Falcon Sports

Breaking Through The Scrum Of Sexism

by Sophie Diaz (’24) & Ainsley Fong (’24) While women’s flag football is gaining attention and resources, women’s high school rugby barely gets any support from high schools, despite being better established at the collegiate level and longer-standing in the Olympics. Flag football is seen as a high school girls’ alternative to football and is […]

by Sophie Diaz (’24) & Ainsley Fong (’24)

While women’s flag football is gaining attention and resources, women’s high school rugby barely gets any support from high schools, despite being better established at the collegiate level and longer-standing in the Olympics.

Flag football is seen as a high school girls’ alternative to football and is similar in structure to football — both have quarters, touchdowns, and punts. But it’s hard to argue that the sports are the same because flag football lacks tackling, a cornerstone element of American football.

Rugby, however, abides by the same rules and structure for men and women at all levels: from U10 to professional leagues, with no differences due to ideas about women’s capability.

We asked a few of our teammates on the Land Park Harlequins, a local women’s club rugby team, about their experiences with sexist reactions people have had to them playing rugby. Morgan Saylors recalled how someone once told her “I didn’t know girls could play that” when she told someone she plays rugby. Reactions like this one are not rare either. At a rugby tournament in the Bay Area, a few girls from Carondelet High School recalled responses of “Oh, that’s a thing? Girls can play rugby?” when they told people they play the sport. Emily Katavake from the Sac PAL Amazons rugby club was also told by some of her school football team “isn’t that a man’s sport?” when she answered their question of what sport she plays. Emily was just shocked because some people don’t think that girls can play contact sports”. As Lauren McQuoid puts it, a lot of people are wary about women’s rugby because of their “ignorance to how awesome girl’s contact sports can be”.

When we asked Morgan about who doubts women can play rugby, she told us: “boys. All boys. No girl has ever been mean about it…they’re all supportive while all the boys are like ‘oh really that’s a thing?’”

Societal expectations and gender norms can create powerful biases people don’t even realize they have — even from girls. Our generation didn’t grow up seeing women in contact sports being accepted by peers. Television shows like Bella and the Bulldogs and Liv and Maddie, media depicting women in contact sports, has the fact that they are anomalies as the basis of the plot. The narrative in the media is that jocks try out for football and are heroes if they make varsity, flaunting their letter on a jacket. It’s rare to see a spot on the rugby team as sought after or exclusive; it’s even rarer to see women going out for the team. This parallels our experience. We’ve never heard of boys sending other boys articles entitled “Top 5 Reasons You Should Let Your Son Play Football,” which is one recruitment tactic we are all too familiar with.

We knew going into this article that people are not always very welcoming of girls playing rugby, but we were still shocked by the extent of it. We interviewed over a dozen girls who play rugby, and every single one had a story or experience with people being surprised that girls can, in fact, play rugby. Even one of our teammate’s brothers, Sammie Enochia, has encountered this inequality. When people learn Sammie plays rugby, they may express concern about its lack of pads, but as soon as he mentions that his sister Shea plays the sport, they respond that they “[didn’t know] girls can play”, making it clear that this is a gender issue.

Most of the people that are surprised that girls and women play rugby are not just the really sexist people — some of them are even feminists. Sexism is prevalent not just in big ways, like not hiring women for jobs, but also in the small ways like the way we talk about women’s sports. So next time someone brings up women’s sports, what will you talk about? Whether women playing a sport is a surprise? About what they were wearing? Or about their accomplishments and what they have done in that sport?

It’s not bad that flag football is receiving all this support. As Morgan puts it, supporting flag football is “still great” but she wishes rugby could get this same support too. (Shoutout to the CB flag football team: section champions their first year!)

The women’s flag football, volleyball, and track and field teams aren’t the only championship winners this year, though. Our rugby team also won our championships with an undefeated season of 17-0 with a total point difference of 513 to 46.

The best way for women’s rugby to be taken more seriously is to grow the sport. Take women’s soccer as an example. In 1921, the Football Association of English football (FA) banned women from using soccer pitches, citing how the sport was “unsuitable for females” and could damage their bodies, making them unable to have children. Come the 1970s, however, women held unofficial soccer games that drew large crowds with up to 100,000 fans in attendance. Seeing their field-ban’s futility, the FA lifted this restriction in 1971.

And the rest is history! Women’s soccer began being taken more seriously because of a grassroots movement to defy the restrictions on the sport. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are household names. We owe it to the trailblazers of women’s athletics before us to do the same with women’s rugby.

The club team we play for, the Land Park Harlequins, is just one such high school team that acts as a pathway to expanding the sport. The Harlequins are always looking for new players and welcome people of all levels; whether you’re a seasoned player or a total newbie who has never touched a rugby ball in your life, we have a jersey for you! Check us out on Instagram at lpharlequins. We LOVE new players!

And this is just the start of why rugby is so great — you can expect radical acceptance from any rugby team because it’s a growing sport. It’s common for even rival teams to be on good terms with each other and support each other because we all know what it’s like to be dismissed for playing a women’s contact sport. We all have the common goal of wanting to further women’s rugby, creating a sense of community amongst teammates and even across teams as opposed to the sometimes hyper-competitive environments other sports can have. How many times have you ended up complimenting someone on a rival team for beating you up on the field before hugging them, following them on Instagram, and sharing a meal with them afterwards?

This is why this article is five months in the making, why our volunteer coaches invest so much time and energy into our team, and why we won’t shut up about rugby: because there’s no community like a rugby team. Sarah Ngo, who plays on the Zionsville Rugby Club of Indiana, says the people are “very supportive and welcoming”. Kayden VonSchoech (‘24) agrees and feels that “differences are celebrated” in the world of rugby. Morgan says she has “made many friends” by playing rugby. Logan Purser sees her team as “essentially a second family”. Wesley Hilger, our coach, says he has watched players who “embrace the ethos of rugby” grow into “better people off the field”.

Women athletes shouldn’t be seen as the backup plan or the second option. We won’t settle for the status quo of women’s rugby being seen as of any less importance than men’s contact sports.

Will you?

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Written by Talon Staff