You Play Like A Girl

by | May 20, 2014, 8:00am 54

Photo by Kevin Leclaire -

“What I’m doing isn’t normal,” Michelle Ng realized. It hadn’t occurred to her until a high school baseball coach told her that he would never allow a girl on his team. Ng was one of the best pitchers in the league. Her strength and skill earned her teammates and coaches’ respect, but their support rarely carried over to other teams they played. Her opponents had never seen a girl play baseball, never been struck out by one either. So when Ng was hitting, they’d test her by pitching inside to back her off the plate. And on the stand, people were talking. “Looking back, I don’t know if that was a healthy environment,” Ng says. “It wasn’t like I had teammates to talk to. I certainly wasn’t going to go to them and say, ‘Hey guys, I really feel like these other teams are picking on me.’ I didn’t feel like that was the support I was going to get from them, or would want to get from them, because I didn’t want to be treated differently.”

Emily Baecher (Photo by Christina Schmidt -

Emily Baecher (Photo by Christina Schmidt –

Because of the physical differences between college aged men and women, Ng wouldn’t have been able to play Division I baseball. Her experience is evidence that women and men have bodies that move in different ways, as many have noted in response to recent surge of articles around gender in ultimate. And since we live in a society that values male bodies, we’ve been trained to view men’s sports as the gold standard. In Tiina Booth’s response to Emily Baecher’s reflection on her Boston Whitecaps tryout, Booth writes: “people with power do not willingly give it up to the group they consider The Other and it is naïve to think that ultimate is any different.” The comments that harangued Baecher’s article affirm that people are afraid of women gaining power in the ultimate community. And those who have ever matched up against a woman like Baecher or Ng know that there’s something to be afraid of.

After Ng enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, she started looking for a new sport to fill her time. Ng missed ultimate tryouts at Berkeley, so she started out on the B team along with a number of other athletic, committed players. At sectionals, University of California-Davis bageled them 14-0. “It was devastating, and not because we lost – we didn’t expect to win – but because we all felt like we had no hope of competing at that level,” remembers Ng. “I thought if I could ever maybe go to college nationals that would be awesome.” From playing baseball, Ng knew what it meant to push herself athletically; she went on to captain Berkeley’s A team, and was a top three Callahan finisher in 2006.

Although Berkeley has successful men’s and women’s ultimate programs, Ng never considered playing open. “I’m not sure what transition happened in my mind,” she says, but it never felt like an option. Playing women’s ultimate revealed what had been absent from her baseball career: “For the first time, I remember feeling that connection to my teammates. Yeah, they were supportive like my teammates in high school were, but it was more than that. They were my closest friends. That aspect of community really drew me in.” Then, she moved to Texas.

Michelle Ng (Photo by Christina Schmidt -

Michelle Ng (Photo by Christina Schmidt –

Ng joined the University of Texas at Austin’s women’s team, Melee, while starting her Masters in Community and Regional Planning. She was stunned that there weren’t any national caliber women’s teams in driving distance. “We were lucky in Austin to have Showdown there, and they would do skill clinics. But the other teams in Texas didn’t have those resources. At Berkeley, we had resources in the program and were constantly playing against and learning from Davis, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and there would be these exchanges of information and strategy.” Although there was a higher density of men’s teams in the south, the women’s division was nearly a decade behind what Ng saw in the Bay Area.

“We need to be the ones to create the change,” Ng then realized, “That is our responsibility.” As Ng spouted outlandish ideas – like flying to five tournaments a year – her teammates told her she was crazy. Then, they gave her ideas life. For example, Ng knew that Melee needed to play their regional competition. Apart from Centex, the best teams in the middle of the country weren’t coming to Texas, so Ng and her teammates hosted a tournament thirteen hours away in Columbia, Missouri. Ng planned the logistics remotely while writing her Masters thesis. “That tournament opened my eyes to what was possible, because I don’t think that’s the solution that many college students would choose if their team didn’t have options for tournaments.”

Ng believes that the college women’s scene is changing, even though the changes are incremental. Without Limits, the organization Ng co-founded in 2010 to strengthen the women’s ultimate community, has accelerated the change by hosting 60+ tournaments and skill clinics across the country. While Ng is proud of Without Limits’ success, she also knows that the work is never going to be over. “At some point, I’m not going to be able to do this anymore,” she reflects. Ng used to think that there would be a moment where college women’s ultimate would achieve equal access to the opportunities and resources available in the men’s division, but recently she has accepted that there will always be more growth to achieve in college women’s ultimate, more teams and players for her to support. This knowledge stems from her holistic vision: Ng is mindful of how she can boost both top college women’s teams and newer, less competitive squads.

It’s not an accident that the ceiling and the floor are higher for men’s ultimate, or that men’s ultimate gets more press coverage. The disparity isn’t unique to ultimate, either. Sociologists Cheryl Cooky et al. make this clear in their article, “Women Play Sport, But Not on TV: A Longitudinal Study of Televised News Media.” From 1971 – 2009, high school girls’ participation in sports has grown from 294,000 to 3.1 million, as compared to high school boys’ increase from 3.7 million to 4.4 million athletes. College sports mirror this trend (Cooky 221). “However, during the past two decades of growth in women’s sports, the gap between TV news and highlights shows’ coverage of women’s and men’s sports has not narrowed, rather it has widened. Women’s sports in 2009 received only 1.3% of the coverage on TV news, and 1.3% on ESPN’s SportsCenter,” claim Cooky et al (210, 221, see Figure 1).


Figure 1: News and SportsCenter airtime devoted to women’s sports, 1989-2009

Cooky et al. also debunk the assumption that the media provides fans with men’s sports because it’s what audiences “want to see” (226). They discern that those who create programming targeted at men on programs like SportsCenter assume that “mostly male viewers want to think of women as sexual objects of desire, or perhaps as mothers, but not as powerful, competent, competitive athletes.” However, that assumption is in conflict with what audiences do, in fact, “want to see”; the University of Minnesota’s Tucker center found that athletically competent portrayals of women generate more interest in women’s sport than sexualized images of female athletes (223). The assumed heterosexual, cis-gendered male perspective of programs like SportsCenter marginalizes women and renders queer women and gender nonconforming athletes invisible (224). Furthermore, it keeps men’s sports in the spotlight of athletic and social life. Even though participation in women’s sports has tremendously increased, its lack of coverage tells audiences that sports “[continue] to be by, for, and about men” (205). These findings resonate in light of the recent conversation around the men’s professional ultimate leagues.

Can ultimate resist the incessant privileging of men’s sports, bodies, and voices? According to Joanna Neville, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Florida, college women’s ultimate challenges patriarchy in key ways. Neville started playing ultimate with Florida Fuel in 2003; ultimate’s unique culture motivated her to conduct ethnographic research on how college women ultimate players negotiate gender. By studying how women ultimate players dress, speak, and move, she found that women athletes take on a masculine identity because a masculine identity is an athletic identity. “When you look at mainstream sports – the dominant sports like basketball or football or baseball – being an athlete in those spaces means being masculine. So being physically aggressive, being dominant, being powerful,” Neville describes. That also means using one’s body as a machine to win. “It hurts you, as an athlete in that setting, and also often your teammates because it’s about creating a hierarchy of power and dominance,” says Neville, whose study outlines how college women’s ultimate creates a space where people can be masculine and powerful without recreating the hierarchy of dominance.

Different from many mainstream sports, women’s ultimate shares the same rules and guidelines as mixed and open; it doesn’t require a smaller field or disc, for example. However, with the advent of the professional leagues, Neville notes that ultimate is adopting mainstream cultural norms. She supports USA Ultimate’s official statement that it will not recognize or endorse the American Ultimate Disc League or the Major Ultimate League at this time because of their failure to provide playing opportunities for women. According to Neville, “USA Ultimate’s stance is an important step in keeping the core of ultimate that allows for women to be successful at least in these smaller spaces.” And it’s not just women who benefit from gender equality, Neville points out. “If you think about these cultures, like NFL football and locker room bullying and those climates, they’re oppressive for men. It hurts them,” Neville says. What will it take to create an ultimate culture where being competitive isn’t at odds with respecting all bodies?

Amanda Kostic

Amanda Kostic

Amanda Kostic, captain of University of Washington’s Element, is living that question as a girls ultimate coach. Kostic is in her third year of coaching at Nathan Hale, the same team she played for in high school. She is intentional about her role as a woman coach on a girls team, and she really believes in her players. On the occasions that she does coach mixed teams, Kostic is careful not to let the boys steal the show; the girls lead drills and scrimmages, and they often have to throw the goal for it to count. Kostic is starting small and dreaming big. “I want something equally as successful as what the MLU has offered for men,” she says. “It’s frustrating to me that we’re moving somewhere different but at the same time we’re just standing still in women’s sports.”

Kostic was emphatic that Baecher’s article hit home. Ng agrees, echoing Baecher’s claim that if she suddenly had the athleticism to play for Ironside, she wouldn’t do it. “I’d rather elevate the level of coverage and respect for ultimate so that young females can dream of being amazing women’s ultimate players,” she says. “We have to swim against the stream a little bit. There are younger female players that need us.”

What else do young women ultimate players need? They need to know that their sport matters. They need to know that their skills are valued. They need to know that their bodies are powerful.

Works Cited:

Cooky, Cheryl, Michael A Messner, Robin H. Hextrum. “Women Play Sport, But Not on TV: A Longitudinal Study of Televised News Media.” Communication & Sport. 1:3 (2013) :203-230. Print.


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  • Alia

    Awesome article, and opens up a healthy space for women in the US and abroad to share their experiences. Thank you for your hard work, keep it up!

  • Amazing. :)

    • Chloe

      Agreed, thank you Casey for the truly excellent article. And thanks to the many great commentaters here.

      Please watch the informative Tucker documentary, "Media Coverage of Female Athletes":

      The film examines the following research questions. Why do female athletes receive only 2-4% of sports media coverage when 40% of all athletes are women? What kind of coverage do women's sports receive compared to men's sports? What role does the media play in driving interest of women's sports?

      Here is a synopsis:

      Sports media scholars over the last 40 years have consistently found two very important patterns in media coverage. First, 40% of all athletes are women, but they receive only 2-4% of sports media coverage. In the past 20 years, opportunities for and popularity of women's sports have exploded, but in this time frame the amount of media coverage of women's sports has actually declined. The second pattern is, in the 2-4% of coverage, female athletes are much more likely to be portrayed in highly sexualized images rather than in images of on-court skill and competence. When a controlled experiment set out to test interest in female athletics, the highly objectified and sexualized images of women athletes did not increase interest in female sports for all test groups. In other words, sex does not sell women's sports. Yet, media coverage too often portray female athletes in scant clothing and off of the field of action.

      This comments section features ideas that have been disputed in previous articles before.

      Interest in sports is not purely about physical prowess and talent. If this were the case, the Cubs would have empty stands – yet they still receive media coverage – is there a link? The research above indicates that the media could play a huge role in creating and sustaining interest, and in the case of women's, likely the reverse. "We should not measure the success of women in sports with a yardstick that is marked with the accomplishments of men," – Baecher. Women's sports have their own value and should be promoted and marketed on their own, equitably.

  • Happy guest

    Hot damn. Such a breath of fresh air after the last few weeks (particularly that Lisa P article).

  • PhD appreciation

    Any chance we could get a copy of Joanna Neville's dissertation published online somewhere? I for one would love to read it.

    • Stege

      I believe that this is the dissertation that was referenced:…. I just found this online after having the same interest in reading it so this is by no means official but it seems to be correct.

    • Joanna Neville

      This is my MA thesis, and I'm currently getting aspects of the thesis published in academic journals. If you are interested in knowing more about some of my research or other articles, I'd be happy to chat. You can reach me at

  • Von Matterhorn

    "And since we live in a society that values male bodies, we’ve been trained to view men’s sports as the gold standard."

    This is not supported at all, and in fact I'd argue that it's false. Society does not value male bodies, they value athletic feats. It just so happens that male bodies are generally better at accomplishing these feats.

    "However, that assumption is in conflict with what audiences do, in fact, “want to see”; the University of Minnesota’s Tucker center found that athletically competent portrayals of women generate more interest in women’s sport than sexualized images of female athletes (223)."

    This doesn't further the argument the author is trying to make. The author is trying to make the point that people want to see women's sports just as much or more than men's/open sports, but then the study cited compares women's sports to sexualized images. The reason the author had to resort to citing an irrelevant stat is because if stats are looked at that compares viewership of male vs. female sports, the facts are that women's sports are not as popular. I'm not going to go into reasons why because a lot of people will call me an ignorant bigot or whatever so I'm just going to stick with quoting things that are 100% fact. When television shows both male and female sports, the male sports get a ton more viewership. Look at college baseball championships vs. softball. Look at male vs. female olympic events. Look at nba vs. wnba.

    I'm all for promoting females playing ultimate and playing sports in general and think it's really awesome that Ng was able to compete with guys in baseball. But I just think a lot of this movement is aimed at dragging men's ultimate down to the level of women's ultimate rather than the other way around. If women want a pro league and they think it can be sustainable, why not start one? Why not look for investors? I promise you there is no shortage of people with money in this country who are willing to use their money to make more money. But the reality is the men's pro leagues are struggling to profit, and the facts of the matter is that people don't watch women's sports as much as men's sports in any sport, so it is incredibly unlikely that a women's pro league would be profitable. So why is it a negative for women that pro leagues are open? I honestly think most women that write articles like this would rather have equality and drag men's ultimate down rather than increase the overall popularity of ultimate, probably bring the popularity of women's ultimate up as well, but bring the popularity of men's ultimate even higher. And that's why I have a problem with a lot of these types of articles and the entire movement. It's not a "we want to promote women's ultimate". No one disagrees with that and everyone is for it. A lot of guys have a problem with attempting to achieve equality at all costs even if it simply means dragging men's ultimate down to the level of women's ultimate.

    • Molly McKeon

      I don't think the movement as you're calling it wants to bring open/men's ultimate down, more wanting society's perception of women's sports to change. We've all grown up with men's highlights in our faces so that's what people prefer. We grew up with it. But with USAU having gender equity in their goals it helps get women's ultimate more views so that younger people can grow up seeing footage of both genders doing incredible things.

      • Von Matterhorn

        So here's my question. Do you think most people who are pushing for gender equality would prefer scenario A or B?

        A: No pro leagues, USAU events which have equal participation, 10k people watch club championships for both genders. 200 club teams across the country for each gender.
        B: Pro leagues with men, USAU having a women's division, 100k people watch men's ultimate events, 20k watch women's ultimate. 300 men's club USAU teams plus pro leagues, 250 women's club teams

        Obviously I'm just kind of making up numbers here but I honestly think most of the women's equality movement would prefer scenario A to scenario B, and that's what I disagree with.

        • While I can't speak for other people, I'd argue that this is a false choice. That there's no reason to think that equity and growth can't go hand in hand.

          Option C: Mixed Pro Leagues, USAU having a men's and women's division, 100k people watch men's ultimate events, 20k watch women's ultimate. 300 men's club USAU teams, 250 women's club teams. Institutionally womens teams and players valued at the same level as mens.

          While I can't speak for other people, my belief – having been involved in Ultimate for 20+ years and with athletes of all levels from all divisions and seen the growth over that time – I am confident that Ultimate is going to continue to grow. The question to me is not the quantity of Ultimate played but the quality of the sport and the community and the impact that the sport makes on the culture outside of it. Keeping gender equity at the forefront of the sport is one of the biggest things we can do as a sport to ensure the sport both retains its great culture while also making a positive impact on society. I also believe that it has the potential to increase growth as parents (like myself) look for sports and communities where both their sons' and daughters' experience are equally valued.

          • Anonymous

            Was just about to link the false dilemma fallacy article on Wikipedia, but you beat me to it:

            Making up numbers to support your point is probably not a good idea when trying to make an argument.

          • Von Matterhorn

            Right but it's not, because I wasn't saying that one had to be chosen, I was saying IF that was the choice what people would argue for. If given that choice people would choose A they clearly value equality more than growth. I'm not saying those are the options, and I even said I was just making up numbers. You clearly don't understand the fallacy you linked and should actually read that. If I said "these are the two options, which is it?" then sure you'd have a point. But I said "if these were the two options, which would you prefer?" This is actually a legitimate argument to show where the priorities of people who disagree with me are and is 100% relevant even if these aren't the actual choices that are being considered in real life. The fact that people who disagree with me fail to answer the question shows that perhaps I was correct in that people see equality as a priority above overall growth of the sport. And while that's fine I just wish they would admit it rather than hide behind vague arguments and claims which don't follow a logical argument to support what they are proposing.

          • The reason people aren't answering is because (a) it's impossible to answer and (b) it's meaningless. As an exercise for you to understand, go ahead and change the numbers in your two scenarios until they are equally valued in your mind. Can you put a number of men's players on gender equity? i.e. how many men it's okay with not playing in order to uphold the value of equity? If one man is turned off from the sport because of equity, is that a problem? How many men have to not play because of equity that it becomes a problem? So, that's the impossible side.

            On the meaningless side, the question only has use if there's an actual trade-off that needs to be discussed. There's not – or at least none that can be proved convincingly either way.

          • Von Matterhorn

            It's a simple question. If you had the option to benefit ultimate overall, but it be primarily men but also help benefit women's ultimate a little bit, would you do it? Is that a better phrasing of my question? It directly answers the question whether people actually support increasing the popularity of women's ultimate, or are simply interested in equality at any cost whether that involves raising women's ultimate up or dragging men's ultimate down. The fact that so many who have disagreed with my comments fail to answer this simple question just shows that it's pretty likely most would actually rather drag men's ultimate down than raise both men's and women's up despite raising men's further than women's. And this is what I and a ton of guys (most don't seem to be on this message board though) have a problem with.

        • Sorry, man, but you lost me when you said "dragging men's ultimate down to the level of women's ultimate." Equality is not about dragging men down, it's about lifting women up. This is a huge issue in our culture today, and the fact that we're addressing it head-on in the ultimate community should be a source of pride.

          • Nathan

            By refusing to support the pro leagues… isn't USAU "dragging" down men's Ultimate… as their argument is the Pro game is only for men?

            They don't have to be cheerleaders for the Pro league and help build it… but by being so firmly anti-Pro League they are definitely being a drag on opportunities for men to play very high level Ultimate… all in the name of "equality".

            Frankly, I just get tired of the men and women discussions… why aren't we all just Ultimate players? I guess I'm not understanding why it's important to achieve certain ratios or to get women to play Ultimate.

            Here's more made up data… is it better for USAU to spend $100,000 of our dues to introduce 10,000 new players to the sport where 90% of those players are male… or would we rather them spend $100,000 of our money to introduce 2,000 new players to the sport where 100% of them are women?

            I don't have the data handy, but we do know it's more expensive to introduce women to the sport (they simply can't achieve the same economies of scale for leagues/workshops/clinics).

            As a due paying member of USAU, I'd like to see that money used in the most efficient way possible. I'm a bit annoyed by the pursuit of some ideological pursuit of equality in numbers because frankly I don't understand it.

            I am all for providing opportunities for people who WANT to play… but I don't feel we should be trying so hard to PULL people into the sport.

          • Anon

            "(they simply can't achieve the same economies of scale for leagues/workshops/clinics). "

            Whaaat? How does that work?

          • Michelle (not Ng)

            The reason you don't think this is a problem is because it doesn't affect you. If you were female, I assure you, your perspective would change. This attitude of "I just get tired of the men and women discussions…why aren't we all just Ultimate players?" comes from a place of male privilege. You think it's boring and useless because you don't even have to think about a possibility of inequality affecting you.

            Yet as a female, this is something we have to deal with every day. While people like Michelle Ng have made great strides in promoting women's ultimate, there is still much work to do. We need support and male feminists as much as we need female leaders in the women's ultimate community. The lack of empathy you display is disheartening, and I strongly encourage taking a step back and try to imagine what it would feel like if the media around you was telling you, "We are not interested in you as an athlete – here, just wear this skirt and bra and cheer on those men." Or perhaps think about how you would feel if a sister or cousin or close friend were told that they were unimportant and their sport didn't matter.

            Or even how you feel when an outsider laughs at the fact that you play ultimate and asks, "Isn't that what you do with dogs? Ultimate isn't a real sport!" That kind of dismissal is what women's ultimate must cope with and a casual dismissal of the idea that inequality exists hurts all the work people like Michelle Ng have done.

          • Nathan

            *smiles* I have 4 daughters… I hope to have all 4 of them playing sports… not wearing skirts and bras cheering on men… and I hope to teach them to play like men, with the passion and aggression often shown by males on the field.

            But you're right, I don't understand what women are going through. I truly don't get it… and here's why.

            You say that the media and the world tells you not to play sports… to cheer on the men. In doing that, you are implying that the media and the world have told me to play sports.

            I don't play sports because of the media or the world… I play sports because they are fun. I played soccer from Kindergarten through high school… I have never been to a Pro soccer game and have been bored to tears the few times I have watched on TV. The only sport I watch on TV is the NFL, a sport I played for a single season. I played golf, tennis, racquetball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, track, and even tried a bit of swimming. Not because the media said I should but because I enjoyed doing all those things.

            Why is it different for women? If you enjoy doing something, do it. I'm having a hard time buying into the argument that women make that say they feel they are being told not to play sports… because of the implication I was told to play sports… which simply isn't true. Lord knows I had plenty of male friends who didn't play sports and plenty of female friends that did!

            I agree, women need equal opportunities to play sports… but from there, women need to make the choice to partake in those opportunities. I don't believe there is some cultural barrier stopping them from making the decision to try it simply because they haven't seen a woman do it on TV.

          • Jenny

            You seriously mean to say that there is no cultural expectation that boys play sports and girls don't?

            It's not even that boys have been told to play sports, although I'd argue that we imply that boys should, but that girls have been "shown" that they shouldn't. Maybe it's more equal for your daughters that are growing up in now the 2000s, but girls were explicitly told, all through the 70s and 80s, that they shouldn't play sports. I am not exaggerating. Literally told that their bodies couldn't handle it. I also pursued many sports growing up in the 80s: soccer, softball, lacrosse, track, swimming. Luckily, my parents were all for it. But I was always in the minority, and there was never really good infrastructure for me to continue to hone my skills– not good competition, few teams, boys who belittled girl athletes (as clearly, the internet continues to do).

            Maybe it's all fixed now. But there's still a lack of infrastructure, because 20 years ago, the seeds weren't planted. That's why we need to make an extra special effort, which includes financially, to allow for that option. Women playing sports today are bucking a historical trend, and history has an influence on today. If you don't want to believe that, then I guess there's nothing else I can say.

          • Nathan

            It is entirely possible I'm naive… I grew up in the 80s in North Dakota.

            We played co-ed soccer all the way through grade school. I don't ever remember hearing anyone say something like "your daughter should be at home playing with dolls, not out on the field with boys". Maybe I heard it and it didn't register with me… maybe parents were more subtle and didn't say it where kids could hear… beats me.

            Were there less girls in the league? Sure, if memory serves correctly… they were probably out numbered 2 to 1… I don't remember hearing any squabbles about playing time though I do remember the occasional girl sitting playing with flowers as she really didn't want to play soccer but her parents were making her and the coach felt obligated to put her on the field.

            The girls and guys in middle school and high school practiced on the same fields (boys were a fall sport, girls were spring).

            Now as an adult… I coached my daughters soccer team. We had 5 boys and 3 girls on the team. I was a little concerned about one of the girls on our team as she had just turned 5 and was competing against boys that were about to turn 7… they were a good foot taller and 20 pounds heavier but she was fearless and I encouraged her to be aggressive (not that she needed any encouragement!). No parent ever approached me about boys and girls playing together… no parent ever suggested boys should get more playing time or opportunity… our leading two scorers were girls though our best player was a boy.

            I dunno… it just feels to me like you have a choice… you can play the victim card and I'm sure you could find enough support to justify doing so… much like the race card is thrown around frequently… at the same time, the opportunities are there… if women as a sex want to rise up and grab it, there is really nothing preventing you from doing so. Yep, it'll be work… it is probably easier to sit back and be a victim… but I do not honestly believe there is anything holding back the ladies of today.

          • Gabe

            I'm amazed at how easy it is for white men to play the "don't play the race/sex card" card. You admit you don't understand what women are going through, some women explain it, and then you casually dismiss and even belittle their statements.

            Nathan, you are the problem. It's not the people who make an ass of themselves by saying overtly sexist and racist things almost everyone agrees are sexist and racist. It's the people who don't think they're perpetuating stereotypes when they are. People who haven't experienced any form of societal pressure not to do what they feel like, and who think that it must be that way for everyone.

            Open your eyes. Women are telling you from personal experience that they feel these societal pressures. Don't tell me they're "playing the victim card" or ask "why is it different for women". Listen. And don't pretend for a second that because you experience life the way you do, that someone else would have had the same experience.

          • Nathan

            No… actually Jenny said her parents encouraged her… Michelle made vague comments to the media but didn't say anything specific about herself.

            Grrr, wish I could find the article… just spent 30 minutes with my friend google. It was an article on Glass Ceilings for women (again, not directly related, but hear me out)… it said something like 70% of women believed in Glass Ceilings… but the same poll of the same women said only like 30% believed there was a Glass Ceiling at the company for which they worked.

            Now how is that possible?

            Easy… you have people speaking for others and making assumptions. Jenny hasn't hit a proverbial glass ceiling in sports, but she tells us it exists for others. Is she right?

            Beyond that, I read a lot about how people "feel". Not to be a complete jerk… but how you feel could be wrong. Just because you feel like the media is telling you to put on a skirt and bra doesn't mean they are. Just because you feel like men, parents, spectators, whoever don't support you on the field doesn't mean they aren't.

            Frankly, I don't care about how women feel because I don't make my decisions based on emotions. Lets look at real actionable things holding women back from playing sports… Ultimate or others. What are they? Can you think of any? Are any of them that you can think of the fault of men?

            Why aren't there more women's tournaments? Because they can't get enough teams (someone in the Pledge FB page posted a great stat about women's Ultimate in the Twin Cities).

            Why aren't there enough teams? Beats me… I can't see how men are stopping women from creating teams???

            I will listen to facts… I will listen to direct actionable suggestions. All I hear is very vague references to some mysterious over-riding things… and where I come from, that sounds like being a victim. It's not my fault… it's society!

            Now tell me, what stereotype am I perpetuating? That women can't play sports? I don't believe that. That all men are better at sports than all women? I don't believe that. That women shouldn't play sports? I obviously don't believe that (my daughters play).

            All I'm perpetuating is I don't believe there's a problem with the way the world is. I don't believe women need extra assistance to be pulled into Ultimate. I don't care if an equal number of men and women play Ultimate. I don't care if the % of Ultimate players that's female matches the overall percentage of athletes that are female. So yes, you have me there… I have complete apathy towards this supposed plight because I simply don't believe it exists.

          • Gabe

            You think the problems other people face aren't real because they don't affect you? You think you are some superhuman being that doesn't make decisions based on emotions? You truly are delusional. I'm out.

    • Gabe

      You suggest that male sports are more popular than women's as if this happened in a vacuum. There is thousands of years worth of cultural bias that led to this. There is cultural bias that leads to less women valuing athletic achievement the way men are trained to from birth. It is a cultural bias that you grew up with men's sports on TV constantly and not women's. The status quo is not a coincidence. You can't say you're all for female sports while saying that women wanting equality are just trying to drag down men. You say guys have a problem with promoting equality "at all costs", but you don't pay heed to the cost your views already have and the bias and privilege they represent.

      • Nathan

        I'm all for equal opportunities…

        But as men, here's what we feel.

        There are an equal number of male and female college teams per Title IX…

        A new group wants to form a male sport… we can't… why? Because there isn't any interest in another woman's team in any sport. So while it would make sense to form the men's team and have the school ready to accept the next women's team that comes along… they can't. We are held back waiting, trying to pull forward a women's team for "equality".

        Is spending more money dollar for dollar trying to draw females into Ultimate than males equality?

        Why does Ultimate have to lead the charge to change the cultural biases you mentioned? Why do male due paying members of USAU have to fund this drive? To me, that sounds inefficient and a waste of my dollars… a drag.

        • Jenny

          No, you misunderstand. A new group of men want to form a male sport and can't because there isn't enough money, as a whole. There's not a lack of women's teams that want to form, there's a lack of money.

          It would work the other way. If Title IX didn't exist, and a university spent a bunch of money on men's sports, then a group of women who wanted to form a sport wouldn't be able to, because there wasn't enough money, as a whole. The problem is that because of mysterious and erroneous historical biases (doctors legitimately thought that women would collapse after running 800 meters until about 50 years ago), men's sports at universities have a 100+ year headstart. Without protections like Title IX, women's sports wouldn't be able to exist at all. Sure, it's a crutch for now, and maybe it seems unfair to you as an individual, but it's a reasonble patch for a very complicated problem.

          As an aside, Title IX was originally written as an education equity bill, because even though women made up fully 53% of the student population at the time it was passed, they received many fewer opportunities and were being severly underrepresented. Is that fair? It just happens to be the case that the US university system has this weird pattern of tightly tying sports to education… you can blame some other system for that.

          Ultimate is in a unique position in that it's a new sport and can actually test and see what would happen without these centuries of bias… maybe we'll learn something from it. Does it bug you that much? Is there something that you wanted to do in your ultimate career that you weren't able to because a woman wanted to play ultimate? The USAU gender equity policy doesn't say spend "more" on women than men. It says give equal attention to men and women. Maybe it seems really out of proportion to you because you're so used to only hearing about men's sports, and now equality sounds weird. But seriously, how does it hurt you?

          • Jenny

            Jeez, I forgot to write the most important point— Title IX has nothing to do with ultimate! The only reason it limits men's sports is because of scholarship limits imposed by the NCAA.

          • Nathan

            In terms of Ultimate… no, it doesn't bother me that much… it's just an over-riding thing…

            Growing up a white male… and then going into Engineering… I've always been told I was born with an advantage. Honestly, I've never seen it.

            I lived in bum f*&# nowhere North Dakota growing up. I saw the special programs to get more girls into science and math… but nothing for boys… even boys living in areas where they didn't have advanced opportunities (I didn't have a math class my Sr year in high school as I'd already taken every course offered). I saw all the scholarships for Engineering programs where you had to either be a woman or a minority to apply for… how would people view a scholarship that specifically outlined as a criteria that you MUST be a white male to apply?

            I have seen affirmative action alive and well filling positions with less qualified applicants because they fit a certain racial or gender profile.

            Even my current company, one of the largest in the world, promotes all sorts of clubs and activities… none of which apply to me as I'm not a minority, a woman, a veteran, disabled, or gay. I see huge posters plastered all around promoting diversity. Why aren't we trying to hire the best person possible? When did diversity become more important than skill and ability?

            When the author of the equality post said something along the lines of a man can never understand what it's like to be a female athlete… I think the same applies here. As a white male, the world has supposedly placed me on a pedestal and it is perfectly acceptable for EVERYONE to try to pull me down as a way of pulling themselves up. My experiences say that pedestal isn't real, the perceived advantages don't exist, and therefore I'm extremely defensive any time someone tries to specifically target and promote any 1 particular group.

            If you want to call it equality… then start treating people equal. No one is special… we are all genderless, colorless entities who happen to love Ultimate. Club Nationals player or pickup player, Gay man or pregnant woman, albino or blonde Native American… why are we worried about those differences? A player is a player is a player… that is equality.

            Right or wrong… this is how I feel when I read these kinds of articles.

      • Von Matterhorn

        See the thing is this is irrelevant. The bottom line is that people are willing to pay money to see men's sports far more willingly than they are to see women's sports. Enough examples have been put forth but think of how difficult to get and expensive men's final four tickets are and compare that to women's final four tickets. Do they even sell the stadium out at face value? I'm not trying to make a moral claim and I'm not trying to claim that men are better than women. I'm making a factual claim that when it comes to money (and it generally does), men's sports make more money. That's why there's a men's/open pro league and no talk of even forming a women's pro league. By hating on the pro leagues for not including women, USAU is simply ignoring basic economics. USAU charges players to play, so they can be all for equality (and should be, when it's the players paying and getting the same product, it should be the same), but if there is revenue and the men are creating more revenue than the women, why should men be held back simply because a counterpart women's league is not profitable?

        Again I'm not anti woman's ultimate, my girlfriend plays on a woman's college and club team and I think it's awesome that women are getting increasing opportunities to play sports and ultimate in particular and I'd never stand in the way of promoting the sport more to women. But when "equality" becomes criticizing pro leagues for taking a segment of ultimate that makes money (top-level men's competitive ultimate) simply because they don't include a less popular demographic that would inevitably lose money (and if you disagree than you should be out there looking for investors to capitalize on this idea), then I have an issue with it. It's just really annoying that despite the fact that my posts have all been relatively just facts and my arguments have been logically sound, people don't like the fact that I'm "hating" on women's ultimate and downvote mine while upvoting the comments of other people who instead choose to appeal to emotion and clearly don't understand the argument I'm making at all.

        • Gabe

          It is not irrelevant. You talk about the status quo without expressing once that it might be a bad thing. Your petty facts miss the larger points that society ought to value men's and women's sports equally, that claiming that the massive cultural bias against women is irrelevant is one of the most sexist things you could possibly say, and that ultimate has a chance to fight back against that pervasive sexism.

          Don't say things like "that's why there's no talk of forming women's pro league". It's not because men are better (which is written in between the lines of your entire post – congrats on having a girlfriend who plays utlimate at a high level but that is truly irrelevant and does nothing to prove that you are not sexist), it's because of the cultural bias that has far deeper consequences in women's lives than you or I could ever fully understand.

          Recognize your privilege. Find it in yourself to realize that true equality might be a good thing, that there's something wrong with the picture when women's sports aren't as popular as men's, and that every little thing you could do to lessen that gap is a step forward.

          • Voice of Reason

            The reason men's sports are more popular has nothing to do with the stays quo it's because male players are better simple as that. If women were better than men I would watch more women's sports but they aren't. If you disagree let me provide you with some facts the US women's hockey team lost to some high school boys teams safe to say the men's hockey team wouldn't. The us women's soccer team sometimes practices with under 16 boys teams and loses according to Kate sobrero. This would also not happen to the men's team. If the situation was reversed I would watch women's sports over men's but it is not so I choose to spend my time watching men.

          • Gabe

            Your first sentence makes no sense. Status quo means the way things are, and if male players are currently better than female players, that's the status quo (along with all the stuff I talked about).

            Again, why do you think that is? Surely part of it is biological. But not all of it, and maybe not even most of it. I believe we should do everything we can to eliminate the social aspect. If women had the same potential to be recognized for their greatness in sports, the pool of female athletes would increase and the gap we observe would decrease. You don't know how a "perfect" female athlete in such an environment would compare to a "perfect" male athlete, because we're not there yet.

            You're obviously welcome to watch men's sports and ignore women's, but claiming that the only reason you do is because women are "inferior" biologically ignores a huge part of the equation.

          • Voice of Reason

            You were referring to the status quo as people just watch men's sports because they're told to I'm saying I do because they are better. Also, I said nothing about men being biologically more athletic but they are. You take the best women at any given professional sport that men also take part in and there will be hundreds or even thousands of men better at that given sport, so it's pretty safe to say the perfect male athlete will be better than the perfect female athlete. And watching men's sports because they are better does not ignore any part of the equation. Assume you are going to watch a movie with the same exact script, but one movie has better actors and actresses which one would you go to watch? You will claim that is different, but it is the same thing. You just won't be able to talk about "equality" because both males and females are on both sides, but the point is the same one is better than the other.

        • Jenny

          Hey there, I think my reply to Nathan further below, about why I watch and play sports, might address some of your points. I'd also like to suggest that if you feel this strongly about men's ultimate and advancing the pinnacle of the sport, you should feel free to invest your money there. Play/spectate in the AUDL or MLU instead. You have a choice.

    • cjeffery7

      "I'm not going to go into reasons why…" except the reasons WHY are actually incredibly important. people want to watch male sports because that's what they are told on a daily basis is the pinnacle of sport; it's a basic principle of representation in media. what the Tucker study results support is the theory that if the media were to afford women's sports the same coverage as men's sports, interest would increase (and by extension quality), because interest in women's sports has just as much to do with athletic capability as men's sports (where previously, interest was presumed to be because "girls are hot", thus causing the media to promote female sports in an overtly sexualized way, thus prohibiting the growth of female sport due to the misleading perception that female athletes are of value only because of their existence as sexual entities). is that athletic capability going to be different at all from men's? maybe, but it doesn't make it LESS, and the assumption that it IS less is what makes people like you think that promoting the women's game is going to somehow bring down the men's game. in actuality, the movement to promote women's sport has very little to do with men's sport, EXCEPT that the gates to promoting women's sports (and by extension its success) are kept by those who have been led to believe all their lives that men's sports are more worthy of attention & admiration than women's – that's why the "WHY" is important.

      • my opinion

        But how are we sure that it's just what we've been told? How do we know that it isn't because someone just likes it better? Much like music, there is probably a mix of the two, just because something is on T.V. doesn't mean it's good, but there are those which prefer it anyway. I know I personally have a huge amount of respect for women's ultimate, having the honor of playing alongside and knowing Claire Chastain for four years totally changed the way I saw women in sport from the time I showed up as a freshman.

        With all this being said, I still prefer to watch men's ultimate, that is my personal choice, not one fed to me by society or or constructs meant to hold women down. I respect and like to see the ability shown by women's ultimate players, and would like to see the growth of that division. But I do have a question, which of these things is more equal? a top 10 of plays including both women and men's plays. Or a separate one for women's and men's. Because the answer to that question, however seemingly insignificant, shows your attitude towards true equity.

        • my opinion

          Just to clarify a glaring mistake, I did not intend to say music, but rather a tv show or a movie. the previous analogy I had built was not sufficient.

      • Nathan

        Here's a quick reference I found…

        Field-goal percentage45.942.7
        Possessions per 48 minutes91.792.1
        Points per 100 possessions108.398.3
        Avg. points per team, per game10077.3

        Overall percentages for field goals (42.7) and three-pointers (35.2) have hardly changed and remain below NBA levels. WNBA teams also continue to average nearly as many turnovers as assists, and the league’s average of 77.3 points per game per team falls significantly short of the 100-point mark in the NBA.

        So tell me, is this a sign of less athletic ability? They shoot worse… score less… and make more mistakes. Is it fair to call that a sign of less athletic ability?

        Do they try just as hard, put in just as much effort? I wouldn't disagree with someone that said they do.

        Do they reserve respect for the work they put in just as a male athlete does? Absolutely!

        But is the athletic output the same from a top level female as it is from a top level male? No… and I don't see anything wrong with acknowledging that.

        • Ollie Gaskell

          A question for you…

          If Women Athletes were afforded the same resources as Men would that increase the standard?

          Taking Football (soccer) as an example: Megan Rapinoe playing for Lyon last year earnt $14000 a month. Compare that to Karin Benzema, the highest payed male player at Lyon who earned $546000 a month.
          Similarly, Casey Stoner (England Womens Football Captain) earnt £25000 last year, the same as John Terry (ex Mens Captain) earns in a day. That meant that Stoner had to work other jobs which I imagine left her with less time to dedicate to practice than John Terry or Karin Benzema.

          I dont have the answers, but I think this debate is important. I for one hope we can move ultimate towards more gender equality. Just because other sports are not equal doesn't mean it isnt a value we can aim for as a community

          • Nathan

            Oh… I'm curious as well.

            Frankly, I have no issue with women or women's sports…

            But at present, the output of their activity in the athletic arena simply isn't the same and isn't something I want to pay for.

            Now is that simply an inherent issue of men versus women and genetics? Is it a cultural barrier where as men start playing sports younger and in greater quantities and thereby advance to higher levels? Is it a career thing as you implied where men are allowed to specialize to a greater extent and thereby fine tune their abilities?

            Beats me…

            Here's the question though… given how many of those issues are cultural way beyond the sport itself… how much of our membership fee should be devoted to trying to move the needle? Does USAU really believe they can change the culture of sports for the entire US or World? Why isn't the status quo of all sports good enough for us too?

            As I've mentioned before, I really just want efficiency in my dollars… I don't necessary want them chasing some ideal world they can't create even if they wanted to.

        • T-tests

          Different sized balls, different style of game. WNBA free throw percentages are higher. Who cares? Is that relevant to ultimate? Men are more athletic than women. Absolutely. No one in their right mind would argue that. What's the point of your list though?

          • Nathan

            Someone questioned athletic capacity and implied that the public preferred men's sports to women's sports because were programmed to…

            I guess the stats show there are other differences. The athletic ability that men have does lead to measurable increases in performance. Yes, it's a basketball reference but do you believe Ultimate to be that much different? (I did do a search but couldn't find any stat comparisons)

            The larger point is people want to see sports played at the highest levels. When it comes to execution, at an equal level of competition, men's increased athletic capacity leads to greater execution. I don't think it's a bias towards watching men run around… I think it is simply the result of the people doing the running.

          • Jenny

            Ah, ok, so I see that we have some intrinsic differences as to why we watch (or play?) sports. Let me preface what I'm going to say with that it might sound blunt or accusatory but I'm truly just trying to explain in the most direct way possible without any filler words or caveat, so that it's clearer.

            For one, I don't assign value to a hobby based on how much revenue it could potentially generate. I also don't see how the monetary value given to a sport at the highest levels applies to sport at the recreational level, which is essentially what club (USAU) ultimate is. Profit from sports is a relatively new thing, and the fact that no one made money playing baseball a century ago doesn't mean that people didn't value it. On top of that, if I recall correctly, the NBA owners did not even turn a profit last year. To me that says that they're just marketing the crap out of the sport, and we all know how well marketing can get people to spend money.

            Secondly, I don't enjoy sports for the highlight reels, or even necessarily the pinnacle of athleticism. I can with 100% honesty say that huckfests full of 50/50 shots bore me. If raw athleticism were my metric, I'd only ever watch the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS and MLB. I'd never watch a college football game, and I'd certainly never watch ultimate. The biggest, fastest, and most athletic players are most definitely not in ultimate. Sorry, us.

            What I do like about team sports is the ability for a mess of bodies to move as a single, fluid unit. It's amazing to me that 5, 7, or 11 individuals can move in a way that they can predict each other's actions and make split-second adjustments. When I watch women's and men's soccer, or women's and men's ultimate, I see no gender differences in this aspect. (Maybe the desire for flashier play is why soccer isn't as popular in the US.) Asserting that men's playing is bigger doesn't draw me in to the game in any way. Maybe it matters in… I dunno, snowboard half pipe, but not in field sports.

            All I want, as an individual woman, is the ability to play a game that I enjoy and test myself at the highest level I'm capable of. However, many have pointed out above, there are points at which this is a zero-sum game. Many argue that promoting the women's game is dragging the men down. I contend that disproportionally promoting men's ultimate, when there's no definitive evidence that men's is more popular, comes at the expense of women's growth. We're dragging, you're stomping. USAU is a NON-PROFIT organization. If they want to run a test and see what happens if we grow men's and women's ultimate equally, I think that's pretty cool. If men disagree and feel like they're being dragged down, guess what. You have another option! Women don't. If you don't like the gender equity policy, leave. Leave USAU, and go play AUDL or MLU; you can still test yourself at the highest level and be assured that your money is spent on men only.

            In the end, I will say that we should absolutely respect men's voices, although I assumed they were represented by the males on the BoD. I just really don't see evidence that USAU is taking your money and Robin Hood-ing it to women. Like I said above, USAU is only attempting to spend equally. They haven't done anything to shrink men's club ultimate, and I certainly haven't seen a decrease in the level of men's playing over the last couple of years since the policy was announced. If you think this is a serious problem, maybe consider running for a regional volunteer position at USAU?

          • Nathan

            I understand what you're saying… and I too would be bored by 50/50 huck sessions… but what you didn't acknowledge was that the greater athleticism of the men translates to a smoother game (less turnovers, more flow). Regardless of if men can throw more accurately or farther than women… men are on average taller, faster, and jump higher… that quite simply translates to an ability to catch throw over a wider area which would lead to a higher completion percentage given equal catching ability (disc hitting hand).

            If you enjoy watching flow and a well executed game (which I do)… you're going to enjoy watching Open games more than women's or mixed simply because there are less turn overs.

            As to the spending… I don't know the percentages of USAU members that are men versus women, could probably look it up but too lazy… I don't know what amount they spend on men versus women… maybe available, but again too lazy. I would suppose that the TCT is one of their largest expenditures and as it's equal to men's, women's, and mixed teams… and I would suppose that there are more male members in USAU… given those 2 assumptions it seems likely that a disproportionately higher percentage is being spent on females. It probably begins to look even worse when you think of what percentage of female players get to partake in those TCT events versus women (same number of teams go to the events but there are a LOT more men's teams then women's team).

            But beyond that… what would the reaction be if the USAU opened a camp ONLY for boys?

            What would the reaction be if USAU said they were starting a campaign specifically to recruit additional Caucasians?

            I'm simply not convinced in today's day and age… in 2014… you need to give women special treatment. I don't believe they lack for opportunities. I'm not denying there was once a time just as I don't deny the racism that once existed and the harm it caused… I'm just not convinced the effects are still as lingering as you imply.

      • Von Matterhorn

        What do you mean pinnacle of sport? Particularly men's ultimate is OPEN not men's. If women were truly as good as men at it there would be women on top-level open club teams. Wouldn't you argue that the pinnacle of a sport would be the best people as possible regardless of demographic? So the pinnacle by definition would be open.

        Similarly there are two reasons I avoided the why. One is that although I actually find a lot of this research extremely interesting (I've studied a lot of it as it pertains more to academics aka math/science and the fact that gender differences are actually extremely small and most of it seems attributable to how they are raised/treated/perceived by adults), most of it is actually pretty inconclusive. So we might end up arguing about something that is not relevant to my argument, which would be detrimental to the argument I was trying to make which simply relied on what is rather than why it is.

        Secondly, which relates to the first, is again I only focused on how it is, not why it is. How it is now: men's ultimate is close, right now it's not making a profit but people are investing money into it and clearly think it has the potential to make a profit in the future. Women's ultimate is not close and there is no one who is willing to invest money into a women's pro league. That's just the facts and if you disagree you should either put your money where your mouth is or be searching for investors. So then arguing that an organization who chooses to promote the sport by putting money into what they hope is a profitable business venture while avoiding the unprofitable business venture is then criticized by USAU and others. Yet guys are supposed to see these as simply trying to raise women's ultimate up rather than drag men's down? Sorry but criticizing the pro leagues for being sexist is dragging men's ultimate, and the popularity of ultimate overall (because even if just men's/open ultimate gets way more popular, women will also be exposed to it and look into if maybe there are women's/mixed leagues they can play in) down, pure and simple.

  • jamie

    I'd also be interested in seeing some of Neville's research. I have some questions based on how it is presented here. If masculinity is defined in terms of aggression, power and domination, how does women's ultimate avoid hierarchies of dominance while at the same time enabling people to be masculine? Is masculinity without dominance still masculinity? Should we celebrate the fact that women's ultimate 'creates a space for masculinity' instead of something that involves less aggression, power, and domination? The topic opens up some interesting and potentially problematic issues, which I guess is the hallmark of good research (or good research questions, at least).

    • Joanna Neville

      Hi Jamie! I'd love to chat more about my research. I'm currently publishing aspects of my MA thesis and working through some of those issues you presented. If you want to discuss more, you can email me at

  • Joanna Neville

    Casey wrote a great article here! If anybody is interested in discussing my research, I'm more than happy to chat. I'm currently in the process of publishing two articles from my work. Please email me at if you would like more information about my methods, literature, and/or other findings. Let's keep the conversation going about gender and gendered identities in ultimate and sport.

  • Drungus

    Excellent article. It's interesting to see new dialogues arise as ultimate gains and continues to look for wider popularity. What fascinates me about how ultimate is showcased to new audiences, broadcasters, etc. is that there is always a comparison with existing sports and the athleticism of players in order to 'legitimatize' it. Ultimate was conceived of as a sport that attempted to transcend the trappings of many mainstream sports, yet there has been a regression as it has gained popularity. Part of that origin was a more democratic and equal attitude towards inclusion, which seems to have been lost through 'selling the sport' to vendors, sponsors, and networks. I only began playing two and a half years ago, but since that time have really seen a shift in the popularity of the sport that has been both exciting and disconcerting. The response from players and those involved in the sport who care deeply about Ultimate's future is reassuring and hopeful, and I'm glad this dialogue continues to develop and involve new voices and perspectives.