As a female softball player and a sports fan, one thing that makes me upset is when I watch the 1993 American classic baseball comedy, The Sandlot, and hear little Ham Porter blurt out, “You play ball like a girl” as an insult to the rival team and their captain, Phillips.
As Porter fires his insult to Phillips, suddenly all the other sandlot boys become stunned. It’s as if he just spoke the unthinkable, the most unimaginable insult that would automatically destroy the legitimacy of any person’s skill level as a baseball player. My question is why is this so insulting?
The way I choose to see it as a twenty-two year old female athlete in 2016 is that Porter didn’t insult Phillips, he basically complimented Phillips for playing ball like a girl.
Now remember, this movie tells the story of a group of boys growing up in 1962 where the phrase “you play ball like a girl” was considered the ultimate of all sport related insults. This is because male and female athletes were not considered to be on an equal level of athleticism, skill level and competitive level. The brand, Always made this campaign video #LikeAGirl showing how this societal perception has changed recently you can view here:
Thankfully, events in time have changed this perception of women in sports. All the gradual progressions female athletes have made up to this point have allowed us to grow in a positive direction for women. A time where we are currently living in an era where women not only play professional sports, but they are also excelling in them. Ronda Rousey, Danica Patrick, and Serena Williams to name a few, keep us inspired and motivated that female athletes are not only catching up to male athletes, but are equally worth watching and appreciating.
Although this term, “You play ball like a girl” is extremely outdated, it existence is heavily promoted by social and cultural influences, and is governed and defined by a set of gender segregation that only men can play at a professional level of sport.
With the way women play sports now, “you play like a girl” isn’t an insult and here’s why:
Positive Progression of Female Athletics
In the 1970’s, girls were not encouraged to jump, throw, kick, slide and roughhouse like boys. There were not many female athlete role-models for girls to look up to because they were not provided with equal play time, resources or opportunities as men were. The lack of support for women’s sports stems from the cultural and societal ideal that playing competitively was not considered to be very ‘lady-like’ during this time period.
In Grey Downey’s Throwing like a Brazilian: On Ineptness and a Skill-Shaped Body, there is a focus perception, “that women have a distinctive, inefficient style of throwing – a signature ineptitude – which is believed to illustrate much more pervasive existential limitation on their bodily mobility and action.” (Downey, 2010, p. 61). Downey is suggesting that since women do not bring their whole bodies into motion they cannot properly throw a ball.
Many theories of embodiment, have focused specifically on the ability to throw. What they found was the widespread perception that women have a distinctive, inefficient style of throwing. When they throw, specifically,
“Girls do not bring their whole bodies into the motion as much as the boys do. They do not reach back, twist, move backward, step and learn forward. Rather the girls tend to remain relatively immobile except for their arms are not extended as far as they could be” (Young, 1990).
This would make sense if you have never been coached how to throw a ball properly or have practiced enough to obtain muscle memory. If you’re not trained properly, you won’t be able to throw a ball regardless of sex or gender. Although we’re still fighting this perception, the general consensus is; if you’re taught how to throw a ball properly, you can throw a ball. This is not only restricted to women, as shown in this clip from The Big Bang Theory
Young continues to argue that the distinctive unskilled kinesthetic that women used when trying to throw is symptomatic of the feminine style of embodiment. Thankfully, Young returned to reconsider her theory twenty years after Title IX opened new athletic opportunities for young women in sport.
I know what you’re thinking, what is Title IX? In 1972, congress passed a law called “Title IX”. This was intended to protect girls and women from discrimination in schools, colleges and university. This included discrimination in school sponsored sports. (Buzuvis & Newhall, 2013).
It is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any government-funded education program or activity and requires equality and quality between boys and girls sports. As fundings and equal opportunity for women and sports began to rise, so did the amount of female participants as seen on image 2. To quote another American baseball classic film Field of Dreams,
“If you build it, they will come” (1989)
Women’s sport has grown more visible and more supported since 1972. Women’s achievements in sport were beginning to be recognized as substantial, as something other than their physical appearance to be celebrated. (Couture, 2016). With more widespread participation in women’s collegiate sports and scholarships in the United States, and the inclusion of fast-pitch softball in the Olympics in 1996.
Nowadays, girls growing up in a post-Title IX world are able to play ball like a girl and get the proper training they need in order to excel at a more elite level of sport. Judging from this video, I’d say they’re doing a great job. Check out Jenny Finch in this FSN: Sports Science Video 3 who showed the world that throwing like a girl is a lot more powerful than you would think. Bow and all.
Although the phrase “You play ball like a girl” is extremely outdated, its existence is heavily promoted by social and cultural influences and is governed and defined by a set of gender segregation that only men can play at a professional level of sport. This myth has been challenged by the rise and empowerment of women in sport. As for you Porter, you wish you could play ball like a girl.
The social construction of women as being physically weak is due to a system of gendered cultural beliefs that manliness cannot be the same as femininity. Overall, social and cultural construction of games, fitness and sports have to reach beyond what we think we know about the game. With icons like Hayley Wickenheiser, Christine Sinclair, Jenny Finch and Serena Williams we are changing the underlying context of societal, political and cultural influence that is shaping the way we perceive women in sport.
Women deserve the equal amount of respect and appreciation for the game as much as males. Men play sports in hopes of making it to the big leagues, whether it is for the NHL, NFL or MLB, there is a end goal to be the best. They receive praise, money, fame and self-achievement for becoming the epitome of manliness, an athlete.
Women play for passion, friendship and general love for the game. Their parents are less likely to push them towards a career in athletics because of how male dominated it is. However, they play because they’re not pressured to make it to the NHL or to make as much money as male players in the NBA, they even know they’re not getting as much press coverage as the MLB. Women just want to have the same opportunity and respect as men in sports.
I’m going to end it here with Serena Williams.
Buzuvis, R & Newhall, K, (2013). Equality, sports and Title IX Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KymR6N1HT88
Couture, J. (2016). Triathlon Magazine Canada and the (Re-) Construction of Female Sporting Bodies. Sociology of Sport Journal, 33(2), 124-134.
Downey, G. (2010). Throwing like a Brazilian: On ineptness and a skill-shaped body. Anthropology of sport and human movement, 297-326.
Image 1, (2012) Retrieved from personal files of Ali Russell
Image 2, (1979), Signage at the Title IX rally at United States Capitol, Retrieved from: https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/advocate/title-ix-issues/history-title-ix/history-title-ix
Image 3, (2011), Retrieved from: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2012/06/21/2018494769.jpg
“If you build it, they will come” N. (2013). Retrieved December 03, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3c_pJ_CLJQ
Overview Of Title IX Of The Education Amendments Of 1972, 20 U.S.C. A§ 1681 Et. Seq. (n.d.). Retrieved December 02, 2016, from https://www.justice.gov/crt/overview-title-ix-education-amendments-1972-20-usc-1681-et-seq
TED-Ed, (2013), Equality, sports, and Title IX – Erin Buzuvis and Kristine Newhall, Retrieved from URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KymR6N1HT88
Video 1: C. (2013). Retrieved December 03, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrG5UBzSJ-U
Video 2: Howard Training Baseball, (2014) Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=howard+training+baseball
“You Play Ball Like A Girl” Meme, Retrieved from: http://s2.quickmeme.com/img/68/682cf0374f5b581bc5698939af0642765dbba90e905ed9c19f6306cddc2e4b97.jpg
Young, I. M. (1990). Throwing like a girl and other essays in feminist philosophy and social theory.