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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Female frisbee players deserve respect

A quick glance at the items that generally adorn the sideline of an Ultimate Frisbee field — a blaring speaker, an assortment of costumes and a keg — should give you an idea of how seriously Ultimate players take themselves. To be a successful Ultimate player, you must adhere to three simple rules: play hard, have fun and uphold the “spirit of the game.” Any athletic achievements borne out of those principles are secondary to an irrational love for chasing a flying disc back and forth across a 70-yard field.

It takes a lot to stir up a group of Ultimate Frisbee players, but this summer the Tucson Ultimate community was abuzz with controversy.

Every fall, spring and summer, Tucson Ultimate organizes a recreational, co-ed Ultimate Frisbee league. 

In co-ed Ultimate, each team has seven players on the field at once, and both teams must have matching gender ratios. For example, if one team has four men and three women on the field, the opposing team must also have four men and three women. In general, the offensive team decides what the gender breakdown will be on a given point.

In the past, any Ultimate Frisbee aficionado could sign up as an individual player and be guaranteed a spot on a Tucson League team. The consequence of this system was a consistently male-dominated League structure. Although League was ostensibly co-ed, in reality there were significantly more male players than female players. As a result, most teams played with five men and two women on the field, and women often played the entire game for want of substitutes.

This summer, Tucson Ultimate implemented a policy mandating that each League team include at least three women at all times.

To be guaranteed a spot on a team, men and women were encouraged to sign up together as pairs. Any unpaired men who registered individually were matched with any unpaired women. Men left without female counterparts were assigned to a team in a newly formed Men’s League.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this new policy created uproar among people who felt that men were being unfairly excluded from League.

They argued that it was appropriate for teams to have more men than women because, after all, more men tend to play Ultimate than women. Many saw no issue with a 5:2 gender distribution on the field if team demographics lent themselves to such a ratio.

But there is a problem with a co-ed sports league in which, at any given time, 10 of the 14 players on the field are men. This dramatic imbalance inevitably causes women to be looked upon as second-rate players, bodies who simply take up space that would be better utilized by men. Repeating the oft-heard mantra “men play more sports than women” does not justify this glaring inequality, but rather allows it to continue without being subjected to serious scrutiny.

Instead of blindly accepting the notion that men inherently participate in sports more often than women, people should question what causes this phenomenon. Perhaps it is the fact that young girls continue to be funneled into activities like dance and swimming, while young boys are pushed towards basketball and soccer. Maybe it is a function of the media, which perpetuates the male-dominated nature of sports through its glorification of size, speed and strength.

How can co-ed adult sports leagues be expected to recruit women who have been subtly turned away from competitive athletics for their entire lives? The answer lies in the actions of league directors and community members who must make an active effort to improve the status of women in co-ed sports.

Tucson Ultimate’s new policy did not address the root causes of gender inequality in Ultimate Frisbee. It did, however, lead to a two-fold increase in the number of women who participated in League this summer. Most importantly, the policy sparked a much-needed conversation about how to build an Ultimate Frisbee community that values and respects its women as athletes.

Follow Elizabeth Hannah on Twitter.

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