Major League Baseball is a sport that exemplifies the characteristics of the All American male but what exactly does that mean and does the female fit in this world? Why is it that women are constantly belittled and degraded in the sport of baseball? Is softball the same as baseball? Why are women not playing professional baseball? Is gender construction reinforced or challenged in baseball? Do these ideologies represent a bigger picture of the nation? These are the kind of questions that I had throughout my research this quarter. The cultural discourse around baseball in regards to gender is one that essentially will not end. Though there is an infinite amount of things surrounding gender in baseball, I possibly cannot talk about them all in one paper. But I do want to bring to light the type of hyper-normalizations that has happened in baseball. The issue of women in the sport is what mostly brings my attention to the sport of baseball. Even though there is a presence of women in baseball they are seen as inferior which precludes to a bigger concept of the role of the nation. The ideologies that play in the discourse of baseball is only to reinforce the patriarchal order that America wants to exemplify. In order to get down to the specifics I am only going to focus on the cultural discourse that surrounds the female baseball player. In analyzing this discourse I will bring examples from my experience with the sport, movie references, and also scholarly texts.
Baseball is a sport where gender differences are heavily prevalent and it is shown through the clip (above). The clip above is from the film “The Sandlot,” that focuses on the lives of a group of friends that live and breathe baseball. The scene above is the group of friends having an altercation with the rival group of baseball players. Ham (boy in orange striped shirt) is going back and forth with Phillips (boy in the varsity jacket) throwing insults at each other from the way they smell to their baseball skills. The argument ends when Ham concludes that Phillips “plays ball like a girl.” As soon as Ham said that to Phillips, it was as if time had stopped because everyone got really quiet with blank expressions. The expressions of the friends insinuate that Ham’s remark is the worst insult that anyone can possibly say to a baseball player. Phillips did not know how to recover from Ham’s remark and had become silent. After that moment of silence Ham’s friends burst out in laughs implying that Phillips’ baseball skills are a joke. Ham’s remark is what escalated the two groups to have an even bigger feud. But what does it mean to “play ball like a girl?” In a fantasy gender neutral world the words “you play ball like a girl,” should not insinuate any negative connotation but in the actual male dominated sphere that is present in baseball it implies Phillips’ inability to play the sport. This presents the stereotype that women cannot play baseball. This sets the standards on who can and cannot play baseball, clearly excluding the role of women in the sport. It objectifies the abilities of women playing the sport. Remarks like “you play ball like a girl,” have become “an accepted part of sports. When directed at men, they signal that feminine characteristics are incompatible with athletics” (Reaves 303). Not only does that remark marginalize women but men as well. There are clear lines that are being defined on what it means to be a baseball player, which brings me to the next issue of the female athlete and whether or not she fits in that role.
Baseball has always been a huge aspect of my life from playing pickup games with the neighborhood kids, going to major league baseball games, to supporting the local little league teams but I never played the sport competitively. Growing up I always wanted to play baseball at a competitive level but there was a part of me that knew that would not happen because of the male dominated discourse around baseball. As a little kid you do not think about concepts like masculinity, dominance, gender constructions, but nonetheless they still take part in your everyday life. It did not occur to me the depth as to how much male dominance plays in baseball until high school. I have been playing softball since I was about 11 but I never liked it because I always wanted to play baseball. I would start practicing my skills for baseball because I wanted to try out for my high school’s baseball team in the 10th grade. Before baseball tryouts I had gone up to the varsity baseball coach and asked him (in all seriousness), if it were possible that I could try out for the baseball team. The baseball coach immediately laughed and proceeded to tell me to “stick to softball.” I did not think much of it at the time but now that I am working on this research paper it infuriates me because the coach had shut me down before giving me the chance to showcase my skills. Instead of the coach challenging the social construction of gender in baseball he clearly reinforced them. Being rejected from baseball tryouts is all I could think about when reading that “gender is the central concept mediating social structures, forms of communication and social interactions among players and coaches, symbolic representations of female athletes, ideologies of inclusion and exclusion of amateur and professional baseball in the United States” (Cohen 1). In this case gender laid out the basis for exclusion. Women not playing baseball has always bothered me but I never took into account how deep the role of patriarchy is.
The role of patriarchy in baseball is a huge deal because “no single social institution, with the exception of the military, has influenced the cultural construction of masculinity more strongly or has justified in biological terms more directly the inferiority of the female body resulting in the acceptance of gender-based discrimination” (Cohen 2). The fact that the male dominated framework in baseball is being compared to the military it starts to question society. Why is it that baseball is lagging so much towards the inclusion of women? It has a lot to do with the ideologies that society has, and until that starts to change nothing will make it easier for women to participate in baseball. Or at least deemed as acceptable. This patriarchy role that is existent in baseball reminds me of the separate spheres that was discussed in class. Separate spheres is basically the idea where men and women accommodate their lives to different worlds. The sphere that men are attached to is the public sphere which includes the work force, and in this case the public sphere of sports. In terms of women the sphere that they fall under is the private sphere of the home where it is seen as unlady like to play sports. Many other sports such as basketball and soccer have progressed in the inclusion of women except baseball. The question is why? It all comes down to ideologies because one can not say that women do not have the skills to play baseball. It is interesting because there is this belief that women have biologically smaller body frames and that it is one of the main restrictions why baseball is not for them but “baseball is a particularly interesting case study in this regard since it is a sport where, until recently, smaller male athletes have excelled” (Cohen 2). People love to put the blame on biological differences but in baseball those differences are not supported because in actuality if women were able to play they would excel at the game. Baseball has become essentially a “sport as an arena of ideological battles over gender relations has been given short shrift throughout sociology of sport literature” (Messner 199). Because gender relations have been an ongoing topic, society has let it pass by as if nothing is wrong because these hegemonic ideologies surrounding gender binaries in sport have become hyper-normalized. Hyper-normalized ideologies inevitably become a way of life and that is what has occurred in baseball. Baseball is one of the main sports to not challenge these gender binaries and is continuing to follow a patriarchal role that the nation follows. The “belief that inequality is part of the natural order,” (Messner 207) is exactly what is occurring in baseball. This mentality goes back to my experience of getting rejected from baseball tryouts simply because I am a girl. Even my own mentality showed the hyper-normalized ideologies because at the time I did not see anything wrong with his statement, my thought was “Oh yeah, he is right, I am girl, what am I thinking.”
Until ideologies around women in baseball start to change, then progress will not occur. There is already a history of women playing professional baseball during World War II which goes to shows that women are indeed capable of playing the sport. Instead of baseball progressing towards inclusion and equity of gender it has regressed and has gotten deep in the role of patriarchy. Many people love the game of baseball but very few challenge the ideologies that surround the sport. Justine Siegal is one of those few to challenge the ideologies towards the inclusion of women in baseball. According to ESPNW, Siegal is a woman that pitched to six different major league baseball teams during their batting practice in 2011’s spring training. Right there is a start for women entering the male dominate sphere of baseball. There is no exact time when it will happen that women break into major league baseball but in time it will. It just has a lot to do with the change on society’s (men and women) ideologies. Hopefully in this generation we are able to see Siegal pitch in the big leagues as well as other women.
Borzi, Pat. “Women are Knocking on Baseball’s Door.” ESPNW. WEB. 2011
Cohen, Marilyn. No Girls in the Clubhouse: The Exclusion of Women from Baseball. McFarland and Company, Inc. Publishers. 2009
Messner, Michael A. “Sports and Male Domination: The Female Athlete as Contested Ideological Terrain.” Sociology of Sport Journal. 1988 197-211
Reaves, Rhonda. “There’s no Crying in Baseball”: Sports and the Legal and Social Construction of Gender. Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice. 2000-2001
“The Sandlot Clip “you Play Ball like a Girl”” YouTube.