We love pickleball. We love the people we meet, the great exercise and the competition. But even in our lovely pickleball world, we find sexism. And this idea that roughly half of our players (females) may be having a different pickleball experience than their male counterparts is pause for concern. Sexism is inherent in our world, and by shining a light on it, it is Picklebilly's hope to come one inch closer to eventually making sexism a non-issue.
Coincidentally, this article parallels what's happening on the national level: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently gave an impassioned speech on the floor of Congress about sexual harassment and the need for a culture shift where both men and women call out this behavior. This article does just that: it calls out sexual bias in our favorite sport, in order to help facilitate a needed "culture shift."
What is sexism?
1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex especially: discrimination against women. 2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
Before looking at specific examples in pickleball, it is clear that so many men are not sexist. Here's a recent refreshing contribution from Eric Bredleau on a recent Facebook post:
Eric Bredleau "Any Guy that is sexist and wouldn't play with Women is an idiot. Early on in my pickleball playing, I stepped onto an open court with another Guy against two Women.... maybe in their early 70's. My ego was saying to myself "I will take it easy on these gals".... well, I got a lesson in humility, and also got hit with the ball 5 or 6 times....and I got my ass kicked. I came away shaking my head....
I know tons of Women that still regularly kick my ass....
It is a great equalizer on the courts....
And a couple of times in mixed doubles tournaments.... the opponent made the mistake of picking on my partner as the "Weak Link"....
My policy is to play with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Even people I may not care so much for.... It makes my game better to mix with a variety of people.
Race and Sex play NO part in this game to me...."
While Eric's perspective is refreshing, his attitude is not always the case. Mila Sayre-Santos, a 5.0 rated female player and a PPR certified instruction had lots to say about sexism. With Mila's skill level, she can beat most other players out on the court, so initially, I assumed she experienced little sexism. Boy was I wrong. Here's Mila:
First, I am grateful to the men who have welcomed me into groups and all the male tournament partners who trust my game. You will always hold a place in my heart. Many men have no idea what it is like being a female Pickleball player. I have been playing Pickleball for almost 4 years. I am a 5.0 USAPA rated Mixed Doubles player and a PPR Certified instructor. Here are just a few examples of sexism that I have experienced in 4 years of playing Pickleball. I have been told to my face multiple times, “I’ll wait for a guy’s game”. When I walk onto the court with a group of men, they assume I’ve just ruined the game. Some male players won’t play or they act irritated that I walked on the court with them. I have actually had men walk off the court to look for a group of men to play with instead of being on a court with me. If I walk out on the court with another female to play against 2 males, the men automatically suggest that we split up. The 3.5 male players say they want to make the teams “even”. I have gone to play in different states and watched my husband get included into high-level play and I am ignored. I have gone and played where winners stay on unless you were female. That time the men kicked me off the court and let my husband stay so they could have a guy’s game instead of the winners staying on. I have been told in tournaments in mixed doubles that I need to stay in my 15% of the court while they play 85% of the court. If I took anything more than my 15% I was told “stay out of my way”. I have had male partners hit multiple balls in the net or out of bounds and when I miss one or two balls, they feel that gives them the green light to take all my balls. Them taking all my balls completely throws off my game. Not only do they throw off my game, but they put themselves way out of position. Once a guy asked me to be his partner in a tournament. He asked me my thoughts on stacking. I told him we could stack if we needed to. He said that he wouldn’t play with me because I wouldn’t stack. My rating was 5.0 and his was 4.0. I have played in ladder leagues and started on much lower courts despite my rating being much higher than many of the men on courts above me. I have a ton of other female friends who have had similar experiences. The mental game of Pickleball is hard enough without the added pressure of having to prove yourself every time you step onto the court. Are all men like this, no. The problem is, there are way too many that feel they are better because of their gender.
I've personally experienced different examples of sexism. My husband Ted and I started pickleball at the same time, but I loved it so much that I played every day, took classes, and lessons, and I became the stronger player. When we started playing on the advanced side of our courts, the men took to Ted immediately and welcomed him with open arms. I was looked at speculatively and was even told (by a female no less) that I belonged back on the beginner side.
One day, a female partner and I played against two experienced male partners. We won the game; afterward one of the men began coaching us on how to improve our game.
Yesterday, I played mixed doubles with a 4.5 level player. He made three successive errors. Two balls in the net. One ball out of bounds. We then had a long rally and it ended with me hitting the ball in the net. My male partner was visibly irritated, threw up his arms, and asked, "How could you do that?" I then reminded him I said nothing about his three previous errors. We ended up winning that match; afterwards, I realized that I had played a great game. But I didn't hear that from my partner. Some men are not positive or encouraging; they will capitalize on a female's errors while minimizing their own shortcomings.
If men can recognize this and change the dynamics, it would only be to their benefit--they would probably win more games! For myself, I realize that I have to take care of me, to try and own who I am and my capabilities and not get bogged down or insecure due to sexism. It is not easy!
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