girls high school baseballPaige Sultzbach is a pretty normal 15-year-old girl in Arizona. In junior high, she started playing volleyball and softball. When she went to high school, she found out that her school didn’t have a girls’ softball team. Modern woman that she is, Paige tried out for the boys’ baseball team with the full support of both her coaches and her teammates. Take that gender bias!

Unfortunately, not all the schools in Paige’s conference are as accepting as Mesa Preparatory Academy, where she attends. One parochial school not only refuses to allow girls on their own boys’ athletic teams, they also can not play a team with a girl. Now, on the past two meetings of Mesa Prep and Our Lady of Sorrows, Paige sat the games out in respect for the team’s religious beliefs. But when it came to the championship game, Mesa Prep was done bowing to their opponents antiquated rules. Paige would not miss her championship game.

And so, Our Lady of Sorrows did the only thing they could. Oh, they didn’t suck it up and treat their female competitor like any other opponent. The school chose to forfeit the game, allowing Mesa Prep to win without ever throwing a pitch or catching a ball. Apparently, their tradition of gender discrimination was much more important that allowing their hard-working team to finish the season.

According to ESPN via The Mary Sue, the school explained its decision by saying,  “the school teaches boys respect by not placing girls in athletic competition, where ‘proper boundaries can only be respected with difficulty.’” The excuse didn’t ring true for Paige’s mother who noted that baseball is not a contact sport where boys would have to worry about inappropriately touching anyone. Pamela Sultzbach said, “It wasn’t that they were afraid they were going to hurt or injure her, it’s that (they believe) a girl’s place is not on a field.”

I have to agree with Mrs. Sultzbach and I also have to imagine just what this mom said to her daughter after the incident took place. Girls like Paige have grown up in a world where all women say that we can do anything we want to do. We had a viable female candidate for President not too long ago. We have more and more women CEOs stepping into the spotlight and talking about success in the business world. Girls are outpacing boys when it comes to college degrees.

It’s not too often that the youngest generation of women have to confront serious gender bias that says, “You can’t play with the boys.” This idea is so foreign to young women who see the gender wars continuing to move in their direction. So how does a mother explain to her daughter that pockets of judgment about “a woman’s place” will still pop up? How do we prepare our girls for these battles that seem so out of place in modern society?

We forget that our girls will still be stereotyped by their gender sometimes. We allow them to exist in a perfect bubble of gender neutrality for as long as possible. Then we have our “Paige moment,” where that bite of sexism surprises you.

I can still remember the first week at new job where I was nervous and eager to please everyone. Our company sold alcohol, so obviously every bar and restaurant in our city was a customer. One of our established salesmen told me that from then on, I would be in charge of all the promotions at Hooters, so that everyone could see me in a pair of those infamous biker shorts. He said it in front of a group of male salesmen who all thought it was hilarious. And in that moment, I felt the reality of sexual harassment in the office. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed, even though I wasn’t the one who had made an inappropriate comment.

This teenage girl just had to face the fact that some men will still try to limit her and place her in a position that works for them. They’ll try to box her in and make her fit the image that they believe is right. But Paige and her mother both seem like strong women, and I’m pretty sure that they’ll come out okay. As Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation noted, the boys are the ones who might be negatively affected the most. ”In real life, these boys are going to be competing against the girls for jobs, for positions in graduate programs or in trade schools. In every other area of their life, they are going to be competing side by side.”

So what would you say to your daughter if she confronted a situation like this? How would you explain this type of sexism that girls still face? And how can we prepare our young ladies to stand their ground in the face of such antiquated gender bias?

(Photo: The Mary Sue)