Archive for December, 2010

Coercive or voluntary?

December 20, 2010

In Playing with the Boys, McDonagh and Pappano (2008) argue that coercive sex segregation in sport reproduces ideas of female inferiority. However, they attempt to make a distinction between coercive and voluntary sex segregation, recognizing that voluntary sex segregation can be valuable.

While this point has much merit, as voluntarily segregated settings can potentially be powerful sites for resistance, I can’t help but question whether segregation can ever be truly voluntary. For example, when Little League Baseball’s policy of excluding female players was declared unlawful in 1973, the organization created Little League Softball. Today, although girls are allowed to play Little League Baseball, the vast majority “choose” to play softball. Even though girls are not literally forced to play softball instead of baseball, I would suggest that their choices (and those of their parents) are impacted by a variety of social factors.

Another example of this issue that comes to mind can be found in the gendered nature of parental involvement in youth sport. Specifically, the majority of coaches (of both boys and girls teams) are men, while almost all “team parent” positions are filled by women. In his book It’s All for the Kids, Messner (2009) documents how a “sex-category sorting process” works in such a way that the vast majority of women volunteers are actively sorted into a team parent position, while the vast majority of men volunteers are sorted into coaching positions. Messner is careful to clarify that saying people are “sorted” is not to deny their active agency in the process; rather, it is to underline that what we often think of as “free” choices are shaped by social structures. Considering the ways in which social forces impact our individual decisions, I find it potentially problematic to divide choices into categories of either coercive or voluntary.