In February, we organized an event as a part of the nationwide movement called 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism in an effort to start the discussion about inequalities in the sport. To start this blog post, I would like to share a personal story about how I came to love Frisbee as a sport, and about the microaggressions I have faced playing team sports.
When I was just shy of eleven years old, a girl on my soccer team called me a lesbian. She meant it as a derogatory comment, and suddenly I understood why I was left without a partner for drills at every practice. I ended up quitting soccer later that year, but when I joined basketball in high school, it was hardly different. The pressure to be a straight girl in that environment eventually became too much for me to handle. I quit basketball because of this dynamic, and joined my high school Ultimate team. Playing on a mixed team was the best thing that had happened to me, because I was no longer scared to be myself. I found male and female athlete role models in my teammates, and I was able to look up to them as people I would become one day.
Playing a sport with men and women without having the expectation to be a cisgender straight girl, the sexist, homophobic microaggressions that were happening around me seemed to disappear. Frisbee was my sanctuary where I could be who I wanted to be; a perfect world where I could escape the expectations of society. Ask any serious Ultimate player why they’ve stuck with the sport so long, and they will probably have similar answers about the accepting and open community, and the freedom to be who you want while still being physically challenged as an athlete. Because frisbee continues to be my sanctuary today, realizing that microaggressions still exist on and off the field, jolted me out of the fantasy that the Ultimate community is a utopia of equality.
Nearly every female athlete has seen the imbalance of value between men’s and women’s sports. A big example of this in Ultimate is the fact that there is a men’s professional league but not a female league. The highest level of Ultimate a female athlete can play in the United States is Club or some form of world competition. This is one of the many topics that we discussed at our 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism event. The All Star Ultimate Tour Documentary addresses a lot of the struggles females face as athletes, including this imbalance in opportunity to play higher level Frisbee. It was a chance for the voices of our women’s team to be heard in a safe space. Many of the stories or frustrations shared were very similar to what I experienced once I started to notice microaggressions on the field, and they all stemmed from the societal perception that women’s sports are somehow not as athletic or exciting as men’s sports. The irony of the situation is that Ultimate is one of the few sports that is played mixed gender, but that space which was meant for growth and tolerance between genders has become a catalyst for sexism.
Almost every female Sweet that attended the event has experienced the following scenario: It’s stall 6 or 7, your male teammate looks at you to initiate a dump cut, so you cut straight at your defender, get them on their toes, then dart to the break side, wide open for a dump cut that sets you up for a huge scoring huck. However, your male teammate actively chooses to not throw to you, and instead throws a huck on stall 9 despite the fact that you were wide open and actively calling for the disc. This is a very specific example of something that happens on many competitive mixed teams, high school mixed teams, city league teams, and in pick up games. Despite Ultimate being a community based sport built on mutual respect for opponents and teammates, the disc during a mixed game is often dominated by the male players. We talked about this concern along with other critiques of inequalities in the sport, including intersectionality.
To address all of the expectations of a female athlete, equity, and feminism in the Ultimate community would take longer than a blog post. The takeaway from this event is that this was just chip off the block in terms of addressing these issues on our team and at Whitman. To make change, we need to start talking about and fighting against the standards set in place by society before any of us were alive. The Ultimate community is far from being equal opportunity, and is arguably one of the least accessible sports for lower income families. These issues, along with sexism, transphobia, islamophobia, racism, and others need to be addressed: players need to start taking actions to move Ultimate in the right direction, to where it is an equal opportunity sport for women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, and everyone on this planet.
Our team has taken action in an effort toward accomplishing this goal, and a huge step was starting this conversation between the Women's and Men’s teams here at Whitman. The attendance at the event was around 2 to 1 women to men. Personally, I felt as if the organizers strived to accommodate the Men's practice schedule and yet everyone on their team did not make it. I was disappointed when the men's captains had to leave for class halfway through the documentary because I think their voices have a large impact on much of the men's team and are prominent voices in our Ultimate community. Our event and the other events happening around the country are great starting points to have these conversations. We hope our event is pushing people on our teams to talk about these issues and help to create safe spaces where everyone's voice is heard.
The issues discussed during this event highlighted the state of Ultimate as a sport based on privilege, however it did not leave us hopeless about the chance to transform Ultimate into an equal opportunity sport. Playing on a mixed team was the best thing that ever happened to my high school, closeted self, and there are many others like myself who have gained confidence and pride in who they are because of this sport. It’s tough to face inequality, and it’s tougher to accept the fact that it exists in a community that you love. However, mixed Ultimate has created a catalyst for this discussion between men and women to improve the sport as a whole and make it available to everyone who wishes to play.