How Male Allies can Support Women in Ultimate: 6 Tips
By: Jeff Babbitt, in collaboration with Tulsa Douglas
This summer at the National Ultimate Training Camp (NUTC), we held weekly gender equity meetings where we defined the term and shared personal experiences. The counselors opened the floor to the campers to ask questions and share their own stories. Most of the time, the open discussion provided a platform for young women to share the challenges they face as female athletes. This empowered them to have a voice and have their experiences heard. It became evident that many of the young men in the room felt too guilt-stricken or uncomfortable to join in the discussion. It was the first time they realized women have different experiences in ultimate. Most teenage boys do not think about equity in sports. As males, they have received support from family, friends, and media throughout their athletic careers. During this discussion, they became aware that their female counterparts do not always receive the same support. Even as an older male counselor at the camp, I felt out of place and nervous to comment on the subject. Because of these eye-opening discussions, I have learned how males can help by acting in the best way possible to make females feel supported, valued, and equal.
Simple Actions for Male Allies
- Ask Questions. One of the best things you can do is ask how you can help a female athlete feel comfortable participating in a sport. Less women play sports than men often due to unwelcoming environments. By asking questions, we can work to create a positive experience for all athletes.
- Go to their games and be a presence on their sideline. Recently I spent some time teaching ultimate frisbee in gym classes. While there, I befriended the regular Physical Education teacher who happened to also be the Women’s Varsity Field Hockey coach. During one session this teacher explained to me that her young women played poorly the night before because they all wanted to rush through their game so they could go watch the boys football game, which some of their boyfriends were playing in. Sadly it is ingrained in our culture that women watch men play but not vice versa. Very few, if any boys attended the women’s field hockey game to support their friends, yet the women felt as though they should sacrifice their game so they could go support the men playing in the football game. Ideally both men and women support each other equally at games. So men, go to women’s games to cheer them on and support, just like they do for you.
- Support women’s sports other than ultimate. Follow the women’s pro leagues. The WNBA finished up this fall with a memorable series between the Minnesota Lynx and the LA Sparks and women’s professional soccer is on the rise! Serena Williams just won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and is one of the best tennis players of all time, regardless of gender. Check these out. Learn the names of female athletes, just like you learn the names of male athletes. Don’t just retweet and share amazing plays on social media made by males. Find female athletes to follow and seek out their storylines. Help grow the fan bases. Go to games; tickets are cheap. Support matters.
- Seek out and discuss topics related to gender equity in a broader context. Even if you have a different point of view, having civil and intellectual discussions about equity can go a long way. Engage in open dialogues with members of the opposite sex to attempt to understand their perspectives and experiences.
- Reflect on your vocabulary. Words can be belittling and offensive. Some words are obvious, but many are more discreet. Here are some examples of words and phrases that should be removed:
i. OBVIOUS NOs: Bitch, pussy, cunt, whore, slut… you get the idea
ii. DISCREET BUT STILL NOs:
a. Man defense (call it person defense)
b. When you have your team gathered and you say “okay guys listen up” when referring to more than one sex. (Okay “everyone” or “y’all” instead)
c. Mansplaining: Explaining something in a condescending way because you’re speaking to a female.
6. Treat women and men the same on the field. Everybody makes mistakes, but the way we react should be the same, no matter who it is. Currently, men are told to “get it back on D,” while women get a patronizing “good try.” When women mess up they are expected to apologize, and often have to work twice as hard to earn back the trust of their male teammates. On the other hand, when men make mistakes they are able to simply shrug it off. Throw to women who are open like you throw to men who are open.
As a male who has previously said things and acted in ways that I currently regret, it is important to understand that we can learn and help others improve. Regardless of past positions, values can change and new viewpoints can be taken. It is possible to change, and I’m still working on it. Humility and self-awareness are important in moving forward. As male ultimate players it is our duty to help other men recognize their privilege and it’s our responsibility to support women in achieving the equity they deserve. Society has ingrained in men from a young age that it is okay to objectify and disparage the female sex. The small steps we take to treat fellow ultimate players with respect can contribute to a larger societal shift towards more equitable treatment of women.
Note: There are many members of the ultimate community who don’t identify with the binary terms used above. These tips encourage respect among all ultimate players.