What You Can Do Today: Tips on Gender Equity for Mixed Ultimate Players

Julie Sussman of Boston Slow White gets a poach d on Metro North's Chris Mazur. (Paul Andris, UltiPhotos)

Julie Sussman of Boston Slow White gets a poach d on Metro North's Chris Mazur. (Paul Andris, UltiPhotos)

What You Can Do Today: Tips on Gender Equity for Mixed Ultimate Players

by Natalie Jamerson, april 13, 2017

A note on gender binary: In this article, my terms and pronouns reflect the gender binary that is used in the mixed division, but I acknowledge the experiences of trans* athletes and others that are not represented by this binary. We are committed developing a community and division that are inclusive of people of all genders, races, and abilities.

Some may think, ultimate isn’t fun when we have to talk about gender. But for me, ultimate isn’t fun unless we talk about gender.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by conversations on gender equity and sexism in ultimate - it can feel too distant or too real, threatening or not important at all. But that’s what is key to understand: sexism affects each of us in different ways, and when we understand how we’re affected differently and play a more gender equitable game, we all win.

When we come to conversations about gender and sexism in ultimate, we must be prepared, thoughtful, and intentional about recognizing the privileges we hold and the lenses we use to view the world. Only in that way we can hear, learn, and grow.

A few months ago I helped start the newly-fledged Equity in Mixed Ultimate campaign, a project dedicated to developing resources and amplifying experiences of mixed players in our quest to work on gender equity in our division. One of my personal goals is to support our community in making that first step, in breaking down the barriers to having honest conversations that move our sport toward gender equality.

So if you’re looking for some first steps to get your started - or a few next steps to propel you into action - here are some things I suggest:

#1. Say person defense, not man.

We play a coed sport, so be inclusive! It’s a no brainer. Change that habit and call others out on it too.

#2. Read - and talk about what you read with your teammates.

Start an “article club” where you read one article a week, and then take an extra half hour before or after practice to talk about what you’ve read together. Oftentimes we can get stuck wondering what to talk about or what words to use, so reading with an open, pliable mind can help us all see another point of view, deepen understanding, develop empathy, and gain confidence talking about gender and sexism. Ask questions of each other like:

  • What was something you didn’t know before reading this article? Why do you think you didn’t know that previously?

  • What part of the article made you feel uncomfortable, challenged, or in disagreement? How can we work through those feelings to be more receptive to the author’s point?

  • How does the message of this article apply to your life, particularly as a frisbee player?

Reading and discussing improves our own ability in talking about gender and sexism. Additionally, digging into something new or uncomfortable with teammates can deepen relationships among players, enabling us to be better teammates on and off the field. Pro tip: create an offshoot male affinity group that provides the men on your team a chance to talk specifically about male anti-sexism work. But don't forget to be accountable to the women on your team through share outs.

Looking for places to get good articles? Check out everydayfeminism.com; use the search feature on Medium, Skyd, and Ultiworld to find articles on gender equity; and explore the new Equity in Mixed Ultimate website.

#3. Think about how, when, and why you’re speaking up.

You’d be hard pressed to find a mixed team where women, on the whole, speak up more than men. We shouldn’t put the blame on just one or two people - from a young age, boys are incentivized to take charge and girls to follow - but we can put the individual responsibility on each of us.

This is definitely not a call for men to be silenced, which is a common trope I hear when women say they’re not being heard or that men talk too much. The fine-I’ll-just-retreat-and-not-say-anything strategy is unhealthy and counterproductive. What this is is a call for men to be conscientious, intentional, and equitable. Reminder: equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful, equality is treating everyone the same. We don’t want a role reversal, but an awakening to see what women need to feel successful, supported, and valued.

Male-identified players: I know it’s hard, but I encourage you to view this not as an attempt to limit your contributions to the team. Find opportunities to draw out the perspectives and input from women on your team -  you may not know what smart strategies and creative ideas you’re missing by only hearing a few voices. In a huddle, give space for women’s voices before jumping in. As a captain, ensure you’re drawing on women to demonstrate drills and provide input. On the sideline, affirm not only the big plays made, but the consistent, positive contributions women make on the field. Off the field, talk with the other men on your team to provide feedback (e.g. “I noticed you cut off Katie when she was speaking up in the huddle) and accountability (e.g. “Let's keep track of how often we put ourselves vs. women in power positions on the field and then reflect on ways we can change that.”)

Female-identified players: We’ve gotta support and encourage each other on this one. When your female teammate speaks up, echo and affirm her point. In the huddle, I’ve found myself thinking, “I don’t need to contribute here because he probably knows better than I do,” or “he’s already talked for a long time so I don’t want to say anything because that will drag this out longer.” Don’t hold the responsibility for the ways that men take space in the huddle; instead show them that your perspective is important and valuable. Model ways to give positive feedback to other women and stand up for each other when a teammate isn’t being heard. Oh yeah, and don’t be afraid to use this online tool.

#4. Practice listening. No, really. Practice it.

There’s a reason it’s hard to talk about gender equity - it’s a direct challenge to the way that society has always operated. It’s standing up and saying, women deserve to be on this field just as much as men. Women deserve to have equal voice, equal opportunity, equal pay.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy task to push back against the status quo in male-dominated sports industry (otherwise, things would have changed already). This male-dominated culture, also known as patriarchy, disincentivizes us from talking about ways to change it. So a radical way we can challenge this is talking honestly and listening openly.

Here’s how we start to practice gender equity and challenge the patriarchy (also known as “hucking the patriarchy”):

Who: You, and anyone who has a lived experience different than you. So literally anyone.

When: Notice when you’re getting agitated or confrontational in a conversation, or when you’re talking with someone who has a different perspective on an issue - or generally when you’re a man talking with a woman.

Why: Listening to understand - instead of to reply - builds trust, allows us to be vulnerable and humble, expands our worldview, deepens our empathy, and makes us a better frisbee player in a co-ed setting. So let go of your ego, what you think you know, practice active listening, and turn that into action.

How: It takes work, so practice!

  • Set yourself up for success

    • Get rid of outside distractions

    • Send non-verbal messages that you are listening

  • Check your emotional response

    • Assume that what you’re hearing from the other person is true

    • Avoid getting defensive

    • Listen and observe for their feelings

    • Do not jump to conclusions or interrupt

  • Be careful to hear what they’re saying, not what you want to hear

    • Listen for the big picture, not the details

    • Avoid early evaluations

  • Make sure you hear them fully

    • Ask clarifying questions

    • Practice paraphrasing and repeating back what you heard

  • Figure out how to best respond - some options include:

    • Listen, support, empathize: “That sounds like it was really hard,” “It sucks that had to happen”

    • Affirm their feelings: “I feel similarly,” “I’ve also had experiences like that,” “I haven’t had experiences like that but I can only imagine”

    • Ask follow up questions: “How did that make you feel,” “What do you want to do about it”

    • Ask to give feedback: “I feel like I could add an idea, would you like to hear it,” “Do you want another perspective on this”

Working at these things is just the tip of the iceberg but also immensely important. We show intention when we use inclusive terms, such as person defense. We strengthen our understanding when we commit to reading and discussing. We show accountability when checking our airtime. We deepen our empathy when we listen. Truly listen.

There are benefits for all in doing the work of gender equity - think about that, what is in it for you in particular? How will you grow as an individual, as a player, as a teammate? How will you support the growth of our sport by committing to this work, not when it’s easy, but even more so when it’s hard?

Find your next step and take it. Join in the conversation through the Equity in Mixed Ultimate campaign, we want to hear from you on how this goes.

Tweet one thing you’re committing to do to engage in this work - @emucampaign. Follow and engage on Facebook for more articles and ways to learn. Let’s move forward together!

Natalie Jamerson is co-founder of Equity in Mixed Ultimate, a campaign to support mixed players in the work of gender equity. She has helped start and captain (and drive conversations on feminism and sexism, duh) on Birdfruit, a Seattle mixed team. When not playing frisbee, she’s doing graphic design and storytelling work for an organization committed to environmental and racial justice. When not doing all of that, she’s playing with her lizard, Taco, who eats way healthier than she does.