You Learn Something New Everyday …

I have played field hockey for over eight years now.  Growing up, I had the extreme honor to have members of the U.S. Men’s National Team as coaches and today I have the privilege of calling them friends.  Having played hockey for a decent amount of time and having been able to have several conversations with the men and women on the U.S. National Team’s, who have been playing for their whole lives, I thought I knew all there was to know about my sport.  When I started to do my research, I wanted to focus on how in the United States there is a large gender gap in field hockey and how due to its relative unpopularity stateside, players constantly face stereotypes surrounding sexuality and body image.  From my personal experience and those of others I have played with and talked to, in the U.S. field hockey is a sport dominated by women.  However, despite a lot of Americans not even knowing about male field hockey, females who play the sport are seen as lesbian and masculine.

In my years playing, I have known a handful of girls who were outwardly homosexual.  That always led me to believe that the stereotype was just simply false and that most women playing hockey were heterosexual.  It was not until reading Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller’s “Changing positions: The Sexual Politics of A Women’s Field Hockey Team 1986-1996” that the thought crossed my mind that maybe what I had always thought had been wrong.  The article traces the shifting composition of a field hockey team from predominately heterosexual to almost entirely homosexual over the ten year period from 1986 to 1996 (Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller 2).  In the beginning years, the team was predominately heterosexual.  Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller note that it may of not necessarily been that the team was predominately heterosexual, but instead fear of homophobic judgment or retribution had caused many lesbians to hide their sexuality” (3).  The teams hazed new girls in ways that it is possible attempted to reinforce the dominant heterosexuality of the club.  For example, players had lick cream off a condom and then bite through the condom and “head” their beer (Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller 6).  As the years passed and the team became predominately homosexual, the players noticed it became harder to recruit new players for women feared they would be automatically labeled a lesbian (Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller 11).  The remaining heterosexual players said that other athletes were always teasing them and questioning them about their sexuality and soon they began to use coping strategies in order to distance themselves form the lesbian label” (Shire, Brackenridge, and Fuller 11).  This article made me question if I had really encountered as few lesbian players as I thought.  It seems quite plausible that in fact many of them simply did not show their sexuality.  One point that really drove home was the heterosexual players being teased and questioned.  I have been asked countless times about my sexuality over the years.  While it has never bothered me, after reading this article I realized that after a while I began to wear a pink bow in my hair when I played.  I never intended for this to mark me as feminine, but after reading it does seem like a coping strategy I used to try and distance myself from the stereotype of my sport.

In Roper and Halloran’s article “Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians Among Heterosexual Male and Female Student”, the authors explore attitudes towards lesbians and gay men among 371 heterosexual male and female collegiate student-athletes (919).  Roper and Halloran point out that bias and discrimination against gay and lesbian athletes has been found to occur (919).  From their study, Roper and Halloran found that male student-athletes’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbian are more negative compared to female student-athletes (922).  Furthermore, the authors hypothesized that attitudes towards lesbians and gay men would be more negative among men’s team sport participants compared to men’s individual, women’s team, and women’s individual (Roper and Halloran 923).  However, Roper and Halloran found that there were not significant differences in the attitudes towards gay men and lesbians for student-athletes competing on different sports teams with the exception of field hockey (923).  Roper and Halloran note, “Female student-athletes participating in field hockey reported the most positive attitudes toward gay men and the most positive attitudes toward lesbians” (923).  I found this result very interesting and also telling of my sport.  I believe that consequence of my sport being so heavily stereotyped as lesbian, many players have come to not see being homosexual as a big deal.  From my own experience and those of others I have talked to, while we may not identify as homosexual, we are aware that there are players in our sport that do and there are no different to us.  While we may use certain things, like a pink bow, to try and deter labels being put on us by outsiders so that we do not need to constantly be teased and questioned, that does not mean we take any issue with people who identify that way.  This article made me very proud to be a field hockey player because despite years and years of being harassed for being homosexual, if that is what it takes for me and the people who play my sport to be the most supportive, than that is fine by me.

While continuously being bombarded about my sexuality can become annoying, it has never bothered me.  On the other hand, constantly being told that I was manly and not feminine has.  People are always very quick to point out that I do not have the ideal feminine body.  This is very true, I am tall and have broad shoulders and my legs and butt are twice the size of the models you see on magazine covers. Yet, despite my body being quite ideal for my sport, it is far from ideal as soon as I am off the pitch.  This reality has led myself and many people I know to by dissatisfied with out bodies and strive for thinness, that is what I believed was the norm.  However, Marshall and Harber prove quite the opposite in their article, “Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness in High Performance Field Hockey Athletes”.  Marshall and Harber examine the prevalence of eating disorder tendencies and its relationship to body composition in elite female field hockey players (541).  The authors’ note, “In North America today women struggle to attain the slim ideal portrayed by society.  In addition to the sociocultural demand to be thin, female athletes often experience further pressures within the sport subculture” (Marshall and Harber 541).  Consequently, many researches have reported an increase in eating disorders and eating disordered tendencies in the female athlete population (Marshall and Harber 541).  The authors studied 120 elite female field hockey players competing at the 1994 Indoor National Tournament.  Marshall and Harber found that 83% of the athletes were not deemed at risk (543).  Consequently, the authors concluded that satisfaction with their body shapes occurred in spite of wide variability on body weight, indicating that problems with eating disordered behavior that have been identified in lean emphasize sports do not apply to be as much of an issue in field hockey (Marshall and Harber 544).  I was really surprised by this finding because I have known so many people, including myself, to be dissatisfied with their bodies and use measures to try to get thinner.

Overall, the findings of these three articles really helped to change my view on my sport.  It has made me a lot more aware of the potential for women playing who identify as lesbian, but do not outwardly portray it and has showed me that not having the ideal body type is okay.  If only all the outsiders who cause use stereotypes and joke and tease could see these too.

Works Cited

Shire, Joanne, Celia Brackenridge, and Mary Fuller. “Changing positions: The Sexual Politics of A Women’s Field Hockey Team 1986-1996.” Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal. 9.1 (2000): 35-64. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.

Roper, Emily, and Halloran, Erin.  “Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians Among Heterosexual Male and Female Student-Athletes.”  Sex Roles. 57 (2007): 919-928. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Marshall, J.D., and Harber, J.D.. “Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness in High Performance Field Hockey Athletes.”  International Journal Sports Medicine. 17.7 (1996): 541-544.  Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

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One Response to You Learn Something New Everyday …

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    I was thinking something similar to your closing comment as I read your blog post. One’s sexuality, regardless of orientation, should not be something to be “teased” about. While I am very glad that you have developed a positive response to the teasing of others, it still bothers me that this is something to be teased over, since this necessarily implies that one should be bothered by it.

    I’d invite you to also keep exploring the tensions between your experience and the research. For the final study, I could not help but wonder what constituted a “risk” in the study. Actually exhibiting disordered eating tendencies or having an eating disorder? If so, this may not account for women that still feel self-conscious about their bodies. However, I prefer to think that the study shows a positive sense of self, and hope that with time 83% will seem too low for all women’s sports!

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