Girls are being left out in PE, and here’s what we can do about it.
Anna J. Pruess, freshman student
The bright orange Frisbee flies through the air, landing neatly in the hands of a running boy who pivots to pass to his teammate. After another clean pass, the team is close to the end zone. One of the boys runs into the endzone, and immediately, three boys from the other team close in on him, obscuring him from the thrower’s sight. Noticing the situation, one of the girls sprints to the endzone and calls out for the pass. With none of the opponents keeping an eye on her, she is in prime position to receive the pass – but it goes to the boy. The pass is blocked and the other team has possession of the disk.
In the gym, groups of students are playing volleyball. As their teacher looks on, two boys seem to be dominating the court with their skill – until they are blocked by the other team. Their opponents serve, and one of the girls on the receiving team calls “Mine!” and moves into position. Before the ball even reaches her arms, one of the boys jumps in, passing the ball to his teammate, who sets it. The boy that received the ball then runs in front of the girl in the middle position and smashes the ball down onto the opponents’ court, scoring his team a point. But is he really playing with his team?
Scenes like this are common in AIS high school physical education classes. Co-ed teams are organized by the teacher, but the girls always seem to be pushed to the sidelines, even when they’re on the court or field. Male students tend to dominate the game and, unknowingly or not, leave the girls out. Female students often touch the ball less and are less involved in the matches during PE, but this does not mean they are not interested in sports or that they don’t care about the class – on the contrary, many high school girls are involved in sports and try to get a good grade in physical education. Why, then, are female students excluded like this? And why doesn’t anybody do anything about it?
“I don’t think the boys notice what they’re doing, most of the time. They think they’re including the girls, but really, they’re just ignoring them subconsciously. They’re so used to playing with other boys that even when girls are on the field, they only see the other boys as teammates or opponents,” says one student who takes PE at AIS, offering an interesting perspective. She thinks that maybe, boys don’t include the girls in their class as often because they’re not used to seeing them as equal teammates or opponents. This makes sense, since real sports teams are split by gender: girls play with other girls, while boys play with other boys. Another female student mentioned something else earlier in the year: “In Frisbee, the boys pass to each other and mess up all the time, but when they actually decide to pass to a girl, they give her a really crappy pass and of course she messes it up, because nobody could get that anyway, and then they never pass to her again.” It is already known that throughout time, women have had to work even harder than men just to be seen as equal to them, so it is no surprise that the same is happening in high school.
One girl complained after a PE class, saying, “The boys don’t take me seriously just because I’m a girl, even though I play just as well as they do! They don’t listen when I try to help them, either, and when we play volleyball, they don’t even trust me enough to spike, even though I play outside hitter on my team!”
This is a problem even in the world of professional sports, and there has been some research done on the topic, as well. Women’s sports matches do not get put on television as much as men’s do, and even though they are played in smaller stadiums than the men’s games, very rarely do the tickets sell out, according to CGTN.com. Additionally, Purdue University’s Professor Cheryl Cooky did a 25-year research project and came to the conclusion that only 2% of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” highlights were focused on female athletes. The world-famous tennis player Billie Jean King (who is known for beating a famous male player in a tennis match known as the “Battle of the Sexes”) said that female athletes get only 4% of all sports media coverage. Of course women’s sports are not as popular as men’s sports – they’re practically impossible to watch! This explains why not as many girls in high school have had as much prior experience in sports as boys have: they did not see it as an option, because they knew of so few great female athletes they could look up to.
PE classes are one of the most important places that all people can be introduced to the amazing world of sports. It is there that they learn the basics of sports. It is there that they learn to appreciate hard work and dedication to a sport, and they are able to smile once they finish their last lap around the field, sweat dripping off their face, cheeks flushed red, legs aching. It is there that they learn to work with a team, giving them valuable cooperation skills that are immensely useful in the “real” world. Therefore, it is in PE that all students should have equal opportunities to learn and improve, regardless of their gender. Girls should not be left out. They should be included as equal teammates and respected by their classmates. Here at AIS Vienna, great athletes grow, so let us not restrict that opportunity to only the boys. Give a girl a ball (or racket, or bat, or running shoes) and she will prove that girls can be strong, fierce, competitive, and successful in the world of sport, just like boys.
What can we do to help girls reach their full potential in PE?
As students and teachers at AISV, all of us can play a part in making physical education more equal and more enjoyable for everyone. From reminding the boys to include their whole team to putting more girls on a team together, there is so much we can do to make a change. To the male students: don’t forget the girls. They can make you win! PE is for learning and improving, and girls need that just as much as you do. One pass can make a difference, and if that one pass just so happens to be to a girl, good for both of you! To the female students: get out there! Boys often respond to strength and aggressiveness, so play hard and play aggressive. Run for the soccer ball. Keep dribbling that basketball and show them the coolest layup they ever saw. In volleyball, pull up your kneepads and get ready to dive to the ground to keep that ball up. Swing your racket hard in tennis. Push yourself to run faster than you thought you could and win that race. Show the boys that they need you on their team, and they’ll eventually realize that including you is one of the best choices they could make.
To the PE teachers: Motivate everybody to work with their team and cooperate, reminding them the whole purpose of PE class. Praise them for their cooperation and inclusion of everyone. Put more girls together on a team so they can keep the game going. Remind people during their games to make sure the whole team gets a chance to play, and if you spot someone dominating the game, call them out and make sure they understand what they are doing wrong. If we want our PE classes to be a positive, encouraging, and stimulating environment for learning to play sports and appreciating hard work, everyone has to work together to make it that way, and we need the help of our teachers to do that.
There are many powerful and inspiring female athletes in the world: the world-famous beach volleyball star, Kerri Walsh Jennings. The Olympic swimmer and five-time gold medal winner, Katie Ledecky. One of the world’s best tennis players to ever play the game, Serena Williams. The American gymnast Simone Biles, the Japanese volleyball players Saori Kimura and Mayu Ishikawa, and hundreds more. All these women started their journey of sport at one point in their life, and for teenagers now, PE can often be that point. Let us all make sure that every girl at AIS has the opportunity to discover a sport she loves and to play alongside the boys instead of behind them. After all, you never know – that girl in your PE class might end up winning a medal in the Olympics, so give her a chance.
All sources were accessed on 10/8/2020, and photos from the AISV PE Office were accessed on 10/20/2020.
“More Women Are Playing Sports. Why Is No One Watching?” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 9 Sept. 2019, http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/2019/0909/More-women-are-playing-sports.-Why-is-no-one-watching.
Wisgott, Sim Sim. “Less Money, No Headlines: Why Don’t Women’s Sports Get the Spotlight?” CGTN.com, 2017, 17:01, news.cgtn.com/news/3d6b6a4e3241544e/share_p.html.