Breaking Down Barriers

 By ASHLEY SHAH, freshman

A woman walks onto a college football field, clad in the glory of her school’s colors. As she assumes her position among an otherwise exclusively male team, she prepares herself for what she knows will be an intense game—despite bewildered stares from the opponents.

A man walks into a dance studio just as the other female dancers turn their gazes toward him, silently questioning his presence. Although he proves himself a talented dancer through his graceful leaps and pirouettes during rehearsals, he remains the victim of awkward stares as he works to perfect his routine.

Currently, it is far too easy to divide athletics into “female sports” and “male sports.” It is not that easy, however, to accept a male as a member of a synchronized swim team or a female as a member of a hockey team. Some say this stems from the “accurate” fitness tests that determine whether someone is physically fit for a sport, but these assessments are actually just snide ways of preventing certain people from participating. Some tests deem boys “too strong” to play a female-dominated sport, while others regard girls as “lacking average muscular composition” and therefore unfit to compete in a male-dominated one. However, it is more than likely that gender labels on sports actually occur due to the generalities we as a society have formed about which activities are “proper” for males and females and are not based on any hard science.

Yet some are out there: those who defy the limits, those who venture to cross the line despite the scrutiny. Around the world, these men and women who defy convention to play the sports they love—who dare to break the barriers of gender—are singled out and ostracized. But they still persevere, simply for the love of the game. Their talent speaks for them, even when others question their very right to participate. This chain of restrictions extends farther than just athletics: the imaginary barricade between the abilities of females and males stretches far and wide, haunting athletes, workers, and politicians everywhere. Only those who are filled to the brim with determination and courage dare to break down this barrier.

In an age that has seen us progress past some gender norms in the stay-at-home dad controversy, is the division between the sexes fading away or persisting? Despite the surge of audacious athletes ready to break the mold, obtaining legitimate acceptance for unconventional gender roles in sports is not a light task. Take the case of Andrew LaFortezza and Jason Elbaum, both seniors at Horace Greeley High School in New York, who had to cut through much bureaucratic red tape before they were allowed to participate in their school’s only volleyball team—the girls’ team. To play volleyball that season, they had to appeal to the athletic director, pass the fitness test without being deemed “too strong,” gain approval from the superintendent, and receive a final verifying affirmation from Section 1 of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. It’s a marvel that the season wasn’t over by the time they were finally allowed on the team.

Athleticism is a quality that should transcend gender. The woman on the football field and the man in the dance studio shouldn’t have to do additional work to be accepted if they possess the necessary talent. Similarly, students shouldn’t have to receive permission from a ridiculously long bureaucratic list of officials and coaches to be granted the opportunity to participate in a team. When all is said and done, it should be an individual’s ability—and nothing but ability—that determines whether he or she should be allowed to play.

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