The Gender Double Standard

One of the biggest bits of news to hit the sports world in some time was Annika Sorenstam’s participation in the PGA (Professional Golf Association) Tour—a series of golf events usually reserved for men. In fact, Sorenstam was the first woman to participate in the men’s tour instead of the women-only LPGA (Ladies Professional Gold Association) Tour in the last 58 years.

Her participation in the male event has caused quite a bit of controversy in the tradition-driven golf world, with at least one vocal PGA participant announcing that he would not play against a woman citing the somewhat lame excuse that it would be too hard for her. While Sorenstam missed the cut in the second round and will not continue on the tour (says Sports Illustrated [no longer available]), she did quite a bit better than the oddsmakers had predicted.

Many have assumed that in my enlightened nonsexist attitudes, I would be all for Ms. Sorenstam’s participation in the PGA events. On some level I am—after all, she did beat fifteen of the male participants and has proved that she can compete on the PGA level—but on the other hand, I am quite disturbed by the double standard that has been exhibited in the golf world.

Let me explain.

As I mentioned there are two PGA’s -the PGA (for men) and the LPGA (for “ladies”). I don’t like that idea, especially in the realm of a not-quite-so-physical sport like golf. If we were talking about American ‘football’ then I would understand the idea of separate leagues (they generally don’t make women at American ‘football’ player sizes), but when it comes to something like golf—or football (soccer), or bowling—separate leagues seems a silly, duplicative waste of time and effort. I see no logical reason why men and women can’t compete on equal terms in the same leagues in most sports.

We talk about gender equality, and yet—particularly in the sports world—we’re still segregating people by gender. It’s simply dumb. This is where my enlightened nonsexist attitudes come in. But we don’t live in a world of enlightened nonsexist attitudes when it comes to sports, and nobody but me really seems to care or complain about it. Fine, so be it. But if we’re going to segregate the genders in games like golf, then we need to be consistent about it.

The general contention in the golf world is that women aren’t as good as men at golf, and the LPGA Tour is generally regarded as more of a lightweight golf tour. So it seems immensely unfair to me that a woman who can compete on the higher PGA level is permitted to, while a man who can’t compete at the PGA level isn’t allowed to say, “Aw, crap, I’ll just play with all the ladies in the LPGA.” Of course not! The feminists and many others would be greatly offended at a man, who can’t compete with other men, imposing on the women-only series of events.

So my problem isn’t that Annika Sorenstam participated in the PGA—on the contrary, I think it’s great—my problem is that the PGA is expected not to exclude women, while the LPGA is expected to exclude men. It’s a double standard, and it’s not fair.

Now, ideally there would be one event—the PGA—and men and women both would be permitted to participate. This idea isn’t popular amongst many women because, since the PGA is generally regarded as more difficult than the LPGA, they are afraid that very few women would meet the criteria for participation, if any. So instead of having one event, I propose that they still have two with the same requirements as the PGA and LPGA, but both allowing the participation of anybody with any gender. While the highest-level event would still likely be male dominated, the slightly less difficult event would likely have a good mix and perhaps even remain female dominated. Rather than based on gender, participation would be based entirely on skill.

After literally decades of feminist activists and women’s liberation, after so long hearing about how terrible it is to exclude people from something on the basis of gender, it is frighteningly ironic and disappointing that the products of women’s liberation—things like the LPGA, the WNBA, etc.—practice the very gender exclusion that they fought against. It’s tempting to call it “reverse-sexism”, but there is no such thing—sexism is sexism, whether it’s against men or women, and it is never a good thing.

While the focus of this rant is on sports, this kind of sexist double-standard runs rampant in our society today. It’s not uncommon to turn to a female-hosted talk show and hear the host lambasting men for being cheaters, or liars; but if a man hosting his own talk show generalized women as neurotic psychopaths there would be an outcry! It’s like it’s okay to stereotype men, but stereotyping women is considered to be unfair.

But it’s not just television or sports anymore, we are just now starting to see the effects of pro-female favoritism hurting males. According to USA Today (read the article [no longer available]), from roughly 1970 to 2000 the percentage of boys going to college after high school dropped from 44.7 percent to 40.9 percent, and male suicide rates have increased from 13.5 to 18.5 suicides per 100,000. In the same time frame, the percentage of girls going to college jumped from 25.1 percent to 45.6 percent and the suicide rates dropped from 4.2 to 3.3 per 100,000.

In the United Kingdom, students are given a standardized test called the GCSE. Last year, boys scored significantly lower than girls in almost all subject areas—including traditionally male-dominated subjects like information technology (this comes from a BBC article, read it here).

While none of these articles puts forth any coherent reason for girls being better off in school and in mental health, they both include calls—whether from governments or newspaper editors—for our western societies to put more effort into making sure that males don’t fall too far behind females. But if we honestly treated all people of all genders with complete fairness—on personal and societal levels—I seriously doubt any of this would be a problem.

While the writers of these articles and teachers and politicians are perplexed, it’s no secret to me why boys are falling behind. We’re told all our lives how we need to treat everybody equally and fairly, and then we see the double standards in sports, talk shows, teaching, and personal communication. With all the hubbub over protecting the self-esteem of girls, people don’t seem to realize how badly they’re treating the boys. People don’t seem to see that Annika Sorenstam’s participation in the PGA can point out these societal double-standards just as much as it rings as a great success for women.

Again, more power to her for her participation and relative success. But sexism is sexism, exclusion is exclusion, and the same fair and skill-based standards that apply to the PGA should apply to the LPGA. If the LPGA does not have the guts to open its door to men, then maybe the PGA should reconsider opening its door to women. Lopsided equality is not equality at all, and that’s a fact that we should never forget.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.