Separate but Unequal: The Sexism in Forcing Women to Play Softball

tonistoneI can hardly convey the long-awaited validation I felt this morning when I woke up to find Emma Span’s New York Times Op-Ed piece, Is Softball Sexist? In this article she lays out a very articulate explanation of how women were forced out of playing the sport of baseball, and why the option to play softball does not justify that exclusion. As a young girl, I was one of the best players on my co-ed little league team, 95% of which was boys, and when I aged out of the league, the only option for me was softball. My mother offered to fight the all boys “Babe Ruth” league to allow me in, but in imagining the struggles that would endure even if I won, I abandoned the sport all together. Today, I play softball in a recreational “beer” league, and have often scolded myself for not pursuing softball at 13, with my whiny justification, “but I don’t want to play softball, I want to play baseball!” Thank you Emma Span for reminding me that “there is no reason but sexism” that women/girls are forced out of baseball.

Both men and women swim, ski, snowboard and run marathons and sprints. Both play tennis and soccer and basketball. Softball, though, is a completely distinct sport, with different pitching — underhand — and different equipment, including a larger ball. It also has shorter distances from pitcher to home plate and between bases, fewer innings and a smaller outfield. Yes, Division I softball is demanding, far from the beery fun of middle-aged weekend leagues. But the women’s version of baseball is not softball. It’s baseball.

Baseball evolved from the British game rounders, played by both girls and boys. Softball was invented in 1887 by men, though it came to be seen as an easier, “safer” and more modest game — more suitable, that is, to ladies.

The sporting-goods magnate A. G. Spalding, determined to turn baseball into a patriotic pastime, created the origin story of its invention in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, N.Y. Spalding proclaimed baseball to be not just all-American but also all-male: “A woman may take part in the grandstand, with applause for the brilliant play, with waving kerchief to the hero,” he wrote in his 1911 book “America’s National Game,” but she couldn’t actually play: “Base Ball is too strenuous for womankind.”


-Caterina Gironda, Assistant Editor

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