Throughout history, men and women have been separated in the world of sports. Oftentimes, women were not allowed to play, and when they were, they were only allowed to play with other women because of differences in perceived ability. If men
and women were to play against each other, it is believed that the playing field would not be equal. Similarly, within the world of physical education, students are divided and stigmatized on the basis of gender.
Sexism, or discrimination against people based on their gender, affects women in particular and permeates many aspects of people’s lives, such as within the workplace, amongst friends, or in organized athletics.
Many students at Clinton have noted multiple instances of sexism (deliberate or unintentional) during P.E. class. According to students, certain girls are favored when they ask to sit out, seemingly because they are more feminine. Also, students have noticed P.E. teachers dividing male students into equal numbers among different teams.
Luna Rodriguez, a tenth grader, stated that she’s “noticed a lot of sexism within the gym classes due to the fact that people tend to associate the female [students] with … a weak and imbalanced ability of performing at certain sports.” Rodriguez recalled a time a gym teacher added a boy to her team to balance the game, in what appeared to be a focus on gender instead of strong players.
One student who asked to remain anonymous recalled being teased by a P.E. teacher when she asked to sit out of gym activities because of pain from menstrual cramps. Students seem to have varying opinions about how teachers should handle students who ask to sit out as a result of menstrual cramps. One student suggested that as long as the student has a note signed by a parent/guardian, the student should be allowed to sit out. Another student argued that no matter what the situation is, the student should be allowed to sit out, even without a note, because menstrual cramps are a personal health problem.
“I think a possible way to eliminate sexism in P.E. class would be to have equal opportunities for boys and girls to demonstrate and participate,” said another Clinton student. She explained that during P.E., male students “are almost always chosen to demonstrate new activities” while girls are only chosen if they volunteer. She also noticed the boys’ basketball team getting more attention than the girls’ team, citing the boys getting higher quality uniforms, while the girls received only T-shirts. The boys basketball team also competes in a city league, while the girls team does not.
“Teachers should make their picks for demonstrations diverse in that it doesn’t lean towards one gender,” stated George Weathers III, another tenth grader. Though he hasn’t personally observed any instances of sexism in P.E., he offered some thoughts on how teachers can encourage equal participation from all genders. “Obviously, volunteers should be the first priority, but if a teacher realizes that there is an abundance of volunteers from one gender … [they should] pick on students from the other gender to balance it.” With regard to games, Weathers thinks that “teachers shouldn’t allow any pre-conditioned beliefs to affect team choices or gameplay.”
When asked about the topic of sexism in P.E., Mr. Tyler Spielberg, upper grades P.E. teacher, and Mr. Christopher Jacobi, middle grades P.E. teacher, agreed that sexism does occur in gym. Both are making an effort to make Clinton students’ P.E. experience better than theirs, in terms of discrimination based on gender.
“I think it’s important that regardless of skill level, all students will always have an equal opportunity to participate in P.E. activities,” stated Mr. Spielberg. “I’m more concerned with allowing students to have the chance to learn how to play certain sports or activities but have fun at the same time while doing it. … It’s important that all students feel comfortable and are treated equally in P.E. class.”
Mr. Jacobi mentioned that during his time as a student in gym class, his teacher often pitted the girls against the boys, which he said encourages sexist aggression or comments like “throwing like a girl.” Nonetheless, Clinton teams have occasionally been created based on gender (girls versus boys).
Both gym teachers stated that they are open to speaking with any students who have any concerns about this topic, and that they will do whatever they can to keep sexism out of P.E. class. Spielberg pointed out, “P.E. class is an opportunity for students to play games but also have fun while learning skills that can be used in other areas of one’s life.”