But Netball’s For Girls! // gender and school sport

I go to a co-ed school. Mostly, it’s pretty good at being welcoming to all genders — we aren’t separated for any academic classes, and you aren’t particularly encouraged/discouraged into anything because of your gender. This is with the obvious exception of sport.

For some reason I’ve always directed my general frustration with school at sport. I’ve never been good at team sports, so I spent most of my primary school days being told to practice shooting in the corner as the A team was coached. It’s definitely better now, but there’s still a massive gap between boys’ and girls’ sport.We do play hockey, tennis, and water polo mixed, which is great. But continuing down the list: girls do netball, dance, fitness, and rounders. Boys do football, fives, cricket, and occasionally softball. I quite honestly cannot fathom the reasons for this…?

I often see the ‘males have a biological advantage over females’ argument put forward. I don’t actually know the science of that, but top male athletes do perform better than female athletes. Still: I would like to know the strength required to play fives. Obviously women could never be physically capable of patting a ball against a wall. It couldn’t possibly be because fives is a sport almost exclusively invented and played by public schoolboys. Of course not. -_-

It’s not just girls wanted to play ‘male’ sports. I know a lot of boys who’ve expressed interest in playing netball or rounders. (Although there are probably also many who would only play it as a joke, so that’s not the best argument.) I detest the idea that girls must do fitness but boys are…I don’t know, already fit. Encouraging gender stereotypes doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t teach values of equality to your pupils.

And  all this discussion discounts the existence of non-binary pupils. Let’s just remember that non-binary genders aren’t even recognised under UK law, fabulous! Which apparently doesn’t result in ‘any specific detriment’. Apart from the obvious detriment of being forced to choose a gender that doesn’t represent you, and effectively being told that your identity isn’t as worthy as someone else’s. Not being able to access the right healthcare. Not being able to choose the correct title. Not being able to apply for jobs, courses, use public services because they require presentation of ID that only has two gender options. (I found some of these in this article, where you can also find many other quotes about the Ministry of Justice’s statement and living as a non-binary person in Britain.) It also means that there’s very little awareness of non-binary identities, and schools probably aren’t going to start doing things to support pupils who don’t identify as either male or female.

Sports, like many others things, is just very linked to the gender binary, since the divisions are based on sex and physiological advantage. Maybe with the exception of roller derby, which I really recommend you check out because it altogether seems pretty cool. I don’t know how we’d solve that. I probably wouldn’t want all my sports lessons mixed. I know that I’d be uncomfortable around many boys, because they have harassed me and I really just don’t like them as people. (I guess I deal with them in class, though?) A lot of young people — and above, too — are embarrassed of their bodies. They don’t want to be around the ‘opposite’ gender, and it’s difficult to just force that to happen, you know? Maybe it’s better when you’re in a sports team with fellow players who respect you, but I’m unlikely to ever be in a position. But then again: mixed teams are going well, so maybe we should just take the lessons together and be done with it.

It’s difficult. I know that I’m pointing out everything that’s wrong and not providing very good solutions. In general the state of Britain and current UK politics is pretty depressing right now. Still: to be honest, teaching fives to girls and netball to boys wouldn’t be that difficult. Neither would legally recognising non-binary genders. *coughs* But though I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution to gender and sport, I hope that it’s something we continue to explore and improve.

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16 thoughts on “But Netball’s For Girls! // gender and school sport

  1. The important thing is you’re addressing it, which is a perfectly good way to start. I always preferred hockey over netball at school, because I felt that the netball teacher clearly had her favourites, and I didn’t get along with the netball girls. And then girls were not allowed to play rugby (because it was too rough). It’s only now I’m at university that I have the option to join the girls rugby team, but it’s not an interest to me. Schools should encourage all genders to participate in all sports just to see if it’s something they’d be interested in, not just based on what they think girls and boys might like.

    • Yep, I think raising awareness is always a good first step. Swimming is actually probably my favourite sport, which I feel is overall pretty good with gender bias? Ooh, we don’t have rugby at our school but that sounds very frustrating — it’s great they have a girls’ rugby team at your uni, though! You’re exactly right; it’s not always that I personally want to play the sport, but I want all genders to be able to have the option.

  2. Hmmph. *makes grumpy face* At my school, and I think most American public schools, boys and girls aren’t separated for sport unless it’s, like, different teams for the same sport, but it’s still a sucky scenario because you still constantly have sports that one gender or another isn’t expected to be on.
    But this is very interesting! I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why there are no female footballers, or baseball players- there’s softball, but that’s definitely not as popular. There are a bunch of women-only basketball and soccer teams and such, but it’s just weird to think about.

    • *nods* Grumpy face indeed. Woah, I think pretty much every school I know has sports lessons separated by gender ahaha. But yeah, even if you are allowed to play people don’t expect you to — like, girls technically can play cricket at my school, but you have to go and join the boys’ lesson and I’ve always been too terrified. (THEY’RE BRINGING IT IN FOR GIRLS NOW THOUGH. *pumps fist quietly*)
      We all just accept that when people say, like, ‘football’ or something it means the male football teams. But I think women’s football has got a lot more coverage recently over here. (Bend it Like Beckham film knowledge: the girls in that have to go over to the USA because women’s football is apparently way better there?) (Idk.) I JUST REALISED THAT I’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT FOOTBALL which you call soccer aah oh well. Yeah, I just wish women got the same coverage in sport! I think we’re getting there, though. (Sorry. This is such a long reply haha.)

      • Huh. I’m not sure how many, or if most, even, US schools do it like that, but I do get some of that- when I took PE, we’d have like one free day a month, and generally there was basketball and four-square, and all the boys played basketball. Technically, the girls could play too, but it never really happened. :/ AHAHA NO I’M SORRY I SHOULD’VE SPECIFIED TOO I KEEP FORGETTING *facepalm* yeah, the women’s US soccer/football/whatever team is really good! They won FIFA recently, I do believe. But whilst I was googling that, apparently there’s now a big deal about how the soccer/football association for the US has a wage gap between the men and women’s teams. -_- But yeah, the American Football (specification now ahaha) teams are basically entirely men. I don’t think there’s many, if any, women teams, and I don’t know of any players other than random high school ones that I see occasionally in the news. :/ LONG REPLIES ARE THE BEST, TBH.

      • Ooh, I’ve heard of four-square but I’ve never actually played it myself. It kinda sucks how even if there is the option people do separate into genders so it’s weird if you go do the other team.
        Woah, that’s awesome! We had quite a lot of publicity with the women’s team in the World Cup last year, which I think basically brought it to people’s attention. Although there’s still basically wage gaps between men and women in most major sports, which sucks a lot. :/

  3. I’ve never really thought much about this because in my school, everyone is required to play the same sports.
    However, I do hate this gender stereotyping. Anyone should be able to play whatever sport they want without any judgement.

    • Several commenters have said that! I thought splitting sports was way more common, but apparently not. Which has only made me more determined to get rid of it at my school — yep, I just want everyone to be able to play what they enjoy without being judged. 🙂

  4. I remember we had a conversation about this, but specifically about the sports aspect. This was really interesting to read! At my school, all sports have a guys and girls but of course no non binary option. Even ballet is open to both binary genders, which is great.
    I hope you can bring attention to the sports difference at your school and maybe make some change!

    • Ahaha… I am famous among my friends for getting angry about school sports. IT FRUSTRATES ME A LOT. And so I talk about it a lot.
      That’s actually so great! I wish boys were taught dance at my school. But they seem to be bringing in more sports to equalise the binary genders, so at least that’s good.
      Thanks! Hopefully by the time I leave things will have improved. 🙂

  5. Very important and inspiring thoughts! I have never liked sports so I haven’t thought a great deal about it, but these thoughts really resound with me. We do have even footing (I think?) when it comes to school sports within our own school, although we are split into different classes (that have the same activities at different times). The gender binary is still a major problem, though. Very thoughtful post, Eve!

    • Thank you, Alyssa! I don’t personally play loads of sports, but it’s compulsory as a lesson for several years for me so I’d love for it to be improved a bit. It’s actually been super interesting to hear the different ways other people have sport lessons at school from this.

  6. Im non binary and go to a girls school so thats a whole /other/ can of worms but the whole ‘football for guys’ ‘netball for girls’ mentality within coed schools so unnecessary. We get to play ””’guys””’ sports at my school, like cicket, rugby, football and boxing , but i fail to see the point on segregating kids depending on what sports a gender binary enforcing society thinks they should play. Not mixing up teams i can kind of understand, but everything else just seems pointless tbh. Surely a school should have bigger issues that making sure girls cant play rugby.

    • Aah no, that sounds like not much fun — at least mixed schools do give a few more options. And yeah, gendering sports is just another weird role that we have in society. :/ It’s good to hear you get to play some of those though! We theoretically can play cricket but, like, we don’t actually get taught it. *sighs* WHY IS THE WORLD SO STUPID.

  7. I agree with this so much! The system is quite similar at my school, especially in the younger years, although I think they are slowly improving it. Gendering sports just seem completely unnecessary and old-fashioned.

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