I am the third-base woman for the ONLY all-women baseball club in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m the one that can hear all the whispers from the all-male dugout right along my baseline.  Although, to be more accurate, they are more like blatant comments about “treating the girl’s nicely” or “[laughing], you got struck-out by a girl!”-the men that (won’t admit to us that they) have an issue with playing against women seem to think that the wired embroidery (fence) between me and them is a sound-proof, private space for sanctioned bigotry where their violent-against-me comments will magically die-off in the wire trim.

Well gentleman (if I can even call these people “gentleman”), I can hear you.

After months of training, I wondered if our season’s opener this past month would be any different than the year before.  We’ve been building our Women’s Baseball Club throughout the 2011-12 off-season, and we were regularly the only women in the sports practice center that were not either the token co-rec women players of the play-for-the-after-pub-bonding softball teams, or there purely for our roles as wives, mothers, and sisters organizing and supporting all-boy little league or high school teams.

Even still, I wondered if the pervasive misogyny that exists on every baseball diamond in the world would be slightly less violent toward me than the year before (I even hoped it would, although all the feminist women critical of patriarchy and power that are reading this are likely laughing that I’d even hope).

Playing on an all-women team in a sport that is highly gendered, and has a legacy of explicit exclusion of people like me is simultaneously empowering and destructive.  Although my first couple years of the sport was in T-ball little league, I was quickly told by my peers, coaches, friends, family and every cultural message that surrounded me that I was “a girl,” and therefore, was supposed to play softball.

Although sex-based discrimination has presumably been outlawed, the softball versus baseball culture has codified sex segregation through bat-on-ball diamond combat (I can’t even begin to get into gender discrimination as I can’t imagine the challenges of transgender men and women attempting to navigate and/or infiltrate this cissexist pastime).

In attempts to create a “fair” and “equal” playing field for “all” ball-players, our society has inadvertently separated the (cis-centric) sexes to make it easier to support misogyny and ignore those of us resisting it  (Although, I think it’s actually more intentional than we’d like to believe).  These are the reasons I play in a male-dominated sport.  But this is not the pattern I am observing.

When I listen to my teammates talk about baseball and why they play it, I get a mix of responses.  The response that I hear the loudest is among the women who have been playing baseball for many, many years: that softball is for “wimps” and baseball is what “real” ball-players play.  As a feminist, this is a truly difficult thing for me to hear.

It is difficult for me to hear my badass lady players degrade women who have been (on a large, cultural level) shoved into a sub-baseball sport to, I’d argue, keep all the men I play against feel more comfortable with their manhood.  Although these women’s intention is to promote themselves as capable and strong women (as “evidence” by their survival and success in an all-male sport), the subtext is that of proof:  wanting to prove that we are better than most other female players.

Our own internalized oppression as women has been so destructive to us as a group that we have to prove it wrong on an individual level.  We prove our superiority, our athleticism, and our deserving-ness to be included in all-male arenas by lifting ourselves above softball players, above other women.  And as divide and conquer oppression-maintaining strategies dictate, our own self-alignment with men (and baseball) as superior, even if a mode of resisting our own oppression, marginalizes us even further.

This does not get male-misogynists off the hook.  First and foremost, the misogynistic comments, attitudes, league policies and individual behaviors committed by men when women join and participate in this sport maintain patriarchy and misogyny.  The typical game starts with the other team (of men) playing casually, as if this is just a practice game for them.

Then, when we show them we mean business by hitting their curve-balls, stealing bases and throwing them out, they tighten up (often by re-positioning their penis-protecting cups) because the idea of losing to an all-women team is, in their minds, the most emasculating experience they could imagine.  God forbid we hit their pitches, strike them out, turn a double play on them or succeed at the cost of their athletically-constructed version of masculinity.

So how was our season opener?  Well, it was pretty much this same ‘ol sub-baseball, baseball story.  Whether the “throw under-hand” comment while my teammate was batting, or the flirtatious 1st-baseman trying to distract me while leading-off the bag, stepping back onto the baseball diamond each day is my way of showing up for combat in resistance against patriarchy — simply by existing as a female ball-player.

While some of us do it to prove something as an individual, I do it to continually toughen-up my psychological armor as a female revolutionary.

POPSspot enthusiastically welcomes Ilana Morris as a POPSspot writer and contributor. She works at “the hot corner” intersection of power, oppression, and privilege of sports, and will be interrupting privilege the same way she snatches line drives, throws out runners, and swipes bases.



2 Responses to “Sex War Hardball”: Perspectives From A Baseball Feminist

  1. M says:

    Loved the article, will look forward to reading more of your stuff!

    I remember playing little league, many years ago (right after my parents started worrying that ballet would turn me into “a queer” – because, yeah, that worked) and being envious of girls who could play catcher without having to wear cups…

    More seriously, though, your comment on the divide-and-conquer of baseball vs. softball and alignment wasn’t something I’d heard before… frustrating and sad.

    It is ironic, I think, that “tightening up” is probably the least-productive tactic to take if you’re trying to actually win a game.

  2. MODI says:

    I also loved this article, and how you distinguished your love of baseball without degrading softball. Also, that is one of coolest pictures ever!

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