Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Gender Rule Excludes Womens Colleges

By Taylor Veracka

What does quidditch have in common with horseback riding? For now, the sports’ only similarity is the fact that both allow all genders to compete with and against one another, though many hold out hope that quidditch will eventually join equestrianism in the Olympic Games. Gender inclusivity is something that not only sets quidditch apart from most other sports but also presents many unique challenges, specifically in governing the politics of a full-contact sport where all genders can participate.

Photo Credit: Monica Wheeler Photography
Title 9 ¾ is, as explained on USQ’s website, derived from the United States gender-discrimination law Title IX and, of course, Platform 9 ¾ of the Harry Potter series, from which quidditch originated. According to USQ’s website, Title 9 ¾ is an “advocacy and awareness branch of USQ... [that aims to promote] gender equality and inclusivity” in the sport of quidditch by allowing players to compete as the gender they identify as, which may or may not be the one they were assigned at birth, and may or may not be included in the gender binary system. 

Title 9 ¾ is also where the “Four Maximum Rule” is found.

According to Rulebook 9, this rule states: A quidditch game allows each team to have a maximum of four players, not including the seeker, who identify as the same gender in active play on the field at the same time. The gender that a player identifies with is considered to be that player’s gender, which may or may not correspond with that person’s sex.”

While the policy makes the sport more inclusive, it also has barred some teams from participating: specifically, teams at non-coed colleges and universities. This is something that the then-IQA (now USQ, but for convenience's sake they will be henceforth referred to as the IQA) addressed in a Tumblr post shortly after the new rule took effect.

As the level of competition in the league grows, the Board no longer deems it appropriate to allow single-sex institutions an exemption, and possibly a competitive advantage, to the gender rule… As a sports league, one of the IQA’s primary goals is to facilitate competition, and the Board feels that the universal application of the gender rule is the best method by which to simultaneously accomplish this goal and support gender equality.” 

The Tumblr post then went on to address all-female teams in particular: “There has been a suggestion that specifically all-female teams should be permitted, because these teams do not pose a competitive threat to other teams, while their all-male counterparts do. The IQA believes that contrary to this argument, players of all genders have values of equal magnitude. To argue that female-only institutions should be able to field a team because they will always be at a competitive disadvantage is to endorse a mindset of gender inequality that actually rejects the values that we support.”

The Quidditch Post reached out to two of those teams that had contacted the then-IQA regarding the rule change, Wellesley College and Smith College, for comment on what Title 9 ¾ meant to them. Both are women’s colleges, and both of their quidditch teams were officially recognized by the IQA before Title 9 ¾ was implemented. However, the two teams are now ineligible to compete as USQ teams because of the revised gender rules. 

“Smith was an official team before the Title 9 ¾ rule was implemented,” said Gabrielle Martone, former Smith captain. Smith would still be an official team if not for the rule. We loved being an official team, and we were working toward figuring out how to get ourselves to the World Cup.” 

Shirley Lu, former Wellesley captain, told the Quidditch Post a similar story. As single-gender teams are essentially banned within USQ under the Four Maximum Rule, teams like Smith and Wellesley not only lost their official status but also have limited options to try to regain it. Originally, Lu says the IQA told Wellesley that its status as a women’s college would not affect its status as an official team, as exemptions from the rule would be made, but that stance changed when Wellesley tried to register for the 2012-13 season. 

[We] were told that the IQA would help with ‘recruiting more boys from your community’ or we could not be official,” said Lu, regarding her team’s attempt to work with the IQA around the new rule. “At the time, I found the wording to be very bizarre the [Four Maximum Rule] was introduced for gender inclusivity, yet the solution proposed was very gender biased. In addition, the IQAs solution meant our team would have to one, target non-cisgender female Wellesley students; two, recruit outside the college and lose college funding; or three, keep college funding but be denied the option to be IQA official.”

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The Whomping Wellesleys after their recent match against MIT Quidditch | Photo Courtesy of Whomping Wellesleys
Both captains were discouraged by the response from the IQA. Martone felt as though the IQA did not take her or her team seriously, and never really listened to what they had to say, a sentiment she expressed in a 2013 Tumblr post: “I think it’s important to remind everyone that comes across this response that Smith attempted to have a dialogue with the Board when there was a first questioning of the gender rule, to which the IQA rarely responded. There’s been no attempt to talk with us about what this all means for us despite the fact that we’ve been loyal and supportive members of the IQA for the last three years. I am honestly confused by the notion of having a competitive advantage because over the last three years we have played against co-ed teams and we have never had a competitive advantage. We LOVE playing co-ed teams, because we love quidditch and the fact that everyone gets to represent their schools and their communities. Who is to say that in order for us to be equal on the playing field we have to have men?”

Photo Credit: Nikki Smith Photography
Wellesley and Smith have both elected to stay unofficial. Wellesley in particular felt that losing college funding by recruiting from outside the school was not a viable option. To comply with the rule without recruiting players from outside the college would have forced the team to recruit non-cisgender members of its school community who were either publicly out or otherwise closeted.

Targeting non-cisgender female students is discrimination based on gender identity,said Lu. “Even if that wasnt a problem, every time we played a game, members of our team would be outed involuntarily.”

Lu gave an explanation for why the team chose not to recruit members from the local community.

“When Title 9 ¾ was announced, Wellesley’s team was facing some growing pains,” she said. Our old equipment was no longer viable and we needed funding to keep growing as we were. If we chose to recruit outside of the college, we would face so many additional challenges. We would have to spend a lot of time and energy recruiting players from Boston, a city already dense with teams; figure out a practice schedule that worked with students of multiple colleges and working professionals; find the funding to replace our equipment, and find additional funding to afford the USQ fees and dues of an official team.” 

Lu also reflected on the emotional toll the decision had on her team.

“We were a young team, a young team promised by then-IQA executives that being a women’s college team would not become an obstacle,” said Lu. “Faced with all of these challenges, we were very disheartened.”

Both Martone and Lu feel that their teams should be exempt from the Four Maximum Rule, as should other single-gender teams. For them, the new rule meant either forfeiting their IQA status or having players who attend a college that is only for women identify themselves in a game as not being female. It essentially tells them that their true selves are not welcome either on the pitch or at school

“As captain [and] coach, I had some students who did not identify as female, but I did not feel as though it was a referees job to determine whether or not they were enough to qualify to play as our non-dominant identity,” said Martone. “In that same vein, I had students on my team who did not present as feminine as other players, [and] there was a deep fear that assumptions would be made without the consent of my players.

Though Title 9 ¾ was enacted over two years ago, it is still a bitter pill to swallow for the teams that are no longer allowed to play.

“I find it uncomfortable that even in quidditch, women are being denied a choice,” said Lu. Title 9 ¾ is supposed to promote gender inclusivity yet, at the same time, it manages to be exclusive by not allowing women’s colleges to be competitive. I understand the reasonings behind USQ’s decision to not allow exemptions for single-sex institutions. If women’s colleges are given an exemption, then so should men’s colleges. However, there are only four men’s colleges in the United States. In fact, if any of these institutions want to play quidditch competitively, they should be allowed to. Quidditch, to me, is a celebration of athleticism in everyone. Title  9 ¾ undermines that.”

Photo Credit: Jessica Jiamin Lang Photography
In response to the concerns that pervade the sport because of the Four Maximum Rule, USQ Interim Executive Director and Events Director Sarah Woolsey had the following to say: As has been the case since the founding of the league, USQ remains committed to promoting gender equality on and off the field. As a sports league, USQ is compelled to create rules that allow all teams a level playing field. The reality of simultaneously filling these two roles in the community is that occasionally these goals do come into conflict. 

After looking long and hard at the different sides of the single-sex institution dilemma, USQ decided to remove from the rulebook the ability for tournament directors to make exceptions to the Four Maximum Rule on a case-by-case basis. While this very unfortunately disadvantages some teams from single-sex institutions, we believe that this decision was in the best interest of the league as a whole. 

It is our fervent hope as a league, and of mine personally, that application of this policy does not prevent these teams from continuing to play quidditch both intra- and inter-collegiately. We also hope that one consequence of this decision will be that non-cis-identifying individuals will be able to play a crucial role on some same-sex institutions’ quidditch teams, even as these schools themselves refine their policies to be more inclusive.

Both Martone and Lu chose the route they believed best supported their teammates.  This means a large group of eager players are now unable to play the sport they love in the same capacity as their peers.

“The reality is that Smith just wanted to play quidditch,” said Martone. We love the sport, and although we were not very good, we tried hard and believed deeply in quidditch itself. As a sport that was created to be something fun and something that everyone could participate in, the ruling that we were no longer allowed to be a part of the in crowd goes against the spirit of quidditch in my opinion.

Lindsay Garten contributed to reporting.

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