Thursday, July 2, 2009

Field Theory

This week, I had the pleasure of playing in the Mud Cup, the semi-annual soccer game played between the two departments at my former place of employment. One of the rules we have adopted is that each team must field a minimum of two women at any time. This form of affirmative action is necessary because while we can claim equality in terms of intellectual ability, you can't get around the fact that men are generally faster and stronger. It's meant to be a friendly game of soccer rather than a high-stakes competition, and we women would like to get the chance to play, hence the rule.

At the post-game party, I got to talking with a friend who coaches his sons' soccer teams. One year, his team practiced at the same time and place as a girls' team. The coaches got the teams together to play scrimmages against each other. My friend noted that the boys would either get super-aggressive against the girls, or back off completely. "These guys here do the same thing," I replied, indicating the soccer players around us.

It seems to me that this sort of attitude carries over from the soccer field into science, too. Some male scientists feel threatened by women who compete with them, and aggressively attack the women's ideas. Some take a condescending attitude toward women scientists, along the lines of, "oh how cute, she's trying to act like a scientist," and they dismiss the women's ideas altogether. Fortunately, though, there are also those who treat us with respect as colleagues, or even competitors, on an equal footing.

To conclude, I'll mention that while my team was vastly outnumbered by our opponents, meaning that we had far fewer players to substitute in. We ended up having to substitute women in for men, and by the end we had five women on the field to their three. Still, we came out victorious. It only goes to show that women's contributions can be invaluable, whether on the soccer field, or in the field of science.


Mrs. CH said...

Interesting that you found that men are overly aggressive in this game. I've been playing on a co-ed soccer team for 4 years now and I find the total and exact opposite:

The women are the overly aggressive players - getting their elbows up, pushing, shoving, yelling, cursing at each other (especially toward the males) and the refs. It's awful!

My husband joined a mens soccer league this year and it is just so much better! Yes, there are aggressive instances, but it's fair play (i.e., they play the ball, not the body/player), and once the game is over, it's left on the field.

I don't know what it is, but women do not play the game as well - and I don't mean skills, I mean sportsmen-like. It drives people away from playing in co-ed leagues.

Anyway, perhaps your instance was different because it sounds like it's a one-time thing. Very interesting though!!

Hannah said...

Mrs. CH: I think the difference is that this game consisted of a bunch of scientists who play soccer on occasion, versus people who are serious enough about soccer to join a league. I only play soccer about twice a year, and it's for this series. With this bunch of people, it's definitely the men who are more aggressive.

Your observations are interesting, too! I'm sure there's lots of interesting psychology going on there.

zandperl said...

I'm not sure that gender quotas in sports are a good fix. I find that usually when there is a gender quota, we have a difficult time fielding sufficient women, with the result that as one of the few women I am forced to be on the field even when I am on the edge of falling over. In addition, the men on the team usually cover the opposing men, so that I have to cover a woman on the other team, even when ability-wise I would be better matched with a man.

I can imagine analogies in the science field (though I do not have as much direct experience) if there is a quota of women: that women may feel obligated to take on more work than if women were selected more naturally, or may feel obligated to collaborate with or compete against women rather than men.