Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Traditional Catholic Women and Sports

It has been suggested that Traditional Catholic women, or girls for that matter should never engage in sports or any physical activity that involves competition. Critics believe that engaging in sports or athletics will make girls less feminine, more aggressive and compromise their modesty.

Leaving philosophy aside for a moment (never my strongpoint anyway)what is the natural and unfortunate result for the girl or young lady who never engages in physical exercise? Sadly I think obesity, poor health and a lack of stamina are the unavoidable eventualities. In marriage, once the babies start coming every year, as they do in the blessed Catholic marriage, it is difficult if not impossible to avoid it when one has never been active. Childbearing, child rearing, carrying around toddlers, especially uncooperative ones, heavy housework, moving furniture and keeping up with the day's demands are challenging enough when a mother is in excellent physical shape. When she is not the work is overwhelming.

If a prospective groom is looking for a wife who will lie upon a divan all day, direct the servants, supervise the nanny, entertain fainting spells, nurse depressed spirits and a nervous condition he would do very well to marry a woman who has never engaged in any activities or sports.

We have at least two examples of holy women who were avid athletes- St. Gianna del Molla was a mountaineer and skier and Venerable Maria Theresa Quevedo was a champion tennis player and the captain of her high school girls' basketball team. Neither compromised their femininity or modesty I dare say.

Philosophically speaking, what are the effects of sport on a woman's character? A woman learns perserverance, to overcome difficulty, to maintain a consistent effort in the face of adversity, to discipline her body, to work hard, graciousness in defeat and victory, teamwork, sacrifice, obedience to authority; all excellent attributes for the wife and mother.


hilary said...

I think it may depend upon the sport chosen.

Two sports have I undertaken and enjoyed: floor hockey in grade school, and fencing in young adulthood.

In the first, I injured my back and have suffered periodic back trouble ever since.

In the second, I acquired an outlet for my Irish pugilistic nature and it unleashed a monster that has yet to be put back in the bottle. I daresay that my years of fencing, glorious fun though they were, have something to do with my spinster status now.

Just musing out loud, you understand. Maybe I should have stuck with Bicylcing or croquet.

Petrus said...

Hilary - from one "spinster" to another - LOL. I strongly object to the notion that women who are strong willed and independant turn off Catholic men. We are supposed to be help-mates to our spouses, and yet I daresay that any of the strong Catholic women that I know would gladly submit to their husbands in important matters. Yet I think its difficult to find a man who wants to actually take that lead and isn't worried that his wife will differ in opinion, somehow questioning his manhood.

For instance, take the man who made this commment that sports make girls too aggressive. I would venture to guess that his definition of aggressive is a woman with a will who can stand up for herself when she needs to. I think this strength in women is borne out of necessity, and not from sports.

Steve said...

Good post. I have to say that I'm not fond of the woman-in-a-bubble view that seems prevalent in some corners.

In terms of the "strong woman" question, let me say this. I married, as my uncle put it, "a pushy broad." (He meant that in the best possible way.) Particularly now, as men have been so emasculated by feminism, having a strong Catholic woman who pushes me to be a man and live my vocation is essential.

Her independent nature and feisty temper combined with my strong will and nuclear temper does create tension. We're getting better though, and after three years of marriage we don't fight nearly as often as we used to, and are in fact learning to benefit from the true complimentarity we have.

Without my wife, I would not be the man I am today. Her strength, her willingness to stand up to me when I am wrong, her willingness to risk the backlash and push me to be better has been vital in my development as a man.

And as she continues to evolve from secular feminist to traditional Catholic, she has taught me a lot about her own perspectives on the role of a woman in a Catholic home. She takes the initative on things like modesty and biblical submission, and helps me to understand how I'm not demeaning her (like the world has so long taught me) by leading the family as its head.

I think more traditional Catholic men need strong wives to kick some sense into them. My wife may be a recent convert, but she is truly my spiritual compass.

Lobo said...

I don't think its the sports that is the issue. Competition in itself does not have to hurt anyone. It's what you choose or think you need to apply competition to. We all learn to compartmentalize our attitudes and actions - what you can or can't do or say to a cop, judge, friend, mother, boss, etc. You can act or pull back or modify what you do.

Women in competition can be healthy - it's what or who they think they can or should compete with. Plenty of women competed with other women, their siblings or even their husband in centuries before without getting into sports. Feminism has taught women a way of thinking about their rights and what they can demand or expect from socity and men and the church. Its not the only way of thinking out there but even women who do not call themselves feminists have been affected by this thinking.

Let females play sports - it can be good - just shape their attitudes about themselves and others while you do it - refocus the spiritual into their lives.

Thomas Shawn said...

If I had a daughter I'd definitely like to see her involved in sport.

It's great if a wife at least displays a passing interest in sports. Ultimately she'll be doing 50% to 75% of the shuttling of the kiddies to and from their games anyway. They need support in their wholesome endeavors.

To my mind, it is important to at least take a crack at sports even if you have no discernable talent. There's good intellectual benefits to being physically active.

My public middle school eliminated every single after-school sport as a result of a property tax rollback initiative. This was not a good thing and it contributed to some destructive behavior on my part.

hilary said...

Well then, if it wasn't fencing, it must just be monstrous me.

Oh well. I never could sleep in the same room with another human being in it. And I get even more cranky than usual with no sleep.

hilary said...

It would be interesting, perhaps, to examine what women said in the Before Time about their own and their daughters' involvement in sport, and compare it with what modern, feministic women have to say about it.

I'm sure the differences would be telling.

Petrus said...

Here's a link to an intersting timeline on women in sports. One interesting fact is that Mary Queen of Scots was an avid golfer, had the famous golf course, St. Andrew's built, and coined the term "caddy" because the person who carried her bag was a "cadet" in her army. I do realize of course that some do not consider golf a "sport". LOL.

Madeline said...

Steve, Bravo for recognizing the value of a strong help-mate!

I'd say that frowning on women playing sports is more about the fear that female physical prowess is somehow emasculating to men. It really has very little to do with female character. If it were the case that participation in sports somehow detracts from feminity, then women shouldn't exert themselves physically in anything.

As Mary pointed out in her excellent article, the difference between athletics and managing a household of several children is that one is usually recreational, and of a limited duration, whereas with the other the fun comes and goes, is more physically tasking, and it seems to last forever!

Jeff Culbreath said...

I think a good set of standards for wholesome female sports is this:

1. No physical contact with boys/men.

2. Not excessively violent (football, rugby, etc.)

3. Not excessively competitive.

That leaves room for lots of things that a) do not harm a girl's femininity, b) do not encourage boys to lose respect for the female body.

Petrus said...

What is excessively competitive? Either you want to win, or you're a loser.

Is that excessively competitive??

Jeff Culbreath said...

Good question, Petrus. A competitive personality is not admirable in women or girls. I would say that competitiveness becomes "excessive" when it begins to shape a girl's personality. Girls should play for fun and excercise (light competition can be part of the fun).

Petrus said...

Jeff: Do you think that a competitive nature is attractive in men?

What about the guy who won't let the car behind him pass despite the fact that the car behind him is a corvette and he's driving his family in a 13 passenger van - is that attractive?

What about the girl who's playing volleyball and let's the ball drop on your team because she feels badly for the other team losing?

Competition to me means striving to do the best, and not only applies to sports, but to every aspect of one's life by using the gifts that God has given. To say that women shouldn't play competitive sports means that they should settle for mediocrity.

I would say that excessive competitiveness would mean poor sportmanship, "trash talking", ungraciousness in defeat, none of which is attractive in men or women.

Jeff Culbreath said...

"Jeff: Do you think that a competitive nature is attractive in men?"

Yes, competitiveness can be admirable in men when properly directed and disciplined. It is seldom admirable in women.

"What about the guy who won't let the car behind him pass despite the fact that the car behind him is a corvette and he's driving his family in a 13 passenger van - is that attractive?"


"What about the girl who's playing volleyball and let's the ball drop on your team because she feels badly for the other team losing?"


"Competition to me means striving to do the best ..."

No, it doesn't. Competition means striving to be better than others.
That's an important distinction.

"... and not only applies to sports, but to every aspect of one's life by using the gifts that God has given. To say that women shouldn't play competitive sports means that they should settle for mediocrity."

That is clearly false. Men and women are equally called to strive for excellence. But the way in which that striving manifests itself is different for each sex. In a general way, admitting of nuances, I think we can say that women excel by cooperation, and men by competition.

"I would say that excessive competitiveness would mean poor sportmanship, 'trash talking', ungraciousness in defeat, none of which is attractive in men or women."


Petrus said...

"I think we can say that women excel by cooperation, and men by competition."

I see your point, and mostly agree with the above statement.

However, I do like to win! :)

Jeff Culbreath said...

"However, I do like to win! :)"

Winning does have its perks. :-)

S.H. said...

Hmm, I know a "critic" who had some thoughts on this issue :-)


Anonymous said...

"Women’s bodies are meant to be cared for and to be preserved to be nurturing – not to be bruised and scraped up"

Stephen - You apparently know nothing of childbirth.

Dust I Am said...

If there is any post I wish I had written, it is this one. Compliments to Mary, the author! And to Petrus for her wise comments.

My girls love sports too and they are very good wives and mothers. All are good athletes, at least when they have the time. Each has at least four children and simply couldn't handle her home as well as she does without being in good condition. Last week I was glad to babysat for one so she could play racquetball which she had not been able to do for quite some time.

Their husbands seem well-satisfied too, especially because all of them have retained good figures. Young mothers get lots of work exercise, but aerobic exercise such as racquetball, running, or swimming make them feel so much better.

Endorphins produced by exercise cause people to feel better and minimize pain. When endorphins are low, moods are depressed and the person becomes more aware of pain. Some dieticians believe a low endorphin level creates an appetite for fat and fatty foods.

Personally, I find exercise in two sports controls my appetite. (Alternatively, I made a resolution last night to never, NEVER eat while typing at a computer!)

Competitiveness is necessary to achieve high goals (my observation from almost 70 years of experience). I can't imagine St. Theresa of Avila or St. Catherine of Siena being less than agressive in successfully accomplishing God's will.

Tradcatholic said...

Great post! I am taking time out from my knitting and sewing and watering the plants to comment if only for a brief moment.

I read Sir Heiner's article recommended above, which contains these beautiful quotes:

Young women should be engaged in more feminine pursuits, be it sewing, cooking, music, or simply the art of conversation, which modern girls, Traditional Catholic and otherwise, have lost amidst gum chewing, overindulgence in MySpace, and text messaging.

Now, I see the point, but REALLY - should women be proficient only in the endeavours which will please men? No mention is made of study, reading, writing, designing, teaching, nursing, ...but then maybe the list was not meant to be all inclusive.

Again, the quote already mentioned from this article (writen by a single man?):

'Women’s bodies are meant to be cared for and to be preserved to be nurturing – not to be bruised and scraped up'

I guess the brusing and scraping of the bodies is meant for the hunter-gatherers amongst the men. If they are so suited to being banged up and physically abused, why on earth to they complain about their aches and pains so much more that women do? (I can, but won't, verify this with hundreds of examples-there are confidentially issues!) I agree with Anonymous#1: go be present when a baby is born. (;0)

It is always a mystery to me that when a man 'looks with lust' at a woman, it is presumed to be the woman's fault for not being covered in a pup-tent so he won't be tempted. In Colleen Hammond's book, she tells of a study made of the male gaze when seeing a woman wearing pants. The line of 'fire' goes directly to the crotch almost instinctively. Now, is that more a problem with the WOMEN or with the MEN?

Well, back to my piano and drawing. Maybe I'll bake some cookies later on.

David L Alexander said...

"Now, is that more a problem with the WOMEN or with the MEN?"

man with black hat: Who Wears The Pants?

"Some women like to wear them. This is a reported to be a problem, as it draws undue attention to their hips, and gives rise to all manner of evil designs on the part of the average male. Now in my experience, much depends on the male, the pants, and/or the hips in question."

David L Alexander said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joyce said...

First off...there are other ways to exercise without being in competitive sports. You are trying to rationalize what you do or have done. No way would are Lord condone women in competitive sports, especially today and what womem wear or don't wear when running, cheerleading,gymnastics, etc, etc. They are inmodest and degrading to women.
If those saints who you have named played sports, I am sure before they became saints they asked Our Lord to help them detach themselves from wordly pleasures and things that came between them and Our Lord. It's just not about something being a sin, that makes it wrong or right, it's about obedience. And Jesus Chrsit tells us to leave everthing behind and follow him. Just becasue I use to listen to rock and roll, dance till my feet fell off, I do that now when I am trying to become a saint. And, if they didn't let go of those worldy pleasures, I don't know how they were made saints..unless they are doing time in purgatory and we aren't aware of it...Remember what St. John the Baptist said, we decrease as God increases. I also think you only need to ask, Would the Blessed Mother do this? I don't think so, for Our Catholic Faith teaches Jesus is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow.