Written by Sabrina Chen
Gender roles in sports have been a prevalent issue in the Gunn community for several years. Recently, students have been challenging these boundaries, but a gender gap, where a sport is either predominantly male or female, still remains due to stereotypes and stigmas.
Sports psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor believes that childhood influences have affected gender roles. “The messages that boys receive from their parents, peers and our society discourage their participation in dance and volleyball,” Taylor said. “Peers also probably don’t encourage crossing gender lines. Such attempts may be punished by associating participation in different sports as fitting into gender orientation stereotypes such as boys being gay if they dance.”
Besides the stereotypes and peer pressure, however, some gender roles exist because of the physical difference between sexes. “There may be some physical contributors as well given that some sports such as football require size and strength which girls tend to have less of and that are also not encouraged by our culture as being feminine,” Taylor said.
Wrestling, for instance, is a male-dominated sport. Junior Ruby Robinson, however, placed fourth in Central Coast Section wrestling last year. She credits her ability in wrestling to her childhood experiences. “I’ve never been scared of wrestling boys,” Robinson said. “But I’ve also been doing different kinds of martial arts since I was six.”
Robinson believes there is a stigma that women are bad at wrestling because they are expected to be fragile and weak. “I think it’s a shame more women aren’t involved in wrestling,” Robinson said. “I think a solution would be to destroy the stigma around women’s wrestling and when women actually do come to wrestle, [to] take them seriously.”
Sports psychologist Dr. Michelle Cleere says the media has contributed to gender differences. “Women are not seen as athletic competitors,” Cleere said. “Commentators focused more on the physical appearance of women than [on] their performance. The images portrayed reflect and shape attitudes about the women performing and those of us watching. ”
According to wrestling coach Chris Horpel, the effects of gender roles in wrestling can affect boys negatively as well.“I think it is a no-win situation for a male wrestler[s]” Horpel said. “If he wins, he ‘beat a girl!’ If he loses, he ‘lost to a girl!’ Either scenario is difficult for the male wrestler.”
According to Horpel, there isn’t an easy solution to the gender gap. “Until there are enough girls and women wrestling, there will always be a gender division,” Horpel said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in 50 years. There may be enough girls to have their own team.”
An unequal gender distribution is also evident in dance. “There is the stereotype that all male dancers are gay, or that dance is a sport for girls only, which discourages a lot of boys from pursuing dance as a sport,” junior dance team member Miranda Lin said.
Male dancers tend to perform more strength-associated moves rather than the elegance-associated moves that girls perform. “Guys tend to be the base more often partly because they are naturally stronger,” Lin said. “Girl-girl or guy-guy partners are very rare.”
Even in Physical Education classes, students have noted the presence of gender roles. “One of the P.E. teachers just made [both of] the team captains guys during softball,” sophomore Jojo Qi said.
The selection process for team captains is usually male-favored. “Usually, when there are team captains the girls generally get picked last,” junior Bythe Weng said.
Gunn only has a girls’ volleyball team. However, according to volleyball coach Craig Bankowski, the difference is not because of a stigma, but because of the lack of opportunities. “If you go outside of high school area, there are more men who play adult vol eyball than women,” Bankowski said. “For younger boys, there just haven’t been enough opportunities.”
The lack of a boys’ volleyball team is the result of having badminton and boys’ volleyball in one season. “What [the district administration] said was to either have a spring sport for boys, or a coed sport for boys and girls to use the gym space, so they chose to put badminton in place of boys volleyball.” Bankowski said. “They will have to wait on the Paly gym construction to consider adding boys’ volleyball.”
Although these gender gaps in sports are slowly closing, there is not a quick and easy solution. “The solution is to have parents, peers and culture change the messages they send to boys and girls,” Taylor said.