With equal numbers of men and women on the field, the Australian Ultimate League, maybe unsurprisingly, had a strong and pervading theme of gender equity.
Halfway through the tournament, players came together to discuss gender inequity - what it looks like in an ultimate context, what does gender equity look like, and what can we do to achieve this.
Amanda Wong, Sam McGuckin, Sophie Taylor, and I (Ash McInnes) had the privilege to be a part of the AUL with the Brisbane Breakers. After discussing the brand of mixed ultimate we would like to see in Australia and how we can make that a reality in our community, we all walked away with a sense of responsibility and eagerness to continue the conversation into the upcoming mixed nationals campaign with Monstars.
Having initiated the discussion at the foundational stages of our season, Monstars decided that advancing gender equity was going to be an explicit team value for the season.
We understood that as an established mixed club who sends a team to AMUC every year, we had the power and influence to reset the way in which Brisbane players perceived and approached mixed ultimate - and that was really exciting to us.
So here are five things that Monstars are doing this season to promote gender equity:
1. 50/50 Roster split
We believe that providing equal opportunity for both men and women at AMUC is the absolute baseline for any mixed team serious about gender equity; serious about playing good ultimate period.
All teams at AMUC will be playing to the “prescribed ratio” rule, which denotes roughly equal playing time for both men and women. If men and women see equal playing time on field, common sense dictates that roster composition should also be 50/50.
It is not impossible. There ARE enough women out there.
That said, equal roster composition alone, doesn’t solve gender inequality. It’s our responsibility as a club to foster a culture that doesn't make players feel left out, under-utilised, uncomfortable or devalued. We understand that if any meaningful progress towards gender equity is to be achieved, our attitudes towards female athletes need to change.
2. Consciousness raising
We believe that change will not happen without education.
Part of our commitment to promoting gender equity was to be proactive in educating ourselves in respect of;
our unconscious gender biases, and
the socio-cultural barriers that impede women from advancing in ultimate.
In the weeks leading up to mixed nationals, we will be sharing resources and facilitating discussions focused on a particular aspect of the gender equity movement. By doing this, we hope to unlearn prejudices and equip our players with the tools necessary to articulate meaningful solutions.
3. Identifying and calling out linguistic sexism
We promised to eliminate gendered collective nouns from our vocab. The generic use of the terms ‘man’, ‘guys’ and ‘lads’, are substituted for gender-neutral terms such as ‘match/person’ and ‘folks/peeps/friends/fam/y’all’.
We understand that language is important because it often reflects underlying belief systems, whether we consciously make that connection or not. When we use terms such as ‘guys’ or ‘man’ generically, they indicate and reinforce a system in which men set the standard and women are seen as a subset. They are, in essence, a symbol of exclusion.
Breaking the system starts by making small adjustments in our choice of vocab.
4. Empowering our women
We want to be a team that plays through our entire roster and can exploit the mismatches when and wherever they arise. This will inevitably require us to play through our women.
For some of our women, this has not been their experience of mixed ultimate. Like many women who have played co-ed sports, our female players have been conditioned to believe that their role on the field is ancillary rather than instrumental.
Our training sessions have been targeted to actively unlearn these thought patterns. One way in which we do this is to implement a rule at training: women are green-lit, men are red-lit.
This means that women have permission to take shots with impunity. They are the primary cutter, the isolated player in the end zone. Conversely, men are tasked with ensuring their defender is entertained. They back women to get open. They don't crowd the dump space because they trust that women can execute downfield completions. They are also confined to throwing the open under. No punts allowed.
The purpose of this drill is to prompt a mindset shift from generating space to taking space or vice versa depending on the player’s default. By empowering our women to be playmakers and teaching our men to take a step back, we as a team will be able to seamlessly transition between who we want to play through in order to exploit mismatches on field.
5. Focus on skill set rather than gender
Building an intention around gender equity has enabled the team to set up offensive and defensive strategies that play to the strengths of all team members.
Calling defensive match-ups freely between genders allows so much more potential for loading our lines with strategic mismatches. We have some incredibly skilled and athletic female defenders. Often, they are simply the best matchup to shut down a particular male opponent. We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot to confine our women and men to match-ups based solely on gender.
We hope that by sharing our campaign strategy to tackle gender equity, we can spark ideas in other clubs preparing for AMUC this year. There’s no single right way to go about it. The point is more about approaching the problem with active intention.
We urge you to initiate the conversation in your club. It sends a strong message about your priorities as a team, and can have a profound impact on players’ perceived sense of worth.