Looking back: Females fight sports bias

As we prepare to enter a new decade, WSS interns are pulling stories from the archives and reflecting on what has changed at West since the stories ran. In this installment, Amelia Stevens ’23 examines girls’ athletics and how gender roles play into sports at West High as well as the progress it has made throughout the years.

By Amelia Stevens, West High School

Females fight sports bias by WSS Editorial Board 1971

Published in the September 17, 1971 edition of West Side Story

During the course of high school, certain extra-curricular activities are set up so that the student may pursue any object of interest which may not be available during school hours. With exception, the student is encouraged to develop hobbies that might eventually lead to some lifetime pursuit.

The exception seems to be girls’ athletics.

Those girls who are fortunate enough to be able to cultivate enough coordination and athletic ability should be allowed to participate in track, basketball, gymnastics, softball, not only the installed tennis and swimming.

The recent ruling that there is not enough money in the jackpot was no surprise. But … it was a major disappointment. If the educational system were to come into some money shortly, it is doubtful whether girls’ athletics would be any better off than it is now.

Certainly people wouldn’t come and watch girls’ sports as much as they do boys. But it is highly doubtful whether many people went to the first football game either. (Or at least not as many as those who watch today.) Mainly, because it was not an accepted practice. Once girls’ athletics has been established and accepted, spectators will surely increase. It seems highly illogical that in the day of such advanced technology that this country seems so backward in the areas of equal rights.

There are those who must certainly feel that the female plays a sub-dominant role in this world. This is not true anymore and this is a theory that should be scrapped from many minds.

How about starting with girls’ athletics? The idea is not so absurd. Imagine a boy’s life without athletics. It would probably be a correct assumption that many boys would be totally lost without sports. Girls certainly are not losing their femininity by participating in sports; they are being physically fit. It seems pathetic that a girl who has the ability and willingness to participate in sports should be told to go back to her “knitting.”

The Iowa City Public School System seems so advanced in relations between students, parents and faculty that it would be a shame for a setback such as this to enter into a good relationship that so many people in this system have tried hard to create.

If … for some reason there really can’t be answers to this year in girls athletics, there should be a committee set up to develop solutions for oncoming years. Time slips by quickly and something needs to be done, and done soon.

“No one knows what he can do till he tries” -Maxim 786

Objections voiced

Published in the September 17, 1971 edition of West Side Story

To the editor:

Recently, we have become concerned with the situation involving girls’ athletics here at West.

Since the recent trend in our society tends to be pro-health, pro-fitness and equality for both sexes, we are disappointed at the progress made here at West towards girls’ athletics.

While we realize that money is indeed a scarcity, money (or much of it) is not absolutely essential to the program. There is no specific rule for uniform: we plan to participate in sports, not a fashion show. As for equipment, our school seems to be well equipped in most areas.

Obviously, the only objects requiring money are coaches and transportation.

If we were to find faculty members willing to donate time and energy, and parents willing to provide transportation, what objection can there be?

There are still many problems to be dealt with … but we want them dealt with now and not later.

Signed: Peg Brown, Becky Brown, Becky Zavala, Marie Porcella, Kathy Ranshaw, Sue Read, Judy Lavely, Mary Kann, Natalie Kanellis, Beth Donohue, Linda Johnston, Kim Anderson, Sara Baum, Maureen Irwin, Carey Campbell, Cece Cutler, Jo Swett, Dep Heizler, Deb Lowenberg, Karen Ranshaw, Mona Walden, Connie Hammond, Cindy Clemence, Diane Hudson, Casey Lee, Sarah Muller, Sharon Sheldon, Florence Davis, Naomi Asprey, Jo Black, Katie Collins, Nancy Brown, Dep Lindhorst, Laura Warkentin, Sue Boenker, Gina Rabinovich, Judy Pile, Paula Michel, Charlene Scott, Janet Riley, Mary Balmer, Laura Walters, Mary Kay Gorius, Linda Vedepo, Missy Strub, Nina Wilcox, Debbie Gardner, Betsy Elliot, Janet Pate, Jo Miller, Barb Pate, Victoria Moysten, Marty Walker, Becki Gilpin, Pat Kennedy, Holly Richardson, Karen Villhauer, Liz Skaugstad, Kathy Kasper, Candy Drennan, Paula Tipton, Helen Mitchell, Leanne Shank, Barb Spenler, Cindy Michel, Dawn Clausen, Bonnie Tappen, Liz Berglund, Sue Markee, Marti Freund, Jeanette Nandell, Barb Alderman, Kathy Schrock, Janet Homewood, Alice Barker, Pam Collins, Kaye Wilson, Lynn Pionkowski, Jan Huff, Sarah Rueswigg, Laura B. Abbot, Heather Shank, Ruth Jurgens, Betty Lou Tucker, Linda Bianco, Toni Constantino, Jim Larew, Mike Kann, Tim Gay, Pat Rolston, Ross Rowley, Lloyd Reddick, Ted Kjaer, Mike Owen, Todd Leff, Steve Williams, Rox Brandstatter, Wayne Rafferty, Dennis O’Brian, Jeff Slothower.

A reflection of sports and their relations with gender roles

These articles sparked my interest because they surprised me. I never thought of the seventies as such a biased time, more as a progressive, hippy-filled decade. However, these articles have opened my eyes to how sexist that time period was at West High. Passages such as “Girls certainly are not losing their femininity by participating in sports; they are being physically fit.” and “It would probably be a correct assumption that many boys would be totally lost without sports.” demonstrate how while some views of girls and femininity changed, many people were still arguing against girls’ athletics, fearful that it would make girls lose their femininity. It also demonstrates how boys’ athleticness and sports participation was seen as a primary part of their identity and masculinity.

While these values and gender roles are less present today, there are still underlying stigmas mainly with women in contact-heavy sports such as football and men and the expectation to participate in sports. However, as time progresses, femininity and masculinity are becoming less defined and more of what you define as yourself. There is no longer a set definition of what it means to be a woman or a man or how you should act as a woman or man. We are and have made big strides in evening the playing field for men and women in sports.

What struck me the most was the last phrase in the student petition “The time is 1971. How many years will it take?”. This struck a chord with me partially with what is happening at West High right now. Girls have been fighting for their own league and chances at sports since the seventies, during which girls wrestling has been on the rise. We recently got our own girls’ wrestling team at West High. However, it has not reached the full extent as an actual sports team and is more of a club as it is not sanctioned as its own league in Iowa. In order to be sanctioned as a league, a certain number of superintendents need to commit to sponsor and support a team, and not enough have. Now it’s just a waiting game until there is enough support. It makes me think ‘The time is 2019-almost 2020- How many years will it take?’

This story was originally published on West Side Story on December 26, 2019.