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.

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