"Are Athletics Making Girls Masculine?"(1912)
Dr. Dudley A. Sargent
. . . Heretofore women have been more creatures of the kitchen and fireside than of the great outdoors, and the present generation of young women who will become the mothers of the next generation have more muscle and more lung capacity than their own mothers. The growth of athletics for girls is largely responsible for this. Colleges for women have more or less grudgingly made room in their curricula for gymnastics and athletics, and the non-collegiate world has followed suit and made athletic sports accessible to women. . ..
Many persons honestly believe that athletics are making girls bold, masculine and overassertive; that they are destroying the beautiful lines and curves of her figure, and are robbing her of that charm and elusiveness that has so long characterized the female sex....
Do Women Need as Much Exercise as Men?
From a physiological point of view woman needs physical exercise as much as man. She has the same kind of brain, heart, lungs, stomach and tissues, and these organs in her are just as responsive to exercise as in men. Fundamentally both sexes have the same bones and muscles. They are much larger, however, in the average male than in the average female.
The average male weighs about one hundred and thirty-five pounds without clothes and is about five feet seven inches in height, while the female weighs about one hundred and fifteen pounds and is about five feet two inches in height. The male has broad, square shoulders, the female narrow, sloping ones. The male has a large, muscular chest, broad waist, narrow hips and long and muscular legs, while the female has little muscle in the chest, a constricted waist, broad hips, short legs and thighs frequently weighted with adipose tissue. . . . In point of strength the female is only about one-half as strong as the male. . . .
No Athletic Sport Prohibitive to Women
I have no hesitation in saying that there is no athletic sport or game in which some women cannot enter, not only without fear of injury but also with great prospects of success. In nearly every instance, however, it will be found that the women who are able to excel in the rougher and more masculine sports have either inherited or acquired masculine characteristics. This must necessarily be so, since it is only by taking on masculine attributes that success in certain forms of athletics can be worn. For instance, . . . [s]he could not hope to succeed in rowing or in handling heavy weights without broadening the waist and shoulders and strengthening the muscles of the back and abdomen. . . .
. . . Nor do the limitations which I have mentioned apply to young girls from ten to fifteen years of age, who, if properly trained, will often surpass boys of the same age in any kind of game or athletic performance. But it is at these ages thatgirls have neat, trim and boyish figures. If girls received the same kind of physical training as boys throughout their growing and developing period they could make a much more creditable showing as athletes when they become adult women. The interesting question is. Would such girls become more womanly women, and the boys more manly men? . . .
The Best Sports for Girls
"There are no sports that tend to make women masculine in an objectionable sense except boxing, baseball, wrestling, basket-ball, ice hockey, water polo and Rugby football. These sports are thought better adapted to men than to women, because they are so rough and strenous . . .
These Make Women More Masculine
Physically all forms of athletic sports and most physical exercises tend to make women's figures more masculine, inasmuch as they tend to broaden the shoulders, deepen the chest, narrow the hips, and develop the muscles of the arms, back and legs, which are masculine characteristics. Some exercises, like bowling, tennis, fencing, hurdling and swimming, tend to broaden the hips, which is a feminine characteristic....
Just how all-round athletics tend to modify woman's form may be judged by comparing the conventional with the athletic type of woman. The conventional woman has a narrow waist, broad and massive hips and large thighs. In the athletic type of woman sex characteristics are less accentuated, and there is a suggestion of reserve power in both trunk and limbs. Even the mental and moral qualities that accompany the development of such a figure are largely masculine . . .
Sports Should Be Adapted to Women
. . . While there is some danger that women who try to excel in men's
sports may take on more marked masculine charterisitics . . . this
danger is greatly lessened if the sports are modified so as to meet their
peculiar qualifications. . . . All the apparatus used and the weights
lifted, as well as the height and distance to be attained in running, jumping,
etc., should be modified to meet her limitations. Considering also the
peculiar constitution of her nervous system and the great emotional disturbances
to which she is subject, changes should be made in many of the rules and
regulations governing the sports and games for men, to adapt them to the
requirements of women.
Modify Men's Athletics for Women
. . . Women as a class cannot stand a prolonged mental or physical strain as well as men. . . . Give women frequent intervals of rest and relaxation and they will often accomplish as much in twenty-four hours as men accomplish. . . . I have arranged the schedule of work at both the winter and summer Normal Schools at Cambridge so that periods of mental and physical activity follow each other alternately, and both are interspersed with frequent intervals of rest.
The modifications that I would suggest in men's athletics so as to adapt them to women are as follows: Reduce the time of playing in all games and lengthen the periods of rest between the halves. Reduce the heights of high and low hurdles and lessen the distance between them. Lessen the weight of the shot and hammer and sall other heavy-weight appliances. In heavy gymnastics have bars, horses, swings, ladders, etc., adjustable so that they may be easily adapted to the requirements of women. In basket-ball, a favorite game with women and girls, divide the field of play into three equal parts by lines, and insist upon the players confining themselves to the space prescribed for them. This insures that everyone shall be in the game, and prevents some players from exhausting themselves. . . .
I am often asked; "Are girls overdoing athletics at school and college?" I have no hesitation in saying that in many of the schools where basket-ball is being played according to rules for boyes many girls are injuring themselves in playing this game.
The numerous reports of these girls breaking down with heart trouble or a nervous collapse are mostly too well founded. . . . These instances generally occur in schools or colleges where efforts are made to arouse interest in athletics by arranging matches between rival teams, clubs and institutions, and appealing to school pride. . . . The individual is not only forced to do her best, but to do even better than her best, though she breaks down in her efforts to surpass her previous records.
There will be little honor or glory in winning a race, playing a game,
or doing a "stunt" which every other girl could do. It is in the attempt
to win distinction by doing something that others cannot do that the girl
who is over-zealous or too ambitious is likely to do herself an injury.
For this reason girls who are ambitious to enter athletic contests should
be carefully examined and selected by a physician or trained woman expert....