Editorial

My personal experience with gender equity in Frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee allowed me to play on the same competitive stage as men

I started playing ultimate Frisbee in eighth grade. I had thrown a Frisbee around before, but I had never seen a game of ultimate. I was surprised to find that the sport was extremely athletic, entertaining, and better yet, it was co-ed.

Throughout my childhood, I had played pickup games of soccer, hockey, and basketball with boys, but this was the first sport that allowed me to play at a competitive level and on the same team as the boys. Grade eight was around the time that I started to really notice the split in boys’ and girls’ sports. Girls who had played baseball growing up started to switch to softball and many girls I knew who played hockey joined ringette. Frisbee allowed us to play together throughout high school, and competitively into the adult club scene.  

“…my coach taught us that we were equals on the field.”

From my first practice as an eager eighth-grader, my coach taught us that we were equals on the field. He encouraged us to throw to everyone and he would put the girls in dominant positions on the field that were typically viewed as male roles at the time. I was lucky to be coached by him at the provincial level in my later years, where he always told us that having the best girls wins games.

Fast forward a few years, I am now in my fourth year of university at Guelph. I play mixed (co-ed) ultimate in the summer and for the Guelph women’s team in the fall. However, our sport has changed. Mixed ultimate has become increasingly recreational as our sport has consistently put more emphasis on gender separation and specifically, more emphasis has been put on men’s ultimate. Last year, ultimate Frisbee received Olympic recognition as the International Olympic Committee valued the high level of co-ed competition that we can bring to the table. Despite that, our sport has created opportunities for men to play professionally and continues to move away from the balanced platform we once had.  

“Mixed ultimate has become increasingly recreational as our sport has consistently put more emphasis on gender separation…”

A few weeks ago, a group of high level players from all over the United States—men’s, women’s and mixed—released a gender equity statement calling for change in how broadcasting of ultimate prioritizes men’s games over women’s and mixed games. The statement discussed the imbalances in our sport, and some solutions that the community could use to work towards a more equitable future.

Although the statement has created new and important dialogue within the sport, I am still continuously experiencing indirect and direct sexisms towards myself and women in ultimate. When I started playing ultimate at Guelph, the women’s and men’s teams (we don’t have a mixed team) were like a family. We didn’t do everything together, but we supported each other by watching each other’s games and practicing together when we couldn’t get enough people at practice. Now, when one of those options is suggested by the women’s team, it is often denied with a string of excuses.

“…I am still continuously experiencing indirect and direct sexisms towards myself and women in ultimate.”

Somewhere along the way it was decided that we were no longer in the same realm as the men’s team. Not only do they not support us at tournaments, even though we still go and watch their games when we can, they appear to not want to associate with us in any form. I should say now that there are a select few men from the team who do support us, unfortunately their efforts are easy to overlook when I am constantly hearing negative comments about women’s ultimate from other players on their team.

Overhearing, and being told to my face, that women’s ultimate is a joke is hurtful at best. How would you feel if someone told you that something you dedicate hours of your life to is a joke?

“Somewhere along the way it was decided that we were no longer in the same realm as the men’s team.”

I don’t play ultimate as a hobby. This is a sport that I love and have invested in. Why is it that these comments get thrown around without challenge from other men on the team? It is hard to attend tournaments and watch almost every other university program support each other. Women watching the men’s games when they have a break, and the men’s team watching their women’s team play during their breaks, it looks like a reality I could only dream of for Guelph ultimate.

The lack of respect I feel from many of our male counterparts is a daily distraction. It is a time consuming stressor that weighs down on me every time I arrive at practice. Showing up to practice and wondering, “What comment am I going to hear today?” is unnerving. Ultimate is in a position to set a tone for many other sports, yet I feel devalued as a women’s player by the comments and actions made by our men. Many of these comments aren’t made with the intention of causing hurt, however, it is nearly impossible not to take them personally as a woman who wants to compete at the highest level I can in this sport.

“…is a sport truly growing if it is only prioritizing one gender?”

I started playing ultimate Frisbee because it put me on an equal playing surface with men. Frisbee allowed me to compete against the top men and women in the country and to better myself as an athlete and as a person. When our sport decided to prioritize men’s ultimate over women’s and mixed, it created negative changes in our community that have hindered the sport more than it has grown. The introduction of professional leagues and broadcasting of high level men’s ultimate has been good for advertising our sport, but is a sport truly growing if it is only prioritizing one gender? We need to continue to ask the important and hard questions within the ultimate community and to hold people accountable for sexisms in the sport, whether they are direct or indirect.


Photo courtesy of Ed Kung.

42 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Such a precise and well written commentary, I really appreciated this unique point of view on equality in sport and how it relates to us as a school. We can and should do so much better, thank you for taking a stand on this!

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    Thanks for posting this. I think the first step to making change in co-ed sport and moving things towards greater gender equality is admitting there’s a problem. I appreciate your perspective on where you’ve come from with the sport and some ways that things can change (i.e. more equitable media coverage). Keep advocating for change, and thanks again for sharing!

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    I don’t agree with this article at all to be honest. Just because the guys team doesn’t watch your games doesn’t make them sexist. It means that they simply do not want to watch your games. Plus you talk about comments you receive from guys. The thing is that everyone faces adversity in life and are told they can’t do it. It’s up to you to ignore what those people say and show them that they are wrong. Complaining about it in a article is just asking for people to coddle you and does nothing to help you

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      No thats not how this works. Men are bad and you are wrong for being a man, you have invaded the author’s safe space.

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      No she is entitled to go through her life and not have to deal with MEN bringing her down! Its unnerving to hear men say bad things about her.

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        So it’s only men that can bring her down? Seems like there is a sexism right there in saying that. Women can bring other women down just as well as men can, so let’s chill a sec and not blame it on the guys, comments come from both sexes.

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      Noah, clearly you have not read this article thoroughly. The author has explained that there is systemic sexism within the sport of ultimate, and that she is aware just how much the culture has changed in recent years. I was never fortunate enough to play ultimate at UofG (I came into the sport in my mid twenties and wish I could have experienced the camaraderie I witnessed between my friends on both the male and female squads, then referred to as MEAT and LOAF, respectively). The problem extends beyond that at UofG to Ultimate Canada. Also, Becky titles her article with the terms “My experience”, and she is entitled to share her feelings and personal anecdotes in an editorial piece. I think she is to be commended for sharing how many of her ultimate counterparts – both male and female – have felt or currently feel. I wonder, if the author of this article had been male, would you have been so quick to dismiss his argument?

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        ‘I wonder if the author of this article had been male’

        If a man came and made sweeping generalizations about womens sports in this way he would be executed.

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          Becky has not made sweeping generalisations about men’s sport. In fact, this article was not about men’s sport – it was about a lack of gender equity given to mixed and women’s. In Becky’s own experience, the lack of respect she had received from male teammates is sad. And, yes, the root cause is sexism. Because women’s sport is less respected than men’s. Ultimate, as such a young sport, has the opportunity to be shaped in an equal way, and yet the men continue to dominate the conversation.

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          And that would be the right thing to do! End the patriarchy once and for all!

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          Not sure if you actually read the piece, or if its even possible to put enough disclaimers like “Many of these comments aren’t made with the intention of causing hurt” and “I should say now that there are a select few men from the team who do support us” to adequately protect your feelings. Some things sound like generalizations simply because they are so systemic and widely experienced, and that’s a real shame.

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      The comments the guys make have very little to do with what the author is trying to get across in the article. All she is trying to tell you is how she’s upset that the men’s ultimate is growing instead of the co-ed when co-ed was the nature of this sport

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        Co-ed hasn’t disappeared. There are mixed leagues that many people watch and play in. Are you trying to say that ultimate isn’t allowed to have a mens division? Who cares what the nature of the sport is, if men’s ultimate is gaining popularity over other divisions then so be it.

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    Well written, and very disturbing. As a veteran of the Guelph Ultimate club at a time when things were very much viewed equally, the comments in this article make me very sad. When I played with the team, not only did we support each other, but we even practiced together. Although we did split off to work separately since we weren’t actually a mixed team, we ran our warm ups and cool downs together. We even ran the occasional scrimmage together for fun. We hosted the annual Gut Rot tournament, which was (is?) a mixed tournament. We hung out as a team together. I’m very sad to hear this is no longer the case, and am thankful that I went through at a time when we viewed each other as equals. I hope you will continue to fight for a better ultimate community at the University of Guelph, because that is truly the spirit of Ultimate.

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    Very interesting write Rebecca. I also play university ultimate and I am very sorry to hear that your experience is not living up to what it should be. Ultimate is an amazing sport but what is really memorable are the wonderful people you meet along the way. I hope you have met some wonderful people. It’s too bad that these comments have been made from some of the boys. I hope you have discussed this issue with them pre article to clear the air. At the same time, I am personally connected to a couple of the Guelph players and it pains me to see them being called out when I know that they have never made a poor comment towards women’s ultimate. Some of those players have supported me since I started (grade 9), and I would hate for them to be labelled sexist. I really hope the two teams can reconnect and fix the past

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    Those were all great points! With a little hard work maybe you guys can be as popular as the WNBA!

  7. Avatar

    Glad to see this is the kind of news site where the author can call make sweeping generalizations about a large group of people and the comment sections have moderators to squash conflicting opinions. Go back to tumblr

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      pointing out sexism in sports is not a sweeping generalization: It is a fact. Sexism in most areas, whether they be sports, academia, or the corporate world, is also a fact. It is also not up to men to devalue the experiences of women. Ever since Canada became a country it has been plagued with sexism. It is up to us today to let women reach their potential in whichever area they choose.

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      Its an editorial. About her personal experience and changes that she has witnessed in her sport. The thing about personal experience is that it is, in fact, personal and you do not get to tell someone what they have and haven’t experienced. Rebecca has put her experiences in the context of undeniable inequalities in coverage and a one-sided evolution of a sport with multiple disclaimers that her observations do not apply to the entire sport or even the entire men’s team. As for moderation, your comment got through did it not? I’m seeing plenty of discussion and differing opinions here friend.

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    Wow this is an embarrassingly naive article. Any sport that wants to grow in popularity has to demonstrate talent and excitement. So if one gender is more talented at a sport, clearly that gender is going to be prioritized, especially when creating professional leagues. Can you think of another successful sport from a viewership standpoint that focuses on women? Or even mixed? No, because people want to see the best of the best compete. Stop complaining about “sexism” that is realistically just basic anatomy differences

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      gymnastics? Women’s tennis? There are many sports with prominent female athletes. Maybe the issue is not anatomy, maybe the issue is the patriarchy.

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        Yeah those sports don’t even get as many viewers as NASCAR…

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        Elsie the WTP doesn’t compete with the ATP in terms of viewership, endorsements and prize money. While the WTP does prioritize women because it is the WOMEN’S tennis association, the sport of tennis is still dominated by their male counterparts in worth and popularity. And since I watch tennis frequently I’ll tell you that the women of the sport would get dominated if they played the men and if you’re going to call that comment sexist then I think you have the wrong idea of what sexism is. Serena Williams = An incredible athlete who is virtually untouchable in women’s tennis. Now let’s see her play a game against Djokovic. Men’s sports get prioritized because in most cases it is played at a higher level.

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      Man all she’s saying is that she wants to go back to the nature of the sport and that is co-ed and not just a men’s team. This sport was made to be co-ed but it’s now focused on men’s because people think it’s better but if you see two great co-ed teams playing against each other there is a very little difference than men’s. ya sure they aren’t as fast or tall as us but man can they ever throw and catch. There should be a national co-ed league not just a men’s league I agree with her

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      Your view that men are more talented are sport is the reason that articles like this need to be written.

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      We live in a world of structural inequality that goes far beyond “anatomy”, that extends from underfunded girls sports programs to these sorts of attitudes being expressed to young women over and over again until they drop out of sports they love because they are only ever told that their unique skill sets and diverse talents will never measure up to male anatomy. Gender integration in ultimate was one of the things that made it so uniquely popular to begin with- the best of the best of all the unique things men AND women bring to athletics. And its sad that that spirit is getting drowned out by embarrassingly naive attitudes like these.

  9. Avatar

    Well written! I think the gap that is clear both from your article and from observation is high level mixed ultimate at the college level. More players are playing competitively and mixed in high school and then are split onto single-gender teams in college.

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    If you’re all for equality just go play in the open league. You refer to it as the mens team but forget to mention that its open and everyone is allowed to join… you’re not for equality. You’re for equality when its convenient for you.

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      Open leagues could have been specifically mentioned here, yes, but unfortunately as a woman you aren’t actually allowed to play open (at least in university) unless there is no women’s team available to you. So no, everyone isn’t allowed to join any open team they like.

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        I know for a fact that what you just said is not true. Besides Laurier’s player who is one of the best on her team, many others have played on guys teams outdoors and in the indoor 4×4 university series (Carleton, Ryerson). Check your facts.

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          Absolutely, She is one of the best players on Laurier. There is however, no Laurier women’s team. In the past, there used to be no women’s team at other schools as well. I don’t know if the addition of women’s teams changed the rule, or if that has always been present. I absolutely believe than anyone can play and compete in open, I just also believe that it is not as straight forward as it seems.

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      I don’t believe it is as simple as just choosing to play open rather than women ‘s. For school’s that have both a women’s and an open division, talented female players are expected to remain with the women’s program and play at a lower level of competition for the sake of benefitting the team rather than playing at a more intense or competitive open level where they will have a greater opportunity to develop their personal skill.

      Having had the opportunity to watch teams like UofT at the CUUC series this year, it is quite obvious that they have many players who are at a higher level of skill than many male players, yet since this team is very successful, these women are expected to remain with the team in order to ensure their team wins rather than look at their own development where they might find open to be a more challenging environment.

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    Dear Ms. Thompson,

    I just want to be upfront and honest. There is an issue in almost every sport with gender equality, and some are more prevalent than others. Ultimate has been striving for equality for a long time, but in recent years it has been an increasing struggle and should most certainly be discussed. Unfortunately, in your article you use sexism and social media as a vice to get your way instead discussing your concerns like and adult.

    You bring up three arguments that cause you to generalize the entire team as sexist:
    1. They don’t watch your games while you watch theirs.
    2. They don’t participate in social events with you.
    3. They make snide remarks about women’s ultimate behind your back (allegedly) as well as to your face.

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    Part 2:

    Does the men’s team not watching your games make them sexist? What if they were watching other women’s games like a girlfriend’s game, an old friend’s game or a sister’s game are they excused from being sexist? Is there is a possibility that the players on the Guelph team do not feel a bond with you and other players on the women’s team? Are they sexist? Or do they simply not like you?

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    Part 3:

    Your third point is the pinnacle of your argument and it is where the team is the most in the wrong. This type of behavior is unacceptable and should be stopped. However, going to social media and pointing fingers saying “Hey look at how bad these people are” is by far the absolute worst way of dealing with those issues. You are ostracizing people from a community, trying to make people feel horrible, and trying to get your way. You are dealing with your problems like a child. The right thing to do would be to sit down, possibly with a mediator and have a conversation with the leaders of the men’s team to deal with the comments and put an end to them.

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    Part 4:

    If someone holds a gun to your head and made you be their friend are you really their friend? Or are you just pretending to be their friend so you don’t get shot? That is essentially what you have done with this article. You took a very real injustice and flipped it into a bomb that you strapped to the University of Guelph’s Men’s Ultimate Team in order to get your way. Instead of acting like a respectable adult you used social media and gave them a choice between doing things your way or being labeled as sexist and a “bad person” in the entire ultimate community. You used fear to get what you wanted, which was the respect from the men on the team. Respect must be earned, it cannot be bullied out of someone.

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    Part 5:

    As a reader of the Guardian, it would make me happy if you did two things. First, admit that you wrote this article out of out of rash emotion to lash out at a few players on the team. Second, confronting those players directly and talking it out for their benefit as well as yours.