“If You Didn’t See the Ponytails, She Would Have Fit Right In:” Women and Sports

Recently the New York Times reported on the successes of female wrestlers in state competitions.  The article highlighted the recent Vermont State Champion in the 103 weight class, Rachel Hale. Hale defeated male competitors to become Vermont’s first female state champion and the nation’s third. Gender has now become an issue in this heavily male-dominated sport.

Still, the number of female wrestlers remains comparatively small. In most states, high school girls compete against boys, who far outnumber them with more than 270,000 national participants. The issue of gender differences is a subtext in the rough contact of these matches.

There is this pervasive notion in male-dominated sports that women are unfit to compete against boys because they are physically not suited for the sport’s rougher aspects. Detractors focus on the fact that they are women, and not their talent. This has not only been present in wrestling (in Iowa a young man recently refused to wrestle a female opponent citing religious and personal reasons), but also in baseball. Justine Siegal was the first woman to pitch in a major league batting practice, and has been present on the collegiate and professional coaching scene.

“If you didn’t see the ponytails, she would have fit right in,” said catcher Paul Phillips, one of the players who took swings off Siegal’s pitches. “She did great.”

These strong gender issues cloud women’s successes in sport, and further perpetuate the notion that women will always be a step below men. We only hope that more people can see female athletes like Rachel Hale’s coach, Scott Legacy. After her victory he remarked:

“I’m old school,” Legacy, 47, said of having a girl on his wrestling team. “This is new to me. But she’s a great kid. I see her as a wrestler, not a female.”


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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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