Masculinity as the Reason for Sex Division Between Softball and Baseball

Research Question: How does the technology, or the equipment used in Softball promote the ideologies associated with toughness and masculinity? Additionally, how does masculinity establish a difference between Baseball and Softball?

“Thinking the Unthinkable” by Ann Travers

In the article “Thinking the Unthinkable” the purpose is to illustrate the separation of gender between Baseball and Softball. The article concludes by encouraging the elimination of “the gendered bifurcation” between baseball and softball (78). At the beginning of the article it is explained how Baseball, due to it’s recognition as the nation’s pastime, holds a central role in American culture. Because Baseball has played key a role in defining American masculinity, women and girls participation in the sport was and continues to be strongly resisted (79). In order to strengthen her argument, Travers uses what she calls brother-sister duos, Jason Bay and Lauren Bay Regula and Danielle and Brett Lawrie, where the brother is a successful Baseball Player and the sister is a successful Softball Player. The women athletes, both who have reached the professional level of Softball, explain that the National Pro Fastpitch League, the only professional women’s softball league in the United States wages for players are significantly below the cost of living. The brothers, both who were drafted to the MLB earned significantly more than their sisters on their signing contract alone. Both the “duos” serve to explain the inequality among the two sports in opportunity, payment, and coverage (80). Travers continues her article by discounting the biological myth that Baseball is a man’s sport because you have to be large and muscular to play well. While during the recent steroid era many of these large men hit lots of home runs, Travers explains that “many of MLB’s most heralded athletes have been relatively small” (82). According to Travers, Softball has consequently created negative stereotypes regarding female masculinities and lesbianism. The conclusion of the article explains that in a world where the exclusion of the female gender is eliminated from Baseball, while some women may elect to remain in Softball for fear of increased exposure to sexism and misogyny, the inequalities between Baseball and Softball will stop.

This article is particularly beneficial to my research in that it provides both cultural and socioeconomic evidence of the inequalities between Baseball and Softball. I think that the examples Travers gives of the brother and sister pairs, both who acknowledge the inequalities between the sports is extremely valuable. The reality, as with most women’s sports, is that they will never receive as much coverage as the men. People have many different theories about this but the reasons don’t matter as much as the fact that the inequality exists. Because Baseball is recognized as America’s Pastime and an opportunity to demonstrate American Masculinity, women are automatically excluded. This article does a great job in explaining the problems with the separation of men and women into Baseball and Softball as a cultural issue and an ideological issue as opposed to an issue with safety or lack of ability.

“Sports and Masculinity” by Bruce Kidd

This article argues that sports were created entirely by men and for men in order to reinstate and reassure their masculinity. This being said, the author claims that where society would normally define this as a women’s problem, the negative effects on men due to the lack of equality among both sexes and the perpetuation of patriarchy, should actually be called a men’s problem. Kidd further explains that contrary to popular belief, sports are not merely an innocent pastime but rather a way in which sexual division is reinforced, therefore increasing exploitation and oppression of the female gender. The history also contributes to this division among the sexes. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries sports were promoted in a way that strongly discouraged females from being involved. In order to prevent women from becoming involved in sport, men denied them adequate facilities and programs. Women’s attempts to participate in sports was ridiculed by men and continues to be to this day. As we approached the twenty-first century women were pushed into sports that were considered ‘feminine’: swimming, tennis and gymnastics. Kidd continues to explain that the most serious problem within sports is not simply allocation but rather the way in which patriarchy is perpetuated through the division of the sexes. An example is given of a domed stadium that was approved for construction at the time this article was written in Toronto. While this new stadium will be state of the art it will be used primarily if not exclusively for male sports. The fact that males are given “exciting opportunities” and that they become more ‘masculine’ through their sport,  prevents women from achieving or learning through their sports. Related to Softball, the author explains that at some levels an additional first base is next to the original base to reduce collisions between players and also at some levels the necessity of tagging the runner at home has been eliminated as well. These precautions taken for safety in Softball, while beneficial in reducing injuries and collisions, reduces the premium on physical dominance. In his conclusion, Kidd explains that those who are struggling to combat sexism and inequality in sports should be supported. This support is necessary as sex-divided sports pose problems for both men and women.

This article uses historical context to illuminate the inequalities among men in women through sports. The author explains that while sports have the potential to be positive things they pose a serious threat to the exploitation of the female gender through continuing the trend of division by sex. This division promotes patriarchy and the superiority of males over females in that men participating in sports contribute to the ‘pride’ of the nation. Women, who are excluded from sports or who’s involvement in sports is not covered do not have the same ability to demonstrate their abilities because they are not men, and therefore are not superior, which through sports is defined by masculinity. Women have been discouraged from participating in athletics throughout history; they have had limited access to facilities, opportunities, and have been subject to constant mockery from males. It has been extremely difficult for women to establish themselves as capable athletes and the association with masculinity and athletic success has made it increasingly difficult for women to be praised for their athletic abilities. The article mentions Softball specifically in regards to the safety precautions taken with the female athletes to insure their safety and prevent collisions (i.e. extra base at first and elimination of tags at home). Despite countless reports that state a woman’s body is no less fragile then a man’s, women are continued to be ‘coddled’ through their athletic involvement.

“America’s Baseball Underground” by Jennifer Ring

This article argues that due to Baseball’s recognition as the nation’s pastime, the exclusion of women from the sport prevents half of the country from participating in “America’s Pastime” (373). It is explained that from the time that Baseball was professionalized in the nineteenth century, women and girls have been excluded from Baseball, originally because the sport was considered “too strenuous” or “too violent” (379). Ring also poses a question regarding the implications of excluding women from a sport that is associated with the national identity. Baseball is further established as the nations pastime in that the President always throws out the first pitch during the first game of every season. Ring questions America saying they are ready for a female President, who will inevitably throw out the first pitch, when women continue to be excluded from Baseball (374). When Softball was created, it served as a way to draw most girls away from Baseball. Although elite softball exists, it is not considered nearly as profitable as Baseball, given Baseball’s nature as a “global business with billions of dollars at stake” (375). The article gives 3 elements that have forced women out of Baseball: 19th century socioeconomic changes and the crisis for the White middle class, the professionalization of baseball, and Title IX which created segregation by forcing American girls into Softball. Common methods of discouraging girls and women from participating in sports have been the same throughout history including laughter, misogyny, and sexual insult to name a few. Baseball and Softball were distinguished from each other in the 1890s and from that point on Baseball has been regarded as exclusively male (377). There were several declarations that Baseball was a sport that should only be played by men due to the strenuous nature of the sport (380). These statements have been proven incorrect following the passage of Title IX and with it women’s participation in many high contact sports, demonstrating women’s ability to participate in contact sports. When Little League Baseball Inc. changed its charter to “citizenship, sportsmanship, and manhood” it created a defense against girls wanting to participate in Baseball. The Little League Softball rulebook pictures a close play at third base with the runner sliding with no protection for her legs (385). Why, if safety was such a large reason for the prevention of girls in Baseball, would girls be sliding in shorts with no protection for their legs from the dirt? The author closes by stating the contrast between Youth Baseball and Softball, in Baseball young boys see a future of themselves in the MLB making lots of money whereas young girls don’t have the same opportunity to become rich and famous through their sport (387).

I believe that this article is most closely related and applicable to my research project. The article’s discussion of the exclusion of half the population in “America’s Pastime” is crucial, and perfectly expresses the inequality seen between Baseball and Softball. Although Softball is an amazing sport, it was created in an effort to remove the threat of female Baseball players. The excuse of safety was and continues to be used to this day to prevent women from playing Baseball, however the contact in Baseball is the equal to that in Softball. In fact, with the bases and the pitchers mound being 30 feet closer in Softball I would argue that Softball players are at a higher risk of being hit by pitches or balls hit due to the faster reaction time required. Female athletes, not only in Softball, but several other sports added after the passage of Title IX, have proven their ability to handle high contact and strenuous sports. Therefore the main argument as to why women should be excluded from Baseball, their high risk for injury, has proven to be discounted. The article demonstrates that the distinction of Baseball and Softball in order to exclude women from participating in Baseball was done solely to continue ideologies of patriarchy and masculinity in highly popularized sports.

Works Cited

Kidd, Bruce. “Sports and Masculinity” Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. 16:4 (2013) Web.

Ring, Jennifer. “America’s Baseball Underground” Journal of Sport & Social Issues. 33:4 (2009) 373-389.

Travers, Ann. “Thinking the Unthinkable: Imagining and ‘Un-American,’ Girl-friendly, Women- and Trans-Inclusive Alternative for Baseball” Journal of Sport & Social Issues. 37:1 (2013) 78-96.

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1 Response to Masculinity as the Reason for Sex Division Between Softball and Baseball

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Great research! I like how you found some articles that center squarely on the question you are asking, and some that deal with sport and masculinity more broadly speaking. You seem well-positioned to move this project forward into the final stage.

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