“Good job for beating the girls”

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.


9 thoughts on ““Good job for beating the girls”

  1. I’m surprised they even let him join the girl’s swim team in the first place. It seems like some disgruntled parent or someone else could easily demand that he be removed from the team and the school would end up bowing to his/her request.

    I hope he’ll be able to make a good case for him to keep his record.

  2. TS, I’ve noticed some very peculiar attitudes that a lot of people seem to have about boys and girls competing in sports:

    On the one hand, people really truly want the girls to win. They want to side with the underdog. They want girls on top. But, on the other hand, a fair competition means that the boys MIGHT win. An ‘underdog’ is, by definition, someone who is unlikely to win. People fear that the girls might lose a no-holds-barred competition, so such a competition is too risky.

    What to do in this kind of quandary?

    The answer, it seems, is that the game must be rigged. Alas, the rigging cannot be made too blatant because the girls’ victory would look a bit phony. Therefore, the rigging is to be vehemently denied by all involved. Fair-play must therefore be professed AND suppressed with equal enthusiasm.

    What is needed, then, is a kind of sham-competition where the boys are booed for playing ‘too rough’ while the girls are given head-starts and bonus points and moveable goal-posts. And then, after the sham competition runs its course and the predictable outcome is achieved, the girls’ victory is to be applauded as if it was the 100% genuine item. No matter how obvious a sham the victory is.

    Furthermore, while fair play is being crushed, something else has to pay the price. And that ‘something’ is that the boys are expected to be gallant enough to play-along by quietly taking it on the chin.

    As long as girls have plenty of chances to feel good about themselves, nothing else really matters. Including the ideals sportsmanship.

    So, really, when the boys are expected to roll-over and play dead, the worst thing they can do is actually WIN and thus “steal” the wins that rightly belong to the girls.

    We see a similar dynamic in the military, where performance standards are compromised (or ‘gender normed’, as they call it) and where female soldiers can be airlifted out of war-zones if they get pregnant. The result of this is that when women comprise only 2% of combat fatalities in Iraq, we are all supposed to applaud and pretend that WOMEN SOLDIERS ARE FIGHTING ON THE FRONT-LINES JUST LIKE THE MEN!!1!!!11!

    We see a similar dynamic in fire departments where female fire fighters are not expected to carry as much equipment in their qualifying rounds. The few that manage to make it into the fire department? They’re mainly used to recruit more female fire-fighters rather than be put in harms’ way by actually fight fires… and so on.

    So on the one hand, people WANT to see women acting as fire fighters and soldiers and athletes so as to collect whatever glory or cachet which can be had from the title… except that the hazards that come with the territory– women being defeated, being hurt or even dying once in a while– are simply unacceptable and can’t be allowed to happen.

    As I said, “Girl Power” is a very peculiar exercise in magical thinking.

  3. Wow, this is an interesting case of just what gender parity and equality would mean…. in the face of some biological sex differences.

    It seems respect and self-respect is a key part of it. And look at how that works here.

    Heaping all the respect on the top performer seems like a big part of how this doesn’t work for us. The rest of us just feel angry and cheated. And we really are cheated.

  4. In my younger years I was heavily involved in wrestling, I cant imagine having to wrestle a female because it would surely put the boy at a disadvantage. We had a technique called a “crotch lift“ in which you put you arms through the pelvic area and lifted your opponent to rotate them onto their back. I imagine most boys would “hesitate“ if they were to initiate that technique on a female. In wrestling a hesitation is many times the difference between winning and losing.

  5. Let’s just cut to the chase and eliminate co-ed education. Same sex schools for everyone. Men teaching boys and women teaching girls.

    This stuff is going to be laughed at 200 years from now. People will think our civilization is as backward as Saudi Arabia.

  6. @ stoner

    It is worth pointing out that the other commenters shot Amanda down.

    The victim-blaming on this thread by some commenters is disgusting. She’s not necessarily a rapist (though, again, I wouldn’t tell someone in his situation not to feel like he’s been raped if that’s how he feels), but to turn around and cast him as an abuser because he’s a man and she’s a women? Repugnant. And misogynistic.

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