Why I refuse to work with the AUDL

This week I’ve had several friends reach out to me separately asking for advice on what to do. In their respective cities, there’s been conversations and proposals for some version of an AUDL that includes women. (See Chicago Nemesis’ most recent statement and the dissolved Indianapolis women’s pro team.) That’s something I’ve had to deal with here in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Wind Chill’s attempts to partner with different women’s teams/organizations, and creation of an equity and community outreach group as a result.

And so we find ourselves in a dilemma: If we don’t help change it, then who will? If we don’t work to fix the AUDL, then the AUDL will continue to remain inequitable. But how do you fix a system that’s inherently broken? Can you?

How do we distinguish between actual progress and the facade of such? Where do we draw the line between our choice to participate and attempt to “fix things” on one hand, and becoming used as a checkbox for gender equity on the other? What levels of progress are we willing to accept and how much time will it take? Do we need to take small steps forward in hopes for a better future down the road and how do we measure success?

These are the dilemmas we face. A presentation of choice between either A or B. Now or never. We’re told something is better than nothing.

But what if we had more than two choices?

To be convinced that we have two options is to internalize what we’ve been taught, what we’ve been grossly misinformed of, and risk leaving more people behind in order to pull ourselves ahead. We’ve seen this before, over and over in various social movements. White women were given suffrage at the expense of Black women. Suffrage leaders juxtaposed themselves against Black men and women of color, claiming a particular type of woman should be allowed the right to vote — one that was respectable, middle-class, educated, and white — and that white women were more equipped to vote than Black men (who had the right to vote, though could not fully exercise it). And while women were granted the right to vote in 1920, federal and state policies like naturalization restrictions, poll taxes, and literacy tests prevented women of color from exercising their right to vote. But as the narrative goes, we learn that women gained suffrage in 1920 because of leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, without realizing that not all women could vote and that suffrage was predicated on the devaluation of people of color.

What does women’s suffrage in the US have to do with gender equity in ultimate?

I offer it as an example to help us think about our bold claims of progress for everyone. It’s necessary to ask ourselves — who do we claim to represent and who do we leave behind when we make choices to work within or outside the AUDL?

A rising tide lifts all boats — for many women facing this dilemma with the AUDL, this comes down to ‘something is better than nothing and this is good for everyone.’

We are presented with opportunities to showcase “women in ultimate,” but we need to first and foremost recognize that we do not speak for all women and we do not include all women. One showcase game and one year of a women’s professional team might increase visibility and opportunity, but if we want ultimate to grow, who is excluded from that growth? And what type of growth are we looking for? What are the stakes? What aspects of ultimate do we want to grow and which of those are we willing to lose? One game here and one team there might create more opportunities now, but what about one year from now? Five years from now?

A rising tide may lift all boats, but not all boats are the same and a rising tide doesn’t change the type of boat we’re in.

If the system in place is broken, what are the costs of trying to fix it rather than working outside of it? And what if we were to work outside of the AUDL?

Do we need to hitch ourselves to the AUDL in order to enact progress and change? Could we organize a showcase game without the AUDL claiming ownership to “progress?” Are we offered paid leadership roles that can enact structural change? How much of our energy, time, and resources are we investing in the AUDL when it could be invested in our respective club teams, college teams, leagues, youth scene, or in a community growth that includes more than a select group of people who are given a chance?

There is no one solution and there is no one way to go about change. The nuance of these arguments gets lost as we think about a “right way” to do things. Personally, I’ve come to believe that the AUDL is irredeemable and has consumed a significant amount of energy that could be used to address other issues in the ultimate community. But that doesn’t mean that’s the right answer. It’s important that we address our relationship to power, privilege, perspective, and position. Because progress and liberation look different based on your vantage point and your vision of liberation might be at the expense of someone else’s.

As we are presented with opportunities for change, we must distinguish whether our motivations are self-serving or if it’s to fulfill a larger goal of equity, and for whom. We must distinguish our motivations and think critically about the potential repercussions of our decisions. Because too often we justify the individual decisions we make by evoking rhetoric that it’s for the “greater good.” Will a women’s showcase game or the supposed end goal of a women’s team really change the structure that reproduces inequalities or does it reinforce them? Are we challenging the structures of inequalities or are we making temporary fixes? (After all, the AUDL is a structure that we saw built within this decade.) Or do we need to radically rethink our approach and work outside of the structure in order to affect change?