The Gender Divide On and Off The Track
For the first time in a long time, the Packer cross country team has celebrated a championship win from not just the boys’ team, but the girls’ team as well. Last year, although the boys’ team won ACIS championships, the girls did not even have enough athletes to score in their race. However, this year the girls’ team has come back with more than enough talented athletes to come in first place, and have finished off their season with multiple wins and accomplishments equivalent to those of their male counterparts. Even though the male and female runners had competed separately, at the end of ACIS championships they came together and celebrated their collective win as one big team.
What makes cross country so unique is that, unlike the other Packer fall sports, the team is comprised of both a boys’ and girls’ team, who, despite being scored separately, practice together and often compete alongside each other. Although cross country is not considered to be a strictly co-ed team, it is incredibly similar and shares the same dynamic as one.
For the most part, the members of the cross country team seem to be happy with the mix of boy and girl athletes on the team. Annabel Barnett (‘20), the girls’ team captain, spoke about some of the positive aspects of running alongside the boys.
“Running on a team primarily with boys has been challenging, as I have not always felt like I was at the same physical capabilities,” she said. “But I think it’s made me work harder and pushed me to hold myself to a higher standard.”
Maya Judge (‘21) agreed. “I like being on a co-ed team because it means [that] you’re not limited to just your specific gender, you can also go and talk to the guys’ team and get insight from varsity guys that have been on the team for longer. I think it’s really good to have teams that are co-ed.”
Some of the negative dynamics seen on single-gender teams, like toxic masculinity and unhealthy competition, are mitigated by having both male and female athletes on the same team.
“There’s kind of a general stereotype about all-boys teams that there’s a toxic masculinity that you probably wouldn’t see on a co-ed team,” said Sam Levine (‘21), a varsity runner for the team.
However, while the co-ed nature of the team has proven to be beneficial to the cross country runners, there are plenty of negative impacts as well. The most prominent of these is the considerable difference in how girls and boys run, and how that can lead to the diminishment of female accomplishment on the team.
“We run at different levels, so a good boy’s time will be different than a good girl’s time simply because of the way we’re built,” said Sam. “I feel like it’s kind of an automatic separation that we try to avoid, but there is this innate separation between the two that is just there because of gender.”
“Sometimes I feel like the girls are put down a little bit just because we’re girls and the boys are just naturally going to be faster than us,” Maya added. “It’s a little bit discouraging because my best time doesn’t even measure up to what the guys do.”
“I think that we have a supportive team, but I do think that people respond much differently to a girl expressing pride about an accomplishment than they do to a boy expressing the same thing,” said Annabel. “I have seen girls on the team feeling as though they have to undermine their own accomplishments to avoid seeming arrogant and cocky when their male counterparts are able to talk about their accomplishments without the same labels being made.”
The co-ed aspect of the cross country team is not purely negative or purely positive. While there is the potential for gender barriers to cause a rift in the team, if the runners make an effort to look past those barriers, as it seems that they aim to do, the combination of boy and girl athletes ultimately serves as a tremendous benefit for the entire team. The cross country team is uniquely close and particularly talented, which often serves as a unifying force for its runners. As Sam so aptly put it, “It’s the team that matters. We can support the success of the girls’ team and the boys’ team, but in the end, we’re all one big team.”