Last weekend I went to my niece Amy’s basketball game. Amy is in 8th grade and plays for the same school that I attended. We’re both proud Bobcats and I enjoy cheering on her team. This was an away game for her and it happened to be the other school’s homecoming, which is an especially big deal for the 8th graders of the host school. They had music and announced each of the players as they came on to the floor. The gym had been decorated and I noticed they had cut-outs of the jerseys of each of the eighth grade players. Then I read what each jersey said and my heart sank.
Along with the last name of each player, the jersey included the team name, Lady Giants. Apparently, we’re to assume that all Giants are male, unless otherwise stated. Remember, this was last weekend. It’s 2015 and we’re still distinguishing girls’ sports teams as the “Ladies” version of the boys’ teams.
Fortunately the jerseys the players wore didn’t include the “lady” designation, so I assume it’s not a commonly held belief of the school, but rather the misguided efforts of a few people who volunteered their time and energy to decorate the gym for the kids and who are unaware of the message their words send.
The game was close throughout. The lead changed back and forth and no team ever held more than a four point lead. All the girls played hard and the referees laid off their whistles and let them play. Despite that, both teams were over their allotted number of fouls which meant each foul called sent somebody to the line.
These girls were tough, and they were good players. They played with intensity and passion and they certainly weren’t concerned with appearing ladylike on the court. I was glad to see that. The Lady Giants apparently didn’t get the memo that they weren’t the same as regular Giants. I was glad to see that.
But by displaying jerseys behind their bench with the words “Lady Giants” the school sends the message that when they talk about a “basketball team”, we should assume they mean the boys’ team unless otherwise specified. This gives girls the impression that their sports matter less, and that they don’t deserve to be taken quite as seriously as the boys. It also gives both girls and boys the impression that boys are the standard and girls are the exception.
There’s certainly a bigger issue at play here, one that didn’t start in this gym last Saturday afternoon. Women’s sports aren’t represented in the media enough, or nearly at all. But even the NCAA designates their teams as Men’s Basketball and Women’s Basketball, not Basketball and Ladies Basketball.
Our words, and the messages they send, matter. It’s up to all of us to make sure that girls aren’t being told, whether through words or other actions, that their sports and the things they do don’t matter as much as the boys. That’s why programs like Girls in the Game are so important. At Girls in the Game, we don’t need to distinguish between genders because it’s all girls, and by design, girls’ needs, girls’ accomplishments and girls’ teams are front and center.
The Bobcats emerged victorious on Saturday, sinking enough free-throws to pull out four points ahead of the Lady Giants and hold onto their lead. I can’t help but wonder if a team of Lady Bobcats would have done the same.