Gender Equity Forum Notes

by | November 4, 2016, 10:50am 6

When games finished on the Friday of club nationals, over 100 cold, wet players made their way over to the Five Ultimate tent in the dark to participate in discussions about gender equity. We split into about ten small discussion groups around five topics: gender equity basics, growing/coaching women in ultimate, mixed, the big picture of ultimate, and USAU/broadcasting. Here are some notes from those conversations.  

Main Ideas:

  • Equity in broadcasting isn’t enough, and we need to we need to continue thinking about the issue more generally
  • Alternatives to promoting gender equity in media coverage include encouraging conversations about equity across club, college, youth, and league teams, increasing single-gender playing opportunities at the youth level, more skilled and intentional coaching of women’s and mixed teams, and being more engaged with USAU
  • Players: reach out to your USAU representatives, respond to surveys, vote! This is how USAU gets feedback.
    • We had some USAU representatives speak to the group, and they really wanted to stress this line of communication as a source of having player voices transmitted to USAU.
  • Coaches, organizers, or those in leadership positions should talk about gender equity within their teams (regardless of gender) or at camps, and add gender equity discussions to coaching curriculums, clinics, etc.
  • Women who play in the mixed division often feel left out of gender equity discussions. How can we change conversations about “women’s ultimate” to become about “women in ultimate” and empower everyone?
  • Players in the USAU and Us discussion group generally supported leaving ESPN if there were alternative options for achieving equitable coverage
  • There’s an inherent assumption that men’s ultimate is more profitable than women’s and mixed ultimate. We need to think about that privilege and bias.

Breakout group discussion notes:

Group 1: Gender equity basics

    1. Conversations about gender equity are difficult to have. Remember that you’re not alone in feeling that way, and it’s often better to ask more questions and listen.
    2. Women in the group felt ill-equipped to engage in conversations about gender equity:
  • There was a unanimous reticence to engage in online discussion because of trolls and the pressure to form the “perfect argument”
  • There’s a lack of actual discussions online where we listening to one another. It seems like we’re mainly yelling at each other and not really reading what is being written.
  • There are gendered power dynamics online , and women are often vulnerable in this space.
    1. It’s important that male allies have an active role working toward gender equity.
    2. It would be helpful to have more tools on how to have these conversations.

Group 2: Idea Lab (growing / coaching women in ultimate)

    1. Coaches should feel responsible for educating players about inequities in their programs (for example, differences in resources, such as field space and practice times, allocated to men’s and women’s teams) and in the wider ultimate community
    2. In college especially, women’s teams notice when they don’t receive an equal amount of respect from their male counterparts. Player-initiated efforts from men’s teams, such as not tolerating casual sexism and gender normative language, or organizing gatherings to watch women’s games, can go a long way.
    3. A player mentioned that USAU is working on revamping its coach development program. Could we get involved with helping to add “soft skills” into the curriculum, including resources that would help coaches support gender equity in ultimate?
    4. Barriers to single gender play include lower numbers, level/range of competition, and lack of leadership. USAU has also been slow to implements the GUM curriculum.
    5. Girls playing at the youth level have reported having very positive experiences when having opportunities for single-gender play, yet it is often easier to recruit girls for mixed. Can we focus on trying to create single-gender play opportunities, even within mixed leagues, programs, teams, etc.?
    6. How many cities have enough women to sustain a single gender league? Would 4 v 4 on a small field be an option?
    7. Club teams, college teams, youth teams, and summer camps should all be discussing gender equity  

Group 3: Mixed Division

    1. How do we get rid of the stigma around women who play mixed? There is also a stigma around men who play mixed.
      1. Although mixed is often looked down on in the US, there are other parts of the world where this is not the case
      2. Mixed players often feel like they have to justify their reasons for playing mixed (often year “you would be such a better women’s/men’s player”). Iit is assumed that the best players compete in single gender divisions, and mixed players are not good enough for that play.
    2. Mixed women often feel left out of the gender equity discussion
      1. How do we also raise engagement from women in the mixed division and center their voices?
    3. Many elite mixed teams do a good job of “using” both genders. Many mid-level teams are male-focused and do not develop their women. Men often go into “hero” mode when their backs are against the wall.
    4. Players (both men and women) on mixed teams / in mixed leagues need to speak up when men are talking over women, inappropriately trying to teach women how to play, or not passing to women on the field.
    5. All players involved in the discussion agreed that they did not choose the teams they compete with based on the division they play; rather, they made those decisions based on the people and team culture.
    6. Experimental changes in the mixed division, such as 3:3 leagues and 2-point plays, are often considered patronizing rather than empowering.
    7. There should be coaching clinics for effectively coaching Mixed, especially at the youth and league levels.
    8. The International Olympic Committee is interested in mixed, so we should focus more attention to it.
    9. Ultimate players should not be defined by division.

Group 4: Big Picture of Ultimate

    1. At the highest level, ultimate needs a group of people to discuss the sport’s values and make them more well known. Where do we see the future of ultimate? Do we want it to become a for-profit, mainstream sport? How important is it to maintain ultimate’s unique community of players and SOTG?
    2. We need to consider how the pro leagues fit into the conversation about the growth of ultimate at the expense of gender equity.
    3. There’s an inherent assumption that men’s ultimate is more profitable than women’s and mixed ultimate.
    4. Voting in USAU elections are an important way to share our views with USAU

Group 5: USAU / broadcasting

    1. We should be committed to values over broadcasting numbers.
    2. Ultimate is unique within the sporting community. How do we optimize that angle?
    3. If we lose ESPN coverage, then Pro leagues are the only form of ultimate on TV. However, if there were other options outside of ESPN that would offer equitable coverage, players in the discussion supported leaving ESPN.  
    4. Having separate events for the divisions would eliminate competition for being the “main event”  
    5. Could professional leagues become mixed?
    6. Players wondered how much ESPN contracts are actually helping ultimate gain visibility. The impression is that viewers rarely surf ESPN3 looking for something to watch and instead login already knowing what they want to watch.

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  • nrojb

    Abolish the mixed division

  • Justin

    Can’t Ultimate be about Ultimate and not about gender identity politics?

    • Zara Cadoux

      Hi Justin,

      I wish this also! Unfortunately for those of us who are female/non-gender conforming athletes, inequities in our sport mean for us that we don’t get the luxury of it being ‘just about ultimate.’ I hope one day I get to experience the sport as just ultimate without the reality of needing to constantly fight for my right (and others) to exist as an equally valued member of the community.

      • Henry Thorne

        Zara, how about we just elected two women for the two board spots at USAU! Progress. Real progress. And with any luck we’ll be giving you an amazing surprise for one of our appointed positions as well. Fingers crossed we’ll have some truly great gender equity news in a few weeks.

        • Kyle Weisbrod

          That’s really great. We’ve now got four (1/3) of the seats on the board held by women. And we’ve got 2(!) appointments this year if I’m not wrong. There’s actually a chance to get to a 50% female/male Board.

          That’s certainly a start. There’s still a lot more work to be done. Right now 4 of the 5 director level or higher positions are held by men and the majority of the day-to-day decisions are being made there. Not that all of those people aren’t great people but there is a lack of diversity of experience in those upper echelons of the decision making.

          And, of course, it’s not all about USAU and what we/they/you do. Some of this is about the pro leagues. And so much of this discussion is about how the community addresses equity itself. Certainly USAU can model equitable governance and help create systems and structures that help us achieve it, but so much of the work needs to be done at the level of the players and volunteers from coaches to captains to TDs to peers. I really appreciate the gender equity action group trying to tackle the issue from both directions.

    • Warren Meech Wells

      Hey Justin, I realize that is a reasonable feeling to have, but I challenge you to think about it a little more. We see many people in the political sphere saying things like, “Obama’s been elected so that means racism is over and we can stop talking about race, right?” But we all know that there is still plenty of racism in our country. Similarly, just because ultimate is a sport that incorporates female athletes does not mean that we have created a perfect sport. If we really care about it, we will try to improve it.

      It’s easy for white guys like me to want ultimate to just “be about ultimate” because we are so seldom recipients of any prejudice. The challenge for all of us (you, me, and anyone else reading this) is to try to understand that our experience of ultimate (and everything from dating, to work, to voting) is not the same as that of other people. Especially when those other people look different from you.

      So maybe in the future, instead of asking something dismissive, you might ask, “Why do all the people who went to this Gender Equity Forum feel so strongly about things I don’t feel strongly about?” That at least would allow people to respond to you in a way that might teach you something.

      Hope that all helps!