Equality – A Rugby Story

By James M.

Sport has always been a very big rock in my life. It is something I personally use for stress relief, my physical needs, social needs, and the list goes on. I’ve played so many different sports at so many different levels, but I have never engaged in a sport more inclusive than rugby. I can still recall the first time I played in middle school, we picked teams to play in a scrimmage out of a hat – gender aside – and played full contact. I was 12 at the time and thought nothing of it. Even to this day, I still practice and scrimmage with people of both genders. Clearly, as I grew up we were separated through gender as is every sport and more so by the level in which you played, but that was it. The biggest difference with rugby is there is no difference in the rules or the way the game is played based on what gender you are, if you’ve never played before or you’ve been capped by your country, and the field, ball, and equipment are all the same.

I recently read an article about an individual who would presumably agree with everything I feel and have stated, but continues to push the barriers even further. Jaye Cora is a winger for the University of Georgia who is gender neutral/trans and prefers the terms “they” and “them” instead of “he” or “she”. Jaye was actually on the verge of giving up on sports because they thought they would never be respected, until they found rugby. Even at the highest level of rugby they look to be as inclusive and fair as possible, with World Rugby`s Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Disorders of Sexual Differentiation (DSD) Policy as well as the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2015 between World Rugby and the IGR (international Gay Rugby) . These are all ways in which rugby as a sport and culture is trying to be accepting of every human.

I wanted to share that little story because it shows you that not only is rugby gender neutral in the sense of how the game is governed, what you play on, and what you play with but it is breaking barriers past that. Rugby, I believe, is a leader for sports in the sense of equality for all. It’s funny because society tends to stereotype women as individuals that don’t enjoy aggression, that don’t like getting dirty, and rugby throws these stereotypes right out the window and I’ve seen that first hand. Society tends to paint a picture that portrays woman as someone who would rather have a nice evening in reading a book and having some wine, but if you are the kind of person that would rather be covered in mud and bruises and enjoy a few cold beverages after a hard fought game rugby says, right this way. Rugby’s not only a game but it’s a culture and until you are immersed in it it`s hard to fully understand how accepting it really is because of its hard exterior.

So if one of the toughest sports on the planet is so open to equality, what’s taking so long with all the other more mainstream sports like hockey, football, and baseball? Females at a younger age can play with boys and it can be full contact, but when they get older and it switches to all-female you take away the hitting (in hockey), or the over hand pitching. This just doesn’t make sense to me. There is a bright side – more frequently we are spreading light on these issues of inequality and asking the right questions and I believe that if we continue to do so we will see a significant change to what society considers the norm, just hopefully it will be sooner than later.

References:

World Rugby signs historic agreement with International Gay Rugby. Retrieved February 17, 2017, from http://www.worldrugby.org/news/59705?lang=en

Defabio, A. (2016, March 02). Trans Community Weighs in on USA Rugby Rules. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.goffrugbyreport.com/news/trans-community-weighs-usa-rugby-rules

Molnar, G., & Kanemasu, Y. (2016). Challenges of Exploring Women’s Resistance in Post-colonial Hegemonic Masculinity.

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Female Rugby Players: Resisting Gender Stereotypes

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.

Reference:

Ezzel, M. (2009). “Barbie Dolls” on the Pitch: Identity Work, Defensive Othering, and Inequality in Women’s Rugby. Social Problems, 56(1), 111-131.