In athletic settings, is it possible to treat genders “equally?” Coach EL explores why fair treatment is not the same as equal treatment.
By Coach EL
I was on my way to a downtown gym to attend a Level One boxing coach course with the National Canadian Coaches Program (NCCP) and I couldn’t help but wonder how I would be received in such an environment. I mean, let’s be real. It’s not very common to find a fully veiled Muslim woman in a co-ed boxing coach course.
I walked into the gym, and as expected, I got the odd stares and curious looks as if to say, “what’s she doing here?” It was almost amusing to see some of their facial expressions. We sat down, introduced ourselves, and the course began.
As the course proceeded, we were put into groups and each assigned a portion of the material from the course text to present; I was given the section on the code of ethics. I found it interesting and also quite ironic that the one to speak about ethics was the Muslim woman who looked different from everyone else.
Dressing the way I do – covering from head to toe including my face – I’m stereotpically supposed to be the oppressed one, the one with the backward mentality. But, there I was expected to present in front of a predominantly male audience about the sport code of ethics. When I looked at the pages and skimmed over the material, one of the points stood out to me. It read:
“Respect – ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of athletic potential, race, sex, language, religion, or age.”
I paused for a second. The use of the word ‘equally’ didn’t seem to sit well with me. It implied that people be treated the same, but is that what we really want? It is true that men and women are created equally in the eyes of Allah. Allah tells us:
«And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed» (Surah an-Nisa 4:124).
He also tells us:
Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so – for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (Surah al-Ahzab 33:35)
We are equal in our pursuit of knowledge and education; in our servitude to Allah and our rights that we have over one another. My issue of contention, however, was with the physical aspect. We are equal in many things, but as far as physiology is concerned, we are not equal at all. Biologically, we each serve a purpose and we have different roles. We were created differently for a reason and to be treated the same would be an injustice.
We see the recognition of these differences in competitive sports where athletes are usually categorized by gender and weight. Very seldom will you find men and women competing against each other and this categorization happens for a reason. Generally, male skeletal structures are larger and thicker than that of a female. Research and scientific studies have shown that joints and bone density differ between the genders and this leads to differences in their mechanical functions.
Similarly, muscle size and type will be apparent between the male and the female. A man’s wrist, for example, will be bigger and thicker. His punch will generally be stronger and will cause more impact. For this reason, we don’t see men and women compete against each other and if they were to do so, it would be dangerous and unjust.
Now, translate this into the world of boxing, a traditionally male dominated sport. It wasn’t until the 1990s where women really started coming to the forefront. Even then, women weren’t matched up against men. Boxing bouts are very gender specific and make careful considerations for a competitor’s weight, height, and reach.
I don’t doubt that there are women out there who have the skill set to outdo a fellow male athlete. Sure, there are women that can beat men and vice versa. It’s not uncommon to see athletes use the opposite gender as training partners.
However, no matter how much she can match up to a man, the fact remains that she is a woman and she should be treated and respected as such. Her skills and abilities should be acknowledged but the differences in physiology should also be recognized. If a man and a woman were to start sparring with one another, his punches could potentially knock her out and cause a concussion. She needs to be given what she’s able to handle. And if anyone is ever in doubt, simply ask her. She would know better than anyone else how hard of a punch she’s able to handle.
With science aside and from a very personal perspective, I don’t expect to be treated equally, but rather I expect to be treated fairly. This implies that I am treated according to my individual needs and circumstances.
I am Muslim and since my conversion to Islam, I started wearing hijaab and stopped shaking hands with non mahram men. This is just the way I’ve chosen to practice my Islam. I don’t usually train with my hijaab on and when I do take it off, I make sure I’m in an all female environment. It can’t be assumed that I’ll be shaking hands with men and hugging everyone after a great workout session. That’s just not me.
So, in an environment like this NCCP course where everyone else was not Muslim, I wanted them to understand that while I understood the intent behind this ethics code of equal treatment, I had a different perspective and I wanted to shed light on this. I’m 4’9” and I don’t want to walk into a sparring session and go up against someone twice my size. Add to that, I definitely don’t want to be going up against a guy, oh my!
I shared my sentiments with the other coaches taking the course. It seemed to have resonated with many of them and as I concluded, I watched a few of them nodding their heads in agreement. I also appreciate that the facilitator found my point intriguing and thought-provoking enough to want to speak about it in future courses.
So, don’t treat me equally; treat me fairly – like the lady I am.