Those who believe in gender equality have been fighting for years to level the playing field; yet we need look no further than co-recreational intramural sports to realize that by default, women are still assumed to be unequal to men in their skill and experience levels.
UCLA has adopted the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association’s rules for coed sports, as have the majority of universities who belong to the association. These rules, while intended to create an environment for “fair” play, discriminate on the basis of gender rather than on players’ individual skill levels.
Because IM sports are recreational ““ as opposed to competitive ““ such rules inherently insult skilled and athletic women, while at the same time disadvantage men who may in fact still be learning the game.
To create a truly fair game environment, administrators ought to reconsider some of the rules which hinder inexperienced male players and unnecessarily give women a leg up.
In co-rec basketball, for example, each team must always have three women on the court at all times. Also, men cannot enter the key, the space from which shooting is easiest.
The rule regarding the key is meant to eliminate contact between men and women for safety reasons, said Jason Zeck, director of UCLA’s competitive sports program, which includes IM. But rules like these should be universal since safety is just as important for single-sex teams. Besides, contact between players is inevitable given that there’s no rule to prevent men from being in the key on defense.
The rule instead seems to insinuate that women do not have the ability to compete from outside the key, when often that is not the case.
“I’ve played with a lot of girls that can definitely take on a guy inside the key,” said Monique Ho, a second-year physiological science student who has played IM co-rec basketball, softball and football.
She also said that she has seen women shoot 3-pointers and that if a player is good at the game, gender is irrelevant.
IM flag football has one of the most complex gender-based modifications: Women must be involved in every other play and gain positive yardage. They are also granted nine points for a touchdown while males only get six.
Ho said that because football is traditionally a male sport, girls would rarely get the ball without this rule.
While I agree that rules which ensure a relatively equal mix of female and male players on the field should remain in place, incentivizing female participation implies that women aren’t good enough to deserve the ball in the first place.
The nine-point touchdown is certainly an affront to well-qualified female players, and the six-point touchdown a disappointment for men struggling to prove their worth.
The assumption that men in coed, just-for-fun sports teams are somehow more skilled ““ or even always physiologically faster and stronger ““ than their female counterparts just doesn’t pan out in all cases.
The beauty of IM co-rec sports teams is that they aren’t supposed to be based on who is the most naturally capable, but on who has the most enthusiasm for learning the game.
Fortunately, the university is free to change NIRSA’s rules.
In co-rec sports, men and women should be considered equal ““ what’s not equal are individuals’ skill levels. What co-rec and women’s teams really need, then, are the same, skill-based divisions currently only available to independent men’s teams.
Men’s “A” teams are more competitive, while “B” teams are more recreational. Making these options available in co-rec would help ensure that teams of the same level compete against each other regardless of gender.
Modified rules for co-recreational sports are not only superfluous but degrading, and it is the responsibility of a conscientious university like UCLA to combat sexism by creating an equal environment in a way that isn’t based entirely on assumptions.