The NY Times ran an article yesterday about the trials of minor league baseball umpires which was intriguing though not especially captivating to a non-fan like myself. What caught my eye though was the one line (in parentheses even) sharing the fact that there is one woman in the AAs working as an umpire. And then no more was mentioned. This is the real story, I thought. Not only does she have to deal with the regular crap all baseball umpires take, but she is working in a hyper-masculine environment. So as I do with all things intriguing, I googled her. She has been working as a baseball umpire--the only one (though not the first) since at least 2000 according to this article. As expected, she deals with doubts about her ability from coaches, players and even other umpires and she also has the burden, because she is the only woman, of having to do extra interviews in addition to her other duties.
Of course if the old boys' club actually let in a few more women, such things wouldn't be as big a deal. But sentiments like this one still show that women face extra pressure officiating men's games:
"If you didn't see that ponytail, you'd never know she was a woman out there," said Pete Filson, a former major-leaguer who servers as pitching coach for the Great Falls Dodgers. "She knows the strike zone and she's consistent. Plus you can see that she's into it, she likes the job. That's important."
What Filson is suggesting is that most women wouldn't know the strike zone and would tend to be inconsistent (perhaps due to their constantly fluctuating hormones, Pete?). But knowing the strike zone is not an innate characteristic and it certainly is not gendered.
Yet women as referees/umpires are rare in sports, even in women's sports. As woman athletes get increasing opportunities to play, female referees and umpires remain a very small minority. And when they are present, they are subjected to higher levels of scrutiny. A few years ago during the women's hockey World Championships there were several controversial calls that went against team USA during the gold medal game. Defenseperson Angela Ruggiero suggested that though she wants to see more women as referees, she thinks they need to be more competent, implying of course that the allegedly bad calls (OK a few were really bad) were because some of the refs were women and that men would not have made them. I have seen a lot of hockey in my life, and I know bad calls are gender-neutral. Male referees are not infallible.
But progress is being made. Though there are no women refs at men's hockey games there are more of them officiating women's games at the collegiate level and, to a lesser extent, at the international level.
The tennis world, a bastion of tradition (including patriarchy) is making strides in the officiating arena. This year at Wimbledon women were in the chair for some men's early-round matches. Though it was a fairly under-the-radar move (I can't even find a link to the story anymore) it's a discernible sign of progress. We'll see if the US Open next month follows suit. Because, really, now that John McEnroe has left the game, it's pretty safe for all umpires, male or female.