Women and men are different, so they should play differently
I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can’t get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends.
We are not raising our daughters to be “fighters” the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons.
Women shouldn’t be men, and vice versa
The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her.
Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn’t even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, “If she gets out on the field, don’t go near her, and don’t tackle her. Just stand out of her way.” Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one.
But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women.
Positive character traits
So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out.
I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics.
And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity.
Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes, (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts.
Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons.
Questions for discussion
- There is one line in this article that upset many readers: “When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys.” It struck some as demeaning, elevating how a girl looks (how pretty!) over how a girl performs. But is that the author’s point? If the girls themselves had made this decision, would it still be demeaning? Or courageous? Why?
- Our worth comes from being made in God’s Image (Gen. 1:26-28, Gen. 9:6). The world rejects Him, and instead grounds our worth on our abilities. That’s why abortion and euthanasia are permissible because the lives of the less able unborn and elderly are deemed as being less valuable. This “abilities-based worth” is also why the world pushes women into understandably male-dominated roles like soldiers or firefighters. They pretend women can do these jobs just as well as men, because to acknowledge otherwise would be to say that women weren’t as valuable as men – this godless understanding of our value pushes women to seek their value by acting like men. In the sports world that has led to girls trying out for high school football teams, and it’s now controversial to object. When we recognize that men and women get their worth, not from what we can do, but from Whose Image we reflect, should it still be controversial to say there are sports that women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author’s list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? What ones do you disagree with and agree with? Why?
- What are differences between “godly femininity” and the world’s feminism?
- The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. If you don’t like these examples, can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports?
- What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? The world says that men and women are not different, and certainly haven’t been called to different roles. Meanwhile, God’s people know that He has not only given men and women different roles but also made them different in some notable ways. But are the genders’ differences something that has implications for the sports field?
- Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?
Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).