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Is Battle of the Sexes Offensive?

Eliza Racine, The Bark Reporter

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Every year in the spring, Sobrato’s ASB holds the Battle of the Sexes. It is a spirit week pitting boys against girls in a friendly competition. It has become a tradition ever since the school opened ten years ago, and the students of ASB vote for it every year to have a fun time before the madness of AP testing. But there has been growing opposition towards this annual event in recent years. The arguments against it include sexist stereotypes and lack of consideration for transgender and non-binary gender students.

History and Psychology teacher, Tracy Murphy, is one of the many people on campus who sees these problems. She does not hate friendly competition, but she does not like the idea of boys versus girls.

“It enforces the idea of separating the sexes and pushing gender stereotypes when we are trying to move into a better future,” Murphy said. “We can’t pigeon-hole everyone into one or the other.”

She sees that this “battle” does not consider students of other gender identities besides male and female, especially since gender issues are becoming more prevalent to society such as the addition of fifty-six gender options on Facebook (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/social-media/facebook-gender-custom/). The biggest problem with this is also the fact that one’s biological sex does not always match with the gender they psychologically identify with, and not everyone fits in the binary of just male or female.

“It is not malicious, but it is shortsighted,” Murphy added, concerned about students who feel they cannot support a team of their appropriate gender.

She hopes by bringing up these problems that we can continue striving towards a more accepting society. This representation is what some of Sobrato’s own students desire as well as ending some sexist aspects of the Battle of the Sexes.

“Battle of the Sexes specifically excludes the people at Sobrato that do not identify as ‘female’ or ‘male’, the people who are a minority, but are just as important as any other person at the school,” said James Love, senior. “It’s almost like asking the student population as a whole to split according to a physical condition that cannot be changed easily and completely disregards an individual’s sense of self-expression and self-understanding.”

Love is a transmale, which means that he was born biologically as a female but identifies as a male. Because of his biological sex, he is expected to sit among females and wear pink despite how he identifies himself.

“It seems that Sobrato is saying that my only choice of where to be is with the females of Sobrato,” Love added. “I find this offensive and not in correspondence with the welcoming and accepting atmosphere that Sobrato is said to have.”

If Love could change the Battle of the Sexes, he would want to include a team for non-binary genders.

Lindsey Christenson, freshman, is androgyne, a non-binary identity that does not fit into typical male and female roles in society, and has a preference to “they” pronouns (Yes, “they” can be used to refer to one person if it is the pronoun favored).

“It takes the spectrum of genders and only uses the binary,” Christenson said. “It doesn’t give representation of what is in between boy and girl.”

They were also worried about some of the spirit days reflecting standard gender roles like Ties/Tutus day where it is usually expected for boys to wear ties and girls to wear tutus. It could be translated that women do not belong in the workplace and have to stick to feminine activities and jobs and not allowed any choice in the matter. Like Love, Christenson would improve Battle of the Sexes by having multiple teams of different genders, including non-binaries, compete against each other in a tournament.

While Love and Christenson expressed desires of teams of multiple genders, Keith McElvain, junior, would rather do away with Battle of the Sexes entirely. Not only does McElvain find it disrespectful to anyone who does not identify as male or female because they are agender (does not identify as any gender whatsoever), but it also enforces gender stereotypes based on color and dress of the spirit days such as girls wearing skirts and the color pink while boys wear pants and the color blue.

McElvain would get rid of it because of the harmful “middle school mentality” that boys and girls are separate when in high school everyone is supposed to learn unity and working together.

According to Marla Carroll, ASB director, all the students of ASB decide on what is done for Battle of the Sexes. A small rally committee comes up with ideas, and students vote on what they believe the student body would enjoy best. Sometimes advisory leaders and class-runners for second period ask their peers on ideas for the rally. Carroll allows the students to lead in the choices while she oversees their work and makes sure they follow through with school rules. She has never heard of any complaints before about Battle of the Sexes and would hope that someone would step forward to create a compromise.

“Communication is important,” Carroll said.

It is the job of this group of rally commissioners, one of them being Vi Tran, senior, to organize activities and spirit days and get them approved by administration. Tran enjoys the fun of a larger competition that does not just put up the four grades against each other as well as a break from the growing stress of school. In previous rallies, she has recognized issues with Battle of the Sexes such as “Gender Bender” day in her freshman year where students cross dressed. That spirit day no longer exists due to reports of sexual harassment from the student body.

“No one is ever forced to adhere to a certain spirit day or sit on a specific side throughout the spirit week,” Tran said when bringing up concerns of stereotyping and lack of representation. “None of our spirit days specify which gender does what, so we allow everyone to express themselves freely.”

There is no intention from ASB to offend anyone, and they try to fix problems each year to keep the rally up to standards.

While no one is forced to participate, there is still the pressure to dress up a certain way for spirit days and the rally. One of the posters on the E building even specified ties for boys and tutus for girls. And there is also a lack of faith and communication with ASB according to Love, Christenson and McElvain. All three never heard their class-runners or advisory leaders bring up discussion or suggestions for the rally.

“It has always been my impression that ASB makes all the decisions,” Love said.

Christenson asked someone in their advisory if there were non-binary teams to support and was told to “just pick one of the two.”

Love, Christenson and McElvain all feel like ASB would not take them seriously because they are a minority compared to the rest of the school. Christenson said they felt intimidated by ASB because they are just one person. If Love were able to create a team of more than just a couple people, he hoped something would be changed, but as it stands, he feels like nothing would be changed at all.

The concerns of acceptance among the school has become a recent concern of the administration. Assistant Principal, Kevin Miller, along with his colleagues have been working to address the sensitivity towards students who do not identify as male or female. The stereotypical behavior has been addressed to administration multiple times from inappropriate spirit days to inappropriate team names.

“Students think ‘Oh they’re adults. They won’t understand,’ when we do understand,” Miller said. “We have taken a more active role to put more adults in that area to support Ms Carroll.”

Miller indicated that it may be time to re-evaluate the purpose of the rally. It is a part of raising school spirit at Sobrato, but why have it be boys versus girls year after year? Why make it gender specific instead of the classes competing against each other? Is it a right way to boost up school spirit? The questions administration keeps asking as well as the negative outcomes go against the acceptance that Sobrato should be projecting.

“That’s a bad on us to not push that,” Miller added.

We are in a time where we should continue to strive for acceptance instead of relying on old and insensitive traditions, and it’s impossible to keep moving forward when there is a huge gap in communication among our student body. Every student, no matter what gender or how small of a minority they are, deserves as much representation as the majority without feeling offended by sexist stereotypes. If that cannot be obtained, then perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Battle of the Sexes.

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Is Battle of the Sexes Offensive?