, having to choose one specific gender may discourage members of the LGBTQ community from participating. The outcome will result in these students making a choice as to whether they will show up for class or enrol in the future. Therefore, they potentially miss opportunities to engage in physical activity and learn team building and sport and recreation related skills. Gender identity is shifting to a fluid approach and gender segregated classes will become a much bigger and challenging issue as we redefine gender. Not all adolescents are gender conforming. Their gender expression is not consistent with the cultural norms expected for that gender; boys should be masculine and girls should be feminine. They view gender as a spectrum and consider themselves to be non-binary. An integrated gender neutral Phys Ed program would be much more inclusive and less discriminatory for this population.

Reference

Anderson, E. (2008). “I Used to Think Women Were Weak”: Orthodox Masculinity, Gender   Segregation, and Sport. Sociological Forum, 23(2), 257-280.

The Value of Girls/Women in School Sport

by Shayna T.

Holland and Andre (1987) suggest that there are numerous factors that influence the socialization and development of adolescents. Such factors include family, peers, schools, and the media. Even though family and peers tend to be considered as the more dominant influences, “…the opportunities and context provided by secondary schools also influences adolescent development” (Holland & Andre, 1987). “The academic perspective focuses on intellectual competence and stresses that the purpose of schools is the pursuit of academic excellence and transmission of formal knowledge” (Holland & Andre, 1987). Looking at things in this perspective creates the notion that extracurricular activities in schools provide a means of “relaxation or fun”, but are obviously deemed as “unimportant to the primary purpose of schools” (Holland & Andre, 1987).

On one note, “direct interactions with the academic curriculum in schools, such as the degree of success or failure in various subject matters and the degree of encouragement provided for academic effort, influence the self-esteem, aspirations, and values of adolescents” (Holland & Andre, 1987). On another note, it is “though the pattern of extracurricular activities schools allow or disallow, facilitate or inhibit, and the pattern of tangible and intangible rewards provided for participation in activities, schools influence personality development and socialization” (Holland & Andre, 1987).

I came across an article called “The Pasternak Case and American Gender Equity Policy: Implications for Canadian High School Athletics” and I really enjoyed reading the case as I was able to strongly relate to the problem. “In 2004 twin sisters Amy and Jesse Pasternak competed for the prospect of playing high school hockey, vying for the boys’ team rather than the girls’” (Beaubier, Gadbois, & Stick, 2011). Even though the school had a girls’ team, the Pasternak sisters believed that their skill set was much greater than that of the girls’ hockey team and that’s why they wanted to play on the boys’ team. “The sisters’ opportunities were negated by the Manitoba High School Athletic Association (MHSAA)” (Beaubier, Gadbois, & Stick, 2011).

Relating back to my experience in school sports, I have been an athlete on the basketball team since I was seven years old. I attended a small, rural school where the girls’ sports were always seen as “less” than the boys’ sports. However, because I had such a passion for the sport of basketball and became highly recognized throughout my basketball “career”. Because I knew the coaches of the teams, and my best friend was the male athlete most recognized throughout his career, I was lucky enough to continue my career with the boys, in part, and to have the chance to prove myself as an athlete to the school, to the community, to other teams, etc. It was because my skill level matched the boys’ skill level that I got to continue practicing with the boys even through high school.

The school and the girls’ coaches always put us in an exhibition league because they thought that an actual league (i.e., A) would be “too much” for us to handle. With the help from my female teammates, we were able to convince the athletic director, women’s coach, and the school that I, and the girls’ team, deserved to have a chance to prove ourselves in the A league. After being in an exhibition league since grade three, I finally had the chance to play at my level in grade eleven. All season the boys made fun of us saying we weren’t good enough (as a team) to be in a league and that we were going to get our asses handed to us. Funny enough, that was the year that we, the girls’ team, advanced to Senior Regionals and the boys did not. The next season, the boys never made fun of the girls’ team at all, but rather acted as leaders to help us be even more successful than we had been the year before.

In conclusion, I, as a former athlete and leader, as a current coach, and as a future physical education teacher, encourage all girls to fight for what they believe in. Although I agree with sports teams being segregated between boys and girls, I do not believe that just because we are “girls” that we should be given any less of an opportunity than the boys. Success depends on things such as motivation and drive, leadership, ability, skill level and understanding, and teamwork, not the fact that you’re a team of boys or a team of girls. It is because of the support I had throughout my time as an athlete and the experiences that I have encountered, that have given me a sense of life. Without this experience in my life, I wouldn’t have had good grades in school; I would not be here doing a Degree in Recreation and Sport Studies; I would not have gone back to the very school I came from to coach basketball to the next generation of kids who will be taking my place; and I would not value sport and physical activity nor would I have the desire to become a physical education teacher in a rural school to, not only teach the importance of sport and physical activity, but to help provide kids with the same opportunities that I once had. Sport, physical activity, and extracurricular activities can provide a means of purpose and sense of belonging to those who do not necessarily excel in the classroom, such as myself.

“Sport touches many aspects of Canadians’ lives – their health and well-being, their social networks, their sense of social connectedness. Organized sport can help children grow, giving them a sense of achievement while building teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, decision-making, and communications skills. Sport also enables children to channel their energy, competitiveness and aggression in socially beneficial ways” – (Bloom, Grant, & Watt, 2005).

References:

Beaubier, M., Gadbois, S.A., Stick, S.L. (2011). The Pasternak Case and American Gender Equity Policy: Implication for Canadian High School Athletics. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 120, 1-37.

Bloom, M., Grant, M., & Watt, D. (2005). Strengthening Canada – The social-economic benefits of sport participation in Canada. The Conference Board of Canada, August 2005. (p. iii). Retrieved from http://e-learningup.org.in/UploadArticlePDFFiles/2008-Stats%20Can%20Candian%20Social%20Trends%20-%20Kids%20Sports%20(3)af2f4313-a448-4c56-b860-80e6ddd6155e.pdf

Holland, A., & Andre, T. (1987). Participating in extracurricular activities in secondary school: What is known, what needs to be known? Review of Educational Research, (57)4, 437-466.

Gender and Physical Education

By: Molly M.

In high school, many of us were given the chance to start making choices in regard to what classes we would be taking and when. For me, and probably many of you, phys. ed. class was one of these choices. I had the choice to sign up for an all girls class or a coed class. For me, this was a no brainer- all girls. Why? All my friends were doing it and everyone talked about how much fun it would be. That’s all I needed to hear. I wasn’t concerned about what exactly we would be doing in the class or how it would be different than the coed class. A lot of other girls took the class with the understanding it would be ‘easier’ than the class with the boys.

In retrospect, I question why the option even existed. We didn’t have a choice to take gender segregated biology or math class, so why phys. ed? I think there are a number of ways to look at this. On one hand, it could be argued that giving young girls, who are already self-conscious and unsure of themselves, a safer environment to experiment and learn skills for sports might give them the confidence to continue with sport throughout their lives. Another way of looking at this might be that this segregation only gives the girls negative perceptions of their own abilities. They may believe that they cannot play the same types of sports that their male counterparts can, or as well.

Research actually shows a number of significant differences between all boys and all girls classes. According the study ‘Physical Activity in High School Physical Education: Impact of Lesson Context & Class Gender Composition,’ classes made up of only male students showed much higher levels of vigorous physical activity than in the classes of only females. The boys spent about 21.9% of the class in a state of vigorous physical activity while the girls only spent 12.9% of their time in this state. Boys also spent much of their class time actually engaging in game play compared to girls. Some of the explanations for these gaps include the nature of the activities and the teachers. It has been suggested that in order to combat this, teachers need more professional development in order to understand the different interests that male and female students might have.

It seems that although there may be some legitimate reasons young girls may benefit from gender specific classes, there are also some serious drawbacks. What do you think about this? Should we continue on with separate classes or push for coed classes? What is best for everyone?

Smith, N.J., Lounsbery, M.A., & McKenzie, T.L. (2014). Physical Activity in High School Physical Education: Impact of Lesson Context & Class Gender Composition. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11(1), 127-135.