Sexism in High School Sports

For girls, sports have never been as accessible or as easy to join as it has been for boys. It wasn’t until 1972 that girls could legally play high school sports, where they were protected under Title IX legislation, and a distinct increase in female athletes didn’t show itself until the 1990’s. Even today, gender disparities still arise in high school sports, Durango High School not excluded, and are commonly displayed through the controversial issue of girls’ uniforms.

“Title IX doesn’t say equal, it says equitable. Equal means the exact same, equitable means you have to show the rationales to why it is comparable,” said DHS Athletic Director, Mr. Adam Bright.

The very foundation of the difference between equal and equitable may justify why girls’ uniforms and their treatment in high school sports are so contrasting to their male counterparts, due to the fact that girls and boys must be treated differently because they are different.

This imbalance between girls and boys is a rising issue this year at DHS, from the debate about locker room sizes, to the debate of shirts on, or shirts off. Girls, many of whom prefer running in just sports bras, are strictly prohibited from taking off their shirts on school property. Yet boys, who are also banned from taking their shirts off, seem to find loopholes in the policy.

In the case of the football team, athletes are often seen taking off their shirts whenever and wherever they want. Similarly, cross country boys cheat the system by cutting their shirts, leaving only two thin strips of fabric on the front and back of their chests, barely covering the areas that girls would be reprimanded for, even with sports bras on. Both football Coach David Vogt and cross country Coach Kenneth Flint could not be reached for interviews.

Yet, this rule is seemingly detrimental to athletes, as running without a shirt ultimately benefits both boys and girls in terms of staying cool and becoming more aerodynamic. The shirtless policy, however the coach decides to enforce it, should be as leniently implemented for girls as it is for boys so that they can both be given the benefits of running shirtless.  

“The expectation is that our coaches require their athletes to stay in dress code. Athletics is just a continuation of what we see in the classroom,” said Mr. Bright. This provides clarity to the seemingly disparate shirtless policy on school property.

Some may argue that the shirtless policy is enforced in order to prevent male athletes from being distracted by girls running with their shirts off, which relates back to the very core of sexism. Why should girls alone have to impede their comfortability in order to provide a more convenient environment for their male counterparts?

Others insist that the shirt-on policy is to protect females, due to the fact that bystanders occasionally feel the need to verbalize inappropriate comments towards them, whether it’s from the football team or from off-campus observers. Girls should not be the ones to compromise in this situation simply because of how their dress affects the men around them. Instead, we should be focusing on the more effective solution of changing the hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies.

Girl’s volleyball and tennis uniforms are also prime examples of how the practicality of outfits differ based on gender.

“If you look at lots of the greats throughout women’s tennis, many of them have pushed civil rights boundaries through fashion,” girl’s tennis coach Daniella Phillis said. She argues that in the case of tennis, uniforms have empowered women based on their difference to men’s uniforms.

However, some argue whether or not these uniforms are designed to enhance a girl’s playing ability or to sexualize the sport itself.

“I want them to recognize that no matter what they are competing in, it (the sport) is important and valuable,” said girl’s volleyball coach Colleen Vogt. She emphasizes that a woman’s uniform for her sport should only be to strengthen her own abilities, and that the game itself should be enough to please the audience.

With such a pressing issue rising throughout high schools across the country, it may seem impossible to reverse the primal and omnipresent effects that sexism has had on women’s sports. Nonetheless, girls can make a difference, no matter their age or standing.

“Know that if it’s brought to my attention and I’m there and it’s something that I can act on, I’m going to act on it right then. But I can’t be omnipresent,” says Mr. Bright. He also outlines the need for coaches at Durango High School to more heavily enforce and police the actions of all their athletes to make sure that they are following the policies.

The most effective response to sexism in high school sports is to express your concerns to your coaches and athletic directors, such as Mr. Bright who, as authorities in the high school setting, will be able to make the most change occur without being reprimanded for rebellion. Women’s sports are just as prominent and intriguing as men’s sports and deserve to be treated as such no matter what one’s uniform may be.