Women In Mixed Ultimate: The Preface

By Laura Manescu

In the first of a eight-part series on women in mixed Ultimate, Laura Manescu gives some context around her research and why it's important we have this discussion.

“What topic do you want to hear about at the AFDA national conference?”

That one sentence is pretty much how this whole thing started. Being approached by my housemate-turned-conference-organiser for some topic ideas ended up being one of the best things that's happened this year. A few hours after sharing my thoughts on the gap in content about our mixed division and women in mixed, Yewy offered me the chance to present on that topic at the conference. That was the start of what has become the largest research project and content series I've undertaken. Which brings me to why I'm writing this. This series gives me a chance to share those ideas with more people, in a more accessible format. The topic of mixed ultimate – particularly women in mixed – is close to my heart and I hope that in reading this series, you'll understand why I think it’s worth talking about.

Why this discussion matters 


The experiences that have informed my perceptions of the mixed division are a good starting point for this conversation. I've been lucky to play with some amazing mixed teams and players – and not just favouring the #eastcoastbias, but with teams from the North, South and West divisions as well. This has given me the opportunity to play with boys who play the best brand of mixed ultimate and girls who inspire me to be the best I can be. My love for the mixed game has been reinforced by watching and playing with great mixed players, and sustained by a below average exposure to examples of bad mixed ultimate.

Sadly, this isn't something we all get a chance to experience, and particularly not during our early exposure to the sport. Access to quality mixed ultimate, with players who play the best brand of mixed, is still primarily limited to a few pockets across our community. Without those same environments, our players get a lot less out of the division than they otherwise could. That's why I put forward this topic in the first place and why I believe we need to talk about it. To get the best out of the division, we need to work towards building better access to quality mixed ultimate across our community. We can do that by taking an honest look at our current mixed environment, talking about what it means to play great mixed and sharing practical ideas about how we get there.

I wrote this series to start some important conversations and to spend some time thinking critically about the division, not just taking our existing perceptions at face value. I've chosen to structure the series around 7 important discussions:

  • What is bad mixed ultimate and why should we care? 

  • Are we failing our women?

  • What can we learn from the data?

  • Talking preferences

  • Principles of effective mixed ultimate

  • Improving the way we experience mixed ultimate

  • The conversations that matter most 

About the research


In addition to my personal thoughts and experiences, this series is the product of research covering more than 40 qualitative discussions with players and coaches across the country, 3 research papers on gender in ultimate and sport, statistical analysis from 17 matches during the Bluebottles 2015 campaign and 2 Crocs 2017 test matches, as well as over 20 articles on mixed ultimate and women in ultimate.

I owe a lot to our community for opening up and sharing their thoughts, experiences and feelings about the mixed division. Listening to such a wide range of opinions about the division challenged me to think critically about the 'truths’ and existing narratives within our community. Most of all, hearing the passion some of our players and coaches hold for the mixed division, reminded me why I love the mixed game so much.

I can't talk about this topic without saying one huge thank you to the ever-effervescent Max Halden. Max has informed some of my most important shifts in thinking about the symptoms we see in our mixed division. He's reviewed endless content for me and provided a sounding board that shares my passion for why we should #playmixedultimate. Above all, Max inspires me every day on and off the field, and I’m so grateful to be playing this mixed season with one of the best mixed players, coaches and leaders in our country. 

The reason we’re not talking about sexism


“Don’t Try to Fix “Sexism” – Fix Bad Habits. Problems of “sexism” are too broad, too all-encompassing, and elicit a very unspecific way of thinking, predisposed to lofty moral discussion. Problems of skill and technique are more easily analysed, and that’s much more manageable. Try not to think of your team’s problems so broadly as “sexism,” but consider looking at them as products of reinforced habit.” – Alex Davis: ‘On Gender Lines’ (SKYD magazine)

This quote says everything. As much as I love a good ftp hashtag, this series is not going to engage with a dialogue on sexism. The topic of gender equality is something that seems to bring out the best and the worst in us, but the subjective and personal nature of people's views on sexism is something that isn't constructive to this discussion.

Instead, I ask us all to start by listening first, critically reflecting on the ideas and points raised by our community and then having a more constructive conversation about it. 

Okay, let's get into to it!

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Click here for Part 2 - What Is Bad Mixed Ultimate?

Thanks to Pat Thorpe Ultimate Photography for the images used in this article.