Playing With the Boys : Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh

Playing With Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports  is a book written in 2008 which argues categorizing sports into “men’s sports” and “women’s sports”  represents a long held sexist tradition. The text takes this a step further can argues that separating men and women’s competitions is unequal. The authors state “sports in other words, are not just for fun, are not just for guys, are not just so much about background yammering, but a social force that does not merely reflect gender differences, but in some cases creates, amplifies, and even imposes them.” The introduction then presents the main thesis: ” the assumption that women are physically different from men translates into the assumption that women are physically inferior to men, which translates that women couldn’t or shouldn’t -compete with men because that would spell immediate injury to women, physically  if not also psychologically.” While there has been an increase in women’s athletic participation and improvements in performance, sexual dimorphism is a factor. Sex differences are the product of human evolution over millions of years. However, biological determinism is questionable. There are women who are genetically endowed that competing with men would not be a challenge. These are rare exceptions. Before puberty, there is no reason to separate sporting contests for boys and girls. The thesis has a major weakness in regards to the comparison of adult women and men. There are particular sports in which mixed competition does seem possible. Even with this major flaw, there are some positive attributes of the text. The book does an great job examining sex discrimination in sports from a legal perspective. It does not avoid the controversy of transgender participation. It examines the issue through the context of history. The authors do not solely place blame on men, but particular women opposed to women’s advancement in sports.


A problem with monographs like these is that they are dominated by feminist rhetoric. 

         The background of these authors is pivotal when analyzing the text. Laura Pappano is a journalist  and graduate from Yale University. She does have an athletic background being  a goal keeper on her field hockey team  Laura Pappano also as a hobby loves to bike, run, and plays tennis. It is clear she has understanding of sport and training. Besides being involved  formerly in the production of columns for Boston Globe, she founder the New Haven Journalism Project. Her works focus mostly on education and issues of pedagogy.Laura Pappano also is the editor of which seeks to promote gender equality in sports. Her credentials are perfect considering she is a person who values physical fitness. Although her column for the New York Times “How Big Time Sports Ate Up College Life” makes readers question her motives. While it is true American universities do spend a ludicrous amount of money on sports, it does provide scholarships for students. Women benefit from this as well and have seen scholarship opportunities increase. It is true that men’s athletics at particular universities still receive more attention. This could be what prompted the creation of the 2012 column published. If it were the reverse, there would be little protest. If it was women athletics she would not voice such comments. This seems to contradict Laura Pappano’s claim of wanting equality. Her points in the column can be valid ( college should be about learning, not frivolous activity), but is indirectly projecting something else. When men play sports it is imposing gender discrimination, but when women do it is liberating. This distorted and simple perspective does not fully capture the true nature of the problem. Laura Pappano  analysis presented in her works heads in the right direction, but reaches wrong conclusions. This occurs also in Playing With the Boys. 


Having some background in kinesiology and physiology would have contributed to Laura Pappano’s  arguments. 

Her co-author Eileen Mcdonagh  is a professor of political science at Northeastern University. Eileen Mcdonagh is a fellow in the Center for Advanced Behavioral Science at Stanford University. Her works focus on gender and political issues. Topics that Mcdonagh covers are reproductive rights, development of the American political system, and the representation of women in political life. It is apparent when reading the text, which parts she wrote. When making the arguments against sex discrimination, it is clear that was her contribution. Eileen Mcdonagh  examines political science from a historical perspective . She uses the same method of analysis for Playing With the Boys . While this is useful to the thesis, her lack of sports science in a sense is limiting. If one is seriously going to consider integrated competition between the sexes, biology,physiology, and endocrinology must be discussed. Eileen Mcdonagh  makes a compelling argument against sex discrimination in sport by using Supreme Court rulings. The comparison between African American’s struggle in regards to women lacks cogency, because that is a different form of oppression. She does make a valid point that women should be given a chance to try out for particular sports, if mixed competition is desired. Merely assuming that a woman would not be as skilled as a man based on sex is illogical.


Elieen Mcdonagh’s arguments seem more logical and lucid. Yet, a lack of experience in physiology, biology, and kinseology limit the ability to reinforce the thesis. 

        The physiological and biological differences between men and women’s sports performance is addressed.  This examines the endocrinology, anatomy, endurance, oxygen consumption, and metabolism. On average men are taller than women and have greater bone mass. Men produce more testosterone, while women produce only one-tenth of the hormone. It is critical in the development of lean body mass. Women produce more estrogen, but it is not impossible for women to produce more testosterone than others. The authors forget to mention the role of myostatin  in muscular hypertrophy.  This protein regulates muscle growth and having low levels gives an individual a greater potential for a mesomorphic body type. Understanding this protein is critical to athletic potential. While it is true that cultural bias may stop women from developing full athletic ability, sexual dimorphism is still a factor. If a man and woman were given the same training regimen and diet it is likely the male would become stronger. However, there are exceptions. Estrogen does have benefits for the female athlete. Women have an advantage in terms of heat tolerance, due to the fact they have fewer sweat glands. Having a slower reaction to body temperature changes can be useful in some sports. Muscular strength is pivotal and men have more of this particularly in the upper body. Training can narrow the gap, but there are performance percentage differences.  According to the authors ” Among highly trained powerlifters, one study found that performance differences ranged from 0 to 8 percent.” Men still have the upper body advantage, but women’s lower body can be estimated to be seventy-five percent as strong.


Competing with men in sports that require upper body strength would be a challenge.

Another factor in performance is the utilization of oxygen. Muscles need oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate for the purpose of muscle contraction. The aerobic power generated is dependent on the heart’s capacity to pump blood, lung efficiency when oxygenating, and the blood’s oxygen carrying speed. Women have smaller hearts and lungs, which means their aerobic power is lower than that of males. Not only that there are factors in regards to metabolism  and lactate tolerance. Women have some advantages in metabolism, because fat contributes to the storing of carbohydrates and glycogen. Carbohydrates and glycogen must be consumed during exercise. This could be why women may have an edge in terms of endurance. Women have the advantage in ultraendurance events. Estrogen appears to have a protective role for skeletal muscles. It may also prevent soreness from long periods of exercise. This also is related to the lactate tolerance. After vigorous physical activity, muscles will tire. Lactate levels rise to protect muscles from over exertion. Males and females both experience this, but it is unclear who has more of the advantage.


One can not exercise without getting to a point of feeling tired. Women on average have little strength, but this can be by resistance training. 

Men seem to have a majority of the physical advantages. Oddly, the authors mention the anatomy of genitals. It is true that men’s genitalia does not offer any special advantage during athletic performance. Men and boys require athletic cups to protect themselves from injury. To say that female anatomy provides an advantage also lacks cogency. They cite the case of Melissa Raglin who in 1997, who wanted to play in the Babe Ruth League with boys. The twelve year old girl was ordered to wear an athletic cup. This was to provide safety, because any injury to the children would make the organization liable. The authors do not mention that the testis do actually provide a physical advantage. luteinizing hormone allows the testis to produce testosterone. The interstital cells and inhibin form a negative feedback control between the anterior pituitary gland and hypothalamus. This will control the level of testosterone in the blood. Strength is an important attribute to sports performance, but skill requires years of training. The authors could have done more research into biomechanical and physiological elements of the human body. It appears that women would not be as successful competing with elite male athletes.

        There are arguments that are credible for competition between girls and boys. Before puberty there is very little difference between girls and boys in regards to strength. Body composition is similar. Separating girls and boys for sports would seem ridiculous at this stage. Schools at one point feared that if they allowed girls to play on boys’ teams, boys would attempt to go on girls teams. The term for this is encroachment  by legal definition. The idea is it would not be fair to girls and the boys would physically dominate. This is not the case with children, considering they have not reached full growth. The controversy is over contact sports and whether females can handle it. There are girls who even in adulthood could handle physical contests with males. The authors point out that courts rule in favor of girls playing on boys teams, but rarely do so in the case of boys. The argument of US courts is the rulings are adjusted to compensate for past discrimination. Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh seem to agree with this ruling. This is not true equality. There are cases in which boys did not have a sports division at their school and had no choice, but to try out for the girls’ team. John Willimas was denied playing on the women’s hockey team at Liberty High school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1992. He played as a golie and previously played on a mixed team in middle school. It was clear that the Equal Protection Clause was violated, but the argument was made that it was protecting girls access to equal opportunity. This goes off the faulty assumption that just because Willams was male and not a member of a discriminated group he would dominate the team. That is not completely true when examining physical ability as a individual instead of the basis of sex.



Between the ages of one to thirteen there is no divergence in strength levels. When puberty occurs, boys will develop more muscle and a larger skeleton. There is a large surge in physical strength, that women will not procure unless they engage in physical activity. 

You cannot say you are a supporter of equality when it clear that boys would be at a disadvantage in the Equal Protection Clause. Christopher Mularadelis tried out for women’s tennis team, when one was not available to males. This occurred in 1978 at Haldale High School in Cold Spring New York. He was denied the right to participate. Male students who enjoy volleyball find it difficult to form a fully functional all male team. They are denied access to participate in women’s volleyball. Although men do have more physical advantages at this stage, they have not fully developed. Puberty concludes around age seventeen. Testosterone levels peak at age twenty and gradually decline as a male ages. Therefore, boys at this stage would not have an absolute physical advantage.  This is a distortion, but the authors refuse to address it further. They do admit that men do participate on female teams, yet do not seem to be concerned about the legal and discrimination challenges the male students face. The quote  by Jamal Greene that appears in the text explains the situation perfectly : “one-way racket that allows women to participate in male only sports without extending the same opportunity to males who wish to participate in female only sports.” There is little logic behind this stance. If it were a truly equal position it would function both ways for males and females.

      If it were possible to do away with coercive sex segregation in sport a question arises which sports would women perform equal or better to? The authors provide examples, but  omit other sports that are less mainstream. Wrestling at certain ages males and females can compete on an equal basis as mentioned in chapter two. A lower center of gravity favors girls . It is still a challenge seeing as males would have more total lean body mass. This puts females at a disadvantage in terms of weight class. There are some girls who even compete in wrestling against males in high school. Flexibility and skill can be a useful counter to a much stronger opponent. Rock climbing is another example the authors use to demonstrate that women can compete with males. If the book wants to make a compelling argument it has to examine other sports. Track and field was excluded. Women can be almost as fast as men ,but the structure of the pelvis does effect total speed. Women are closer to males in the lower body strength wise, which could make mixed competition  feasible. The authors could have excluded this to due to the fact that males still retain the highest speeds in track and field records.



It is possible that a few women could compete with men in track. Yet, the majority would still be slower due to a wider pelvis. 

One sport that should not have been omitted is female bodybuilding. It would have advanced their argument of the possibility of integrated competition. Bodybuilding has experimented with this in which men and women compete in mixed pairs. Together they pose and present one routine along with standard poses. Not only is it competitive, it represents a level of cooperation between men and women that can break certain barriers. Women could compete with men directly depending on the athlete. Men do have bigger muscles, although there are some cases in which women are close to their male counter parts. Weight classes would have to be adjusted. Just like with figure and physique divisions, height would have to be taken into account.


As one can see from above, this woman looks like she could be a equal or a little stronger than the man. Women must work harder to become strong.


Here it looks like they are even.She could be stronger.

It is perplexing that the authors do not mention this sport. Female bodybuilding is fascinating when analyzed from perspectives of gender studies and sociology. This omission could be the result of bias. Pappano and Mcdonaugh clearly are focused on sports that are more mainstream or “popular”  with the public. Bodybuilding may not be considered important enough to be worth mentioning by the authors. This leaves out a helpful piece of information that contributes to the thesis. Here women are developing their physiques to the maximum, challenging the idea of female physical inferiority. They crush that idea with their powerful muscles and present a new archetype of womanhood. It is a shame they are ignored or written off completely. The book also does not expound on the fact that gymnastics could be mixed competition. This would actually put males at a disadvantage, due to women’s greater flexibility. Women’s gymnastics appears to be more popular than the men’s event. The reason this could be is that it is considered gender appropriate. There is a level of grace that is involved in these contests, but they still require strength and skill. These particular omission weaken certain points.

       A controversial topic that is rarely discussed is transsexuals involved in sport. The book does not avoid this subject. Should transsexuals be allowed to compete? That depends on the completion of  sexual reassignment surgery. After the surgical procedure there would be no hormonal advantages. The concern is that fair play would not be upheld if women competed with transsexuals. The reality is it has nothing to do with protecting women or being fair. It really is about excluding a group from competition and maintaining traditional gender convictions. Transsexuals violate gender norms in  traditional societies. There is less concern about female to male transsexuals. The reason being is that it assume that men are the better athletes. Male to female transsexuals face more scrutiny. There is a belief that they carry over the physical strength from their former sex, which gives them an extra edge. This is not true and some in the IOC still debate if it truly influences performance. This depends on whether or not the sexual reassignment surgery was done before or after puberty. It is more difficult after puberty when the gonadotropic releasing hormone has already activated sex hormone feedback loops. The authors stress that the IOC has not fully investigated medically the possible performance advantages of formerly being male.  It is great that the authors spoke out against transphobic policies that have been in place for half a century.

       Performance enhancing drugs are mentioned in the text. This is probably one of the most divisive and taboo subjects. It becomes more complicated when discussing gender politics in sports. While there are questions are fairness, bioethical concerns, and health issues there is a clear double standard in use. Women are criticized more for use than males. The authors demonstrate that it is not a concern about women’s health, but what is regarded as “natural.” If a man takes anabolic steroids it is acceptable. The double standard has become so blatant there are multiple cases of random testing of female athletes. Males do not have to do random drug testing like their female counterparts. One case cited in Playing With the Boys was the random testing of the women’s track and field team at U.C.L.A  in 1980. The men’s team was exempt from random testing. Athletic women are constantly accused of using steroids more than males. Only after the early 2000s did males face the same criticism for use. The general synopsis of this section is revealed by this quote: “while steroid have no place in athletics, social pressures fuel an unfortunate double standard in which male athletes artificially enhancing his body is wrong but understandable and natural, while the female athlete is considered unwomanly  or grotesque.” The authors do not seem to understand that performance enhancing drugs have been a part of sports for half a century . There are many substances that are developed that are not yet detectable by drug tests. Use or non-use has divided many sports enthusiasts and athletes. The fact is drugs are here to stay. One should take a neutral stance on this issue, because it is ultimately an athletes choice what they do with their body. Organizations still have the right to ban certain substances. There is no need to extend the War on Drugs to professional sports. The authors should consider how the use of certain substances may level the playing field. Anabolic androgenic steroids increase strength and muscle mass beyond what could be done naturally with diet and exercise. If women lack the necessary brawn to compete with men in mixed contact sports, performance enhancing drugs could be the solution. The risk could be too great in terms of health. Performance enhancing drugs will continue to be a source of discord in professional sports.


Marion Jones increased her performance dramatically through the use of anabolic steroids.  stopping women from use has nothing to do with protecting their health, but the fear they will go through virilization. The conclusion is they will be less attractive, which appears to be more important in the sports world than performance. Some women can use steroids without going through virilization at all. 

Playing With the Boys does make valid points in regards to the institutional sexism in sports.  The most blatant form of sexism is the use of sex verification tests. These were supposedly designed to prevent men from “passing” as females and winning women’s competitions in the Olympics. The idea of this seems ludicrous, because it based on the idea that all men could beat all women. They never considered that a woman would attempted to compete in the men’s events. These tests have recently been discarded, but the IOC retains the right to conduct them. This is not in the name of “fair competition.”  The purpose is to make women feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable. Men did not have to do sex verification and it clearly demonstrated the high level of discrimination against women in sports. Sex tests were not even scientific. Women would have to display themselves nude to IOC  officials, doctors, and gynecologists to prove they were female. That method was unreliable and ignited much vociferous objections. It was soon replaced by a chromosome test.  The only accomplish with this was discovering genetic abnormalities or intersexed  attributes of athletes. Women contain 22 pairs of nonsex chromosomes just like males. Sex chromosomes contain XX for women and XY for men. There were cases in which women had extra nonsex chromosomes and were designated not female according to IOC rules. Ewa Klobukowska was made a victim to this ruling. She was a Polish sprinter who the IOC officials claimed had too many chromosomes to be regarded as female. It was never revealed which extra type of chromosomes she had, but it was clear that it did not give her “unfair” advantage.

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Ewa’s case represents the flawed scientific approach in sex testing. Although she was not intersexed, being that would have not given her extra physical advantages.  

Sex tests started in 1966 and came to an end in 2000. Unfortunately, the IOC has replaced it with a ruling that women with naturally high testosterone will be excluded from participation. It seems as if little progress has been made.  The wage disparity between women and men in sports is another clear indication of sexism. The fact is women’s sports are not marketed in the same manner or given the same amount of attention as men’s sports. The claim the text makes is that low turn out for women’s games is why there is a pay disparity. There are a significant portion of fans that are not targeted by corporate sponsors. This is an untapped market which business and corporations do not want to promote, because culturally it is believed that men are the better athletes. So according to the concept of gender logic, they should be paid more. Rationalizing inequality becomes even more irrational, when there is a potential for economic growth. Lowering the price for women’s sports events is a terrible business model. This pay disparity is rooted in a traditional belief that a woman’s main purpose in life was to be a homemaker. Having a career outside the home was a hobby and nothing more. Women did not need equal pay, because their husbands would care for them.  This strict gender role system continues to live on in sports.

         The sexist atmosphere continues in a rigid and limited definition of femininity. Strength, power, and skill are not seen as positive qualities. A female body that projects these attributes challenges the traditional notions of beauty as the text explains. It is acceptable in society for a man to develop himself physically while for women it is not. Female athletes even struggle with the fear of muscle. This also takes on a homophobic dynamic. Women who are heterosexual fear being labelled lesbian and other women of different sexual orientations are ostracized. Playing With the Boys does not adequately address this issue. Lesbians do face prejudice from their heterosexual peers, but the authors do not seem to think it is a problem. They seem to also view them with trepidation ” at the same time, however, the overplayed stereotype of female athletes as mannish lesbians has suppressed the popularity of women’s sports, support for female athletes, and the recruitment of straight females into sport. ”  This quote appears as if Lesbians are to blame for negative perceptions of women’s sports. Their presence is not to blame for negative attitudes, but a culture of misogyny and herterosexism.  Stereotypes, which can be based on truth are designed to degrade and alienate an oppressed group. The lesbian stereotype in this instance is used to control women and vituperate lesbians. The authors clearly have no understanding of this, because they are examining the situation through the perspective of heterosexual white women. This harms their argument if they truly believe in equality. Body image perceptions are still influential. Societal and cultural pressure may be holding women back from their full physical potential.

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The slender body type is valued for women more so than a muscular one. 

The notion of female frailty has not fully been eliminated.  This did not just influence attitudes toward women in sports, but other physically demanding fields such as the army, police, and construction work.

      The idea that women need protection from danger may seem harmless. However, as the text demonstrates it was to control women and stop them from being competitors with men. The relation to sports is that women engaging in physical activity could risk injury. The fact is that athletes will acquire multiple injuries during the course of their careers. Men getting hurt is of less importance due to the idea that they are tougher. Women are believed to be too weak for rigorous physical activity. The authors explain as follows: ” in the end, the question about female protection entails more than safety.”  The idea of women showing such power angers misogynists. Men who have a machismo perspective believe women should occupy a secondary status in all areas of life. A woman successful at sports challenges cultural convictions about women’s roles. The authors expound on this further ” it also involves propriety and the belief that women simply shouldn’t engage in some activities.” This excuse was used to justify excluding women from education and the public sphere. The stereotype of the vulnerable and timid female has been challenged by a new generation of powerful athletes. This is both intimidating to certain groups of men. Other see it as an attempt to steal attention away from men’s sports.

        Another argument detractors use is that it is not moral for men and women to compete with each other. Claims that boys would be physiologically devastated have been used to stop mixed competition. The other claim is that girls would be injured or suffer the same trauma from loss. Failure is a part of life; it is how resilient  you are after it, which determines success. If boys were not taught to view girls as lesser beings, this would not be a problem. Detractors claim that it is unnatural for men and women to compete in mixed sports.


This boy has no reason to feel shame by losing to a girl. He just lost to a better athlete.

Phrases such as “you throw like a girl” or “you were beaten by a girl” represent the gender bias. It is coded language that designates an inferior status. To be female is to maladroit, weak, and incompetent. Athletic skill can be learned through training, but girls are not given the same opportunity. Playing With the Boys reveals that girls are not given equal access to little league games. Football is seen as a “man’s game” and boys are at a young age encouraged to play. The emphasis on development of physical skills seems more important for boys. Sexism does not only effect women as they age, but also in their youth. Sports has a sexism and misogyny issue. Attitudes must change, so that women are valued members of the sports community.

        Men are not entirely culpable seeing as there are women who are opposed to women’s involvement  in mixed competition and participation in general.  The book mentions a long tradition of women who ostracize other women for opposing cultural mores. One example is the Eagle Forum which promotes past traditional views on gender roles. They are a conservative organization with the goal of promoting family values and right-wing political agendas. They target affirmative action and Title IX  for repeal on the grounds it is “special privilege.” The reason women would oppose involvement  is that they believe women’s role is both wife and mother. Men must be served by women and that is how nature intended it. It appears that some women have internalized  the sexism of society. The authors fail to understand this. Feminists are even divided on whether sex segregated sports is ethical. There is a faction of feminists who see women as victims who need constant protection either through extra legislation or different types of treatment in the public sphere. Victim feminism has painted  all men as treacherous. Sameness feminism does not have the misandrist attitudes, but refuses to acknowledge basic biological facts. Men and women are different. People do not have to be the same to be equal. The authors do not delineate on this schism, but it should be lauded that they mention it. Too often all men are made to be the villains in writings such as these.

       One issue is that the book seems to favor the sameness feminism faction.  The chapter “Inventing Barriers” seems to make the claim that certain limitations of particular women are cultural. The text does make a valid point that women have been restricted due to pseudo- scientific  theories in regards to women’s physical capabilities. Menstruation was once seen as a sign of female weakness. Physicians in the past even believed that the uterus was the weakest part of the female body. These sexist and baseless convictions have been discredited. To say differences in physical abilities is completely cultural is not entirely accurate. The paradigm of “women are weak” and “men are strong” is misleading. The fact of the matter is men have more potential to gain strength due to size and endocrinology. This does not mean women cannot acquire strength. The authors point out that when you examine individuals some women can be stronger than men. Men and women given the same exercise regimen would usually result in men gaining more lean body mass.


Males have a greater potential for muscular hypertrophy due to particular androgens.

It should be clear to everyone that men and women are different biologically. People erroneously are convinced difference means inferiority. That laughable notion has been adopted even by sameness feminists who attempt to say men and women are not different. This seems more self defeating than anything else. Women do not need to be exactly like men to be equal. The authors do not seem to understand this. They do make a potent argument that their is performance overlap. If analyzed graphically in terms of a bell curve, it is possible that elite female athletes could perform just as well as their male counterparts. The text also reveals that women certainly have gotten stronger ever since improved training and social barriers were removed. It is clear that women in sports have gotten physically stronger. Looking at the women involved in sports in the past the change is amazing. Women’s physiques have become more muscular and powerful. This is fact, but the authors omit that there is a ten percent gap in performance when examining Olympic records. Their rebuttal is a legitimate one. Women’s professional sports are still relatively new and it is unclear just how physically developed a woman can get. It is clear that women have improved in performance. Yet, it seems unlikely that elite female athletes would compete with elite male athletes en mass in the future.


Compare Wilma Rudolph (1960) and Carmelita Jeter (2012)  and it is clear that there has been performance improvement. 

            The legal basis for dismantling coercive sex segregation seems to be a more rational argument. As long as a girl or woman is qualified and able to play a particular sport, there is no reason to stop her. Young girls were banned from playing contact sports with boys in the United States. Sports such as football and soccer were off limits. The US courts would rule in favor of girls who wanted to try out for boy’s teams, because none existed for girls. These were clear Title IX violations. Blatant discrimination can be challenged on the basis of violation of the Equal Protection Clause. This is part of the fourteenth amendment of the US Constitution. Not state can enact laws that hinder the equal rights of US citizens. When applied to US schools and their sports teams it is only fair that girls have same opportunity to play. The assumption that men are naturally better athletes is not true. Girls and women could have the same athletic potential, but are stopped because of particular restrictions. The fear is girls and women are too delicate for rough activity. This has now been proven false. Heather Sue Mercer was mentioned in the book who played football at Duke University. Mercer was a place kicker, but she was dropped from the team. This was not because of her performance for which she was qualified, but because of her sex. The coach had a problem having a female on his team. This 1994 incident went to court and ruled in her favor. That is one of many examples that attempted to exclude women from athletic participation. There are qualified women and girls for sports teams, but they rarely find acceptance.

          Playing With the Boys attempts to parallel sex segregation  with racial segregation to reinforce the argument of  the existence of coercive sex segregation. This simply lacks credibility because of the different nature of racial and sexual oppression. While all women were subject to a code of sexism, African American women faced the trauma of white supremacy. The book ignores and omits the fact that white women have more opportunity due to the fact they have white skin privilege. Wilma Rudolph during her track and field career faced more vicious racism, than sexism. While the text understands that African Americans have had a struggle in society it misses one critical fact. Whites believe even to this day that people of African descent are subhuman. That is the critical difference. While white women were viewed as inferior to men, they were more valued because of their skin color. African American women and men were seen as subhumans and unworthy of existence by American society. The authors who are two white middle class women cannot possibly comprehend the issues surrounding racism and white supremacy. Their lack of knowledge is even more obvious in this statement : “while the Anglo-American psyche was able to overcome myths of white athletic supremacy to appreciate and accept the black athlete, women have made no such strides.” This is a delusional assessment. One can only recall Donald Sterling’s racists rants and realize that a majority of whites will never accept non-whites in the US. The former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basket ball team demonstrates this. It seems that the only women the authors are concerned about is white women. It could be that the authors could possibly have unresolved prejudices themselves. This cannot be confirmed, but the writers must understand that racism can be covert in action and policy.Saying women have not made progress or strides is mendacious. The four decades that have past the public has witnessed high levels of women’s participation in sports. This is not just in the United States, but globally. The London 2012 Olympics saw the highest number of female participants in the sporting event’s history. This parallel between racial segregation is the weakest section of  Playing With the Boys.

         Title IX which is a pivotal piece of legislation does have some limits. This argument is the most powerful one in the monograph. Title IX was not specifically directed at sports, but educational programs. Women were given less funding for school sports, which were designated as extra curricular activities. The text argues that Title IX did not go far enough for ensuring gender equality in athletic activities. Title IX for example did not stop the exclusion of girls from Little League Baseball. Title IX did advance women’s educational opportunities in universities and colleges. However, there still is the challenge of promoting gender equality in regards to intercollegiate sports. The NCAA even was fearful that if women’s sports were allowed, it would bankrupt men’s sports. If Title IX was effective it would address problems in which no female team is present at a particular school. Some girls have to try out for the boy’s team, because that is the only option. This results in the girls heading to court to challenge the ban on girls competing with boys in contact sports. A portion of girls have recently become interested in wrestling and football, but they may not have the full protection of Title IX. It is clear that the law may need some adjustment to deal with rapidly changing scenarios.

        Playing With the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports    does provide valuable information on contemporary women’s sports history. There are major problems with its conclusions. The solutions of promoting women’s sports through marketing and the internet are excellent tactics to countering negative perceptions. A new gender neutral view of sports is a healthy and welcome goal that must be advanced. These are rational approaches to disparities that women in sport face. Yet, this goal the authors state seems unrealistic: “females playing sports with males must become standard practice, not the exception.” Training and coaching can made a significant difference in performance, but there are elements of sexual dimorphism that make mixed competition unlikely. Men’s upper body strength would give them the advantage in weightlifting, basket ball, and baseball. Women would have the advantage in gymnastics, ultramarathon events, and swimming  due to flexibility ( as well as the effects of estrogen). For young girls and boys mixed competition is reasonable, because sex hormones have not influenced physical development. One should consider if elite female athletes would even want to have integrated competition. If this were done en mass, it is dubious that they all would be successful. That depends on which sport and the areas of the body which will be utilized ( upper body or lower body). If a woman feels that she needs to compete with a man, she should be allowed to. The authors seem to subtlety   promoting sameness feminism. Women do not need to be like men to be equals, because they were never inferiors. Although Playing With the Boys has problems it serves as a good reference source for the layman and scholar. It is written in a manner that is accessible to the general reading public and contains a wonderful appendix that documents legal cases in regards to Title IX. This is an academic text, but is still enjoyable for anyone interested in sports, sexual politics, and women’s studies.

Playing With the Boys : Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh

4 thoughts on “Playing With the Boys : Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh

  1. turner says:

    Interestingly,many years ago-if my memory serves me correctly-in 1982 I came across a newspaper article telling about a woman from Mexico City.She was introduced as a first female competitive weightlifter in the world.You may or may not believe,but according to the artcile she had some podium finishs competing with male weightlifters in national events.Her lift was 308lb.Sadly,I don’t remember her name.Have you ever heard about this person?Thank you.


  2. Aoku says:

    I think the stereotype that masculine women are lesbians as well as the vilification of lesbianism need to be tackled not only in bodybuilding.

    It is my experience that the vast majority of lesbians are not interested in sports in general and even less interested in muscles. The vast majority of female bodybuilders are heterosexual but just with a little difference compared to the others. I have observed that a male role model such as their father have had a great impact in their lives and they grew up admiring that male model and eventually this admiration has led them to pursue an activity typically associated with men or masculinity.

    Contrary to the stereotype which is how the heterosexual majority draws a line to differentiate themselves from the rest in order to claim superiority and “normalcy”, most lesbians are not masculine nor are they interested in culturally considered masculine sports. Stereotypes are not necessarily based on frequency but on pecularity. The one that stands out become the representation of the entire group. That’s how stereotypes work and that’s how thr majority uses its power to define “the others”.

    The possibility to find lesbians in female bodybuilding are extremely odd because nothing about lesbianism determines an attraction to acitvities deemed masculine and also, lesbians are not attracted to physical traits considered masculine either such as big muscles or squared jaws; they are attracted to physical traits considered delicately feminine such as a body with curves.

    This is totally the opposite when it comes to male bodybuilding. The probability to find a great number of gay and bisexual bodybuilders in male bodybuilding are high because men tend to be more interested in sports, also also, they naturally find muscles and the muscular male figure attractive which is a great incentive to pursue bodybuilding.


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