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Sexism and Softball: Covering All the Bases

2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Shira Small's high school softball team after winning a 2015 championship.

At five years old, I launched into little league stardom by hitting a home run without even using the tee. From then on, my coach called me “Slugger,” a name I proudly wore throughout my thirteen years playing softball.

When I began playing softball at age five, I wasn’t trying to make a statement about women in sports; I just loved playing. My little league was co-ed, but majority male. I wasn’t fazed by the gender imbalance on the team, but I do remember feeling alone as the only girl who ever showed up to our non-mandatory games. Although I’m not certain if my memories are real or imagined, I recall being repeatedly overlooked on and off the field. During games I wouldn’t get passed to and in practice I was never doted on in the way that the boy players who displayed talent were. In the eyes of my coaches, T-Ball was a cute hobby I’d soon abandon, and the male players had potentially begun a lengthy commitment to baseball. But thirteen years later, my passion for softball has only grown.

I played on my town’s girls’ softball league for many years, and currently play for my school’s varsity team. Growing up playing sports, especially in an all-girls setting, was truly formative. I never doubted my abilities or my place on the field because of my gender. It was only when I asked my mother what sports she played growing up that I realized there was a point in time when women were not considered “serious” athletes. I had expected her to list off a lengthy list of athletic accomplishments only to hear her admit that few girls played sports at her school, and those who did were often ridiculed. As I began playing sports in more co-ed environments, I realized that this is still true, to some extent, today.

At my high school, which takes a lot of pride in athletics, there’s a clear difference in how female players versus male players are perceived. Boys’ games often get big turnouts regardless of the sport being played, but aside from basketball, girls’ games typically garner less attention. My softball games seldom attract onlookers who don’t have a direct connection to the players.

We’ve won the league championship every year since 2015. How come a team with such an impressive record gets such little viewership?

Here’s where my feminism and athleticism intersect. Women’s sports just aren’t taken as seriously, whether in my school or in national leagues. American female soccer players make far less than their male counterparts, despite being a much better-performing team. Viewership for the WNBA is remarkably lower than that of NBA. And in my small high school, the girls have a harder time attracting crowds for their games. The fact of the matter is that the boys get more recognition—and for no particular reason. I often feel pressured to play better when we do draw a sizeable crowd, because I feel like if I drop the ball or strike out, I’m striking out on behalf of all women. Whereas it seems to me that boys can just focus on the sport, girls have to prove that they even deserve to play.  

Was the last sports game you watched all male? When is the last time you tuned into a women’s game? Do you support and follow women’s teams with the same level of devotion that you have for men’s teams? Why do you think people are less passionate about women’s sports? If we’re committed to ensuring equality, then we should elevate women’s sports. If parity is achieved on a national level, girls at home will feel far more empowered and encouraged to play sports, and get the confidence, strength, and collaboration that come with it. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and it’s our turn to play. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Schools, Athletes
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OMG YES! This is so correct! I feel the same way!

This was awesome, Shira!! 

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How to cite this page

Small, Shira. "Sexism and Softball: Covering All the Bases." 9 February 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 5, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/sexism-and-softball-covering-all-bases>.