Originally posted on November 26, 2011
Imagine this: You are a boy on a girl’s swim team. You trained for months to improve your skills. You have sacrificed time with your friends and family so that you can devote everything to this sport. You go to a meet, swim your best and win. And then you are met with a “Good job for beating the girls” from the father of a girl on another team.
That is the bias and sexism that some boys face for competing on a girl’s team. They face it because they have no other choice. Their schools do not have boys swimming programs, so if they want to compete they must join the girls swim team. This leads to an obvious problem, as Karen Crouse mentions in her article:
During his first-period broadcast Monday, the Norwood High athletic director Brian McDonough congratulated Will Higgins for breaking the meet record in the 50-yard freestyle the previous day at the Massachusetts South Division fall swimming and diving championships.
McDonough chose not to mention that it was a girls swimming championship.
“I didn’t want to get into that,” he said.
Anthony Rodriguez, another boy on the Norwood girls team, heard a grace note in McDonough’s omission.
“If people hear that you set a record, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s awesome,’ ” Rodriguez said. “But if they knew you were competing against girls, they wouldn’t have as much respect for you.”
Plenty of people feel justified in treating boys like that, Crouse demonstrates:
Boys have been members of girls swim teams since the 1980s, but until recently they were mostly a sideshow. It has only been in the last year or two that boys have swum well enough to draw attention — and people’s ire. The epicenter of the debate is the 50-yard freestyle, an event in which strength can trump talent or technique.
Note the snide “sideshow” insult, as if the boys who competed before were not good or talented. But as the author notes, the boys’ presence became a problem once they began winning. The complaint is an old one: boys are stronger and faster and “could knock girls off the awards podium and make it harder for girls to qualify for All-Star honors and the postseason.” Crouse also states that the boys change the pool deck dynamic by causing people to cheer for their gender, although the only examples she gives are of people cheering for girls against boys.
The irony of Crouse’s complaint becomes more apparent when she lists why it is okay for girls to compete on boys teams:
Over the years, there have been girls wrestling on boys teams or playing football or ice hockey. Boys have been on field hockey teams and girls have competed alongside boys in golf.
But in wrestling, boys and girls of the same weight compete against each other. And in field hockey and other team sports, a boy on a girls team achieves success through cooperation and collaboration with his teammates. When Higgins won the 50 freestyle at the South Division sectional meet, he did so at the expense of Kate Vanasse of Westwood High, who was second.
Unlike when girls beat boys in wrestling. They do not do so at the expense of the boys who come in second. They legitimately won, whereas boys who compete in girls competitions essentially steal a win from girls.
It does not take a physician to tell people that a teen boy’s body is built differently than a girl’s. Even in wrestling, boys in the same weight class as girls have a physical advantage simply because the male body has slightly more muscle mass. These factors also come into play in other sports like field hockey. Boys may have higher endurance levels or greater strength and speed. We all know this, which is part of the reason why boys cannot rejoice in winning against girls. There is a very good chance boys would win just by virtue of being male.
Yet there is a more insidious element at play here because of the perception that boys steal wins from girls. As one player notes:
Higgins’s winning time of 23.96 was a personal best by one second. He broke the girls’ sectional record, set in 1985 by Cynthia Kangos of Wellesley, by 14-hundredths of a second. (The boys’ sectional record is 21.40.) […]
The next day, Kangos, now Cynthia Baker, received a phone call from a Wellesley administrator who told her about her record being broken. “Wow,” she said. “That’s great.” Then she was told the new record holder was a boy, and she grew angry.
“I’ll be upset if they give him the record,” said Baker, who earned a swimming scholarship to Alabama.
She added: “There’s a reason these records are girls’ records. If there was no difference in boys’ strength, then it would be a unisex record. It’s really not fair. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe it.”
Interesting, because that never seems to apply to girls breaking any boys’ records. Perhaps the reason Baker finds it unfair is because a boy beat a girl in a fair competition. Rather than looking at it is as to competitors, perhaps she focused on their sex. So it is not that Higgins won, but that Higgins is a boy.
That is a pretty sexist view, and the boys are painfully aware of it to the point that they do not mention their successes.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is planning on addressing Higgins’ record. It is unclear what they will decide. They may possibly toss it out or treat it as unofficial. Legally they cannot ban boys from participating, but they be able to ban boys from holding records.
This goes to show that people are not really interested in gender parity or equality, but simply trying to prove girls are better than boys. When you cannot rig the system to favor girls, you will find that in plenty of situations boys will simply outperform girls. If schools have a problem with boys competing on girls swim teams, then schools should change their programs so that it is not more expensive for them to create and run teams for boys.