“No girls allowed.” That’s the kind of sign that you’d expect a bunch of 9-year old boys to have hanging from their backyard tree house, but it’s not a sentiment you’d expect to find at a town-owned and operated golf course.
“No girls allowed.”
That’s the kind of sign that you’d expect a bunch of 9-year old boys to have hanging from their backyard tree house, but it’s not a sentiment you’d expect to find at a town-owned and operated golf course.
But that’s what happened at Dennis (Mass.) Pines, where Yarmouth Port, Mass., golfer Elaine Joyce was turned away when she wanted to play with her father in a men-only tournament at the public course.
Seeing the rebuff as sexist, discriminatory and illegal, Joyce has brought suit against the town of Dennis, the town’s two public golf courses, the town administrator, the former golf director and the golf pro.
Some folks are wondering: What’s the big deal? It’s not as if she couldn’t have teed up at Dennis Pines some other time. She was also welcome to compete in the women-only tournament. (No word on whether she and her dad tried to sign up for that tourney.) And because of that, some see the suit as the work of a whiner who just wants to have her own way.
But what if it was a white-only tournament and a black golfer were turned away? What if it was a seniors-only tournament? Would that be OK? Our reactions to those exclusions may differ because we see discrimination differently depending on who we are, who it’s done to and why it’s being done.
Few seem to have problems with giving seniors protection from employment discrimination, or giving them discounts to movies and shows, likely because those of us who haven’t reached that stage in life yet are hoping to be in that category some day. But when it comes to affirmative action, same-sex marriage or a women’s right to have dominion over her own body we are a deeply divided people.
Providing for or limiting participation to a particular group isn’t necessarily a negative. Offering special education resources for those with learning disabilities and creating affordable housing for families with low incomes are positive examples of how serving a specific population benefits all.
In sports it is common for participation to be restricted or balanced for the sake of safety and competition. Racehorses, bowlers and golfers are given handicaps. Boxers are divided into weight classes.
But limitations have their limitations, and the whats and whys can get a bit tricky at times. Age restrictions are the rule in the Little League but not height and weight, which is why the league invalidated the victory of its 2001 World Series winner when it was discovered that the team’s star pitcher was 14 years-old, but allowed a 6 foot, 8 inch, 256 pound first baseman to compete in the 2006 World Series because he was young enough.
The whys of restricting women from competing with men often seem just as arbitrary, and are sometimes based on sexist views rather than concerns over safety or competition. For the first 36 years of its existence the Little League prohibited girls from playing. It wasn’t until 1974 that it reversed its policy. Some would argue that if women are allowed to join men’s teams and compete with men then the reverse should also be permitted and that would mean the end of women’s sports at every level.
In 1991, a Chatham boy joined his school’s girls’ field hockey team because there was no boy’s field hockey team. Other boys on Cape Cod and in other parts of the country have also joined girls’ field hockey teams for the same reason. Their inclusion has caused concerns for league officials and parents. In an undated entry, a Massachusetts parent on the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation Web site voiced concern for the safety of his daughter. She was taken to the hospital after being injured by one of two boys playing on the Sandwich High School girls’ field hockey team. “Why can’t these schools start boys’ teams,” he asked.
So what has all this to do with Elaine Joyce and Dennis Pines? Simply this: Dennis Pines’ policy (which, unknown to Joyce, was rescinded prior to her filing her suit) and Joyce’s response to it opens the door on the debate on the right to discriminate, and the realization that equality and opportunity are sometimes on opposite sides of the scale and have to be balanced. In sports that means that soccer phenom Freddie Adu can play professionally at 14 but an adult soccer player, professional or not, can’t join a league for 14 year-olds.
It also means that men and women should be allowed to compete equally at the highest level available to them. And it means that no one should be prohibited from playing on a public golf course because of age, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
And if anyone wants to hang up a “No Girls Allowed” sign, they can hang it on the men’s room door.
Contact The Register columnist Joe Burns at 508-375-4936 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.