The Ultimate Polemic

Matt Shand recently wrote an editorial about gender discrimination in Ultimate, and raised a number of interesting points one way or another.

This is a very thorny issue, and I think everyone who’s been seriously involved with either leagues or tournaments has had to wrangle with it one way or another and come to some kind of position and then compromise on that position. It is a situation that’s different at different levels of the game too, which is part of his argument: if the base of your pyramid is short of women, your top will never catch up.

It’s interesting to read a contra piece, like Kevin Seiler’s only slightly less recent editorial where he argues that women in Mixed need to take the risk of contact with guys on their own shoulders and not compete for the disc against guys unless they’re willing to get injured as a result.

My feeling is that in a local context, the situation as it stands does discourage teams from finding women beyond their minimum requirements. My league team has had a 3:3 gender balance at most games, and so our women have spent a lot of time marking guys on the opposition. It just happens that my team’s women are exceptional players and have generally managed this, but other teams have not been so fortunate in that respect.

What this means is that teams need a minimum number of women, but beyond that the incentives reverse. Also problematic is that the ratios are different in 5-a-side, 7-a-side and indoors. The season change from indoors to outdoors does mean that I think most teams end up with “excess” women, and I think it does reduce the recruiting momentum.

For my part, like most Creatures, I have spent a great deal of time actively recruiting players, both male and female. My experience has been very much that men are easier to recruit than women and stay longer. I don’t doubt that part of the reason for that is the cultural and institutional inequality that Matt identifies, but nonetheless, even for a club like Vic Uni or Creature, boosting the number of women who play with us to 50/50 or beyond is like the tail wagging the dog when it comes to the whole of Wellington ultimate. I am honestly sick to death of trying to either find women, or convince them that they can play in competitive grades.

I am fairly sure there is no “magic bullet” solution to the gender imbalance in the “mixed” grades. Doing as Matt suggests and changing the league and tournament gender ratios could be partially effective, but I think that any radical change to the gender matching rules will lose teams and players of both genders in the short term. The slow “creep” of the gender matching seen over the past 4 or so years has been a tooth-and-nail struggle at each successive increment, and even over that time-scale it is clear that a substantial number of teams have not kept pace.

If there is a solution, my best guess is the scheme currently being implemented, of introducing Women’s and Men’s leagues in addition to mixed. I think that over time, this will increase the number of women as a percentage of players, and I also think that it will allow quite a few men who can’t do as Matt suggests and find more women to play. However much I think that will improve things, it is disheartening to think that it will eventually lead to editorial’s like Kevin’s.

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3 Responses to The Ultimate Polemic

  1. wit_devil says:

    I really don’t see what’s so difficult about the issue in the Seiler’s piece. It’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent injuries regardless of the gender of the players involved. Physics is gender neutral. If you’re big, then you need to be more careful about running into other players, and if you’re small, then you need to be more careful about stepping into the path of other players. Obviously, everyone needs to maintain awareness regardless of size, but if you are particularly at risk or are a particular risk, then you need to take more care or accept the blame/risk of not doing so.

    I suspect that your particular sales pitch works better on guys than girls. This whole thing can be a vicious or a virtuous cycle – once you have happy female players, it’s easier to recruit more, if you don’t it’s harder. Of course, this only applies if the happy female players are comfortable that they’ll have enough game time when they ask their female friends to come along.

    I suspect that the sticking around thing is a combination of the cultural and institutional inequality identified by Matt and also general spirit issues. I remember playing against Vic last summer and wondering how Vic was planning to keep their new women with the way Angry Matt was yelling at them. And well, frankly if I was bringing in a friend, I wouldn’t want them to be in a team with you, because you can be pretty bad at just having fun. I don’t know that women are less tolerant of poor spirit, but if you combine poor spirit with getting looked off and insufficient game time, then Ultimate is not going to be your sport of choice.

    • mashugenah says:

      I really don’t see what’s so difficult about the issue in the Seiler’s piece.

      Maybe I’m being overly harsh on it then.

      It just seemed to me that his stance was implicitly that aggressively competing for the disc was okay, and that if women wanted to get in on that they needed to be aware they were going to get the worse end of it.

      He is also implicitly equating “aggressive” with “athletic” and “elite”, which has other issues on a wider scale, aside from gender questions.

      • wit_devil says:

        I phrased my comment poorly. I don’t like the undertone of the article, and I think he makes the issue sound a lot more complicated than it needs to be. My understanding is that actions would probably be considered fouls here are often just accepted as part of the game in the US, which may be making it harder for him to get it.

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