I Don't Like Amazon Athletes
"Sorry, but in girls' sport I can't go for those violent, face-straining, bodyracking events some girls indulge in"
ELMER W. FERGUSON
I AM speaking now exclusively to the girls, so you guys can turn to some other page for your literary nourishment and entertainment.
Well, girls, if you are listening (which I doubt very much indeed), I want to say that I am a much-maligned man regarding the matter of girls in sport. I know that, as a result of your reading the girl sports columnists who have me continually on the pan, in the grease, out of the frying pan into the fire and vice versa, you must figure like this: “Why, this Ferguson is nothing but an old grouch. He doesn’t want the girls to have any fun. He wants them to stay in the kitchen and cook for him, the glutton.”
That is absolutely not true. I don’t want to see the girls kept in the kitchen. Because, in the first place, men are far better cooks than women. All the better hotels have male chefs. In the second place, girls are entitled to all the fun they can get in this man’s world.
Yes, girls, I know you think very hard things about me. You think: “He is just like all the men; besides which, he is so old-fashioned that he doesn’t know that girl athletes were in the Olympic Games, and he thinks that woman’s place is in the home, and all that stuff grandfather used to believe in.”
Well, girls, it’s not so. I think girls definitely have a place in sport, and don’t let any character snatcher tell you anything different. In fact, on the matter of the participation of girls in sport, I’m your pal, and this isn’t said with a significant passing of the hand across the throat. It’s strictly on the level.
I never saw anything more beautiful in sport than this: A colored ice surface at the Montreal Forum, all painted with red tulips, yellow lilies, glowing roses and such. A lone blazing shaft of light, hitting on one spot, the rest of the great arena completely dark. Into the spotlight there suddenly whirls a figure of sheer glittering glory, of golden hair that blazes beneath the dazzle of the lights, of white skirt and trunks and shoes, and tightfitting bodice, all covered with spangles that glow and glitter like diamonds, a figure that spins in rhythmic, swinging grace. I always had the idea that figure skating was a sort of sissy business, but that was a long time ago, before I’d ever seen or sensed what sheer beauty, what perfection of rhythm, what grace could be encompassed in the art by Sonja Henie, by a score of other girls who glide and pirouette and swing so sweepingly and beautifully around a glistening surface, without strain, effortlessly, a symphony of grace.
Girls have a place in sport. I knew that when I saw a graceful figure standing atop a high diving board, a girl whose physical perfection was enhanced by a clinging one-piece bathing suit of [the sort some old fogies with nasty minds would bar as indecent, when such garb in reality removes all possibility of suggestiveness. The girl leaned forward, arms arched, and floated off the high board, coming down to the water like a great sea bird, a thing of infinite grace, to strike smoothly, without a splash, and go streaking into the depths, leaving hardly a ripple behind.
Girls have a place in sport. I knew it seeing Kay Stammers and the late Suzanne Lenglen gliding over tennis courts, slashing back drives. I knew it seeing Joyce Wethered or some other graceful girl golfer swing with precise rhythm and a certain power on a teed-up ball, though I’ve seen some ponderous females tramping the links who added nothing whatever to the scenic effects with their Clydesdale strides, dripping perspiration, stertorous breathing and blowsily flushed faces.
Why Sacrifice Feminine Charm?
THAT, indeed, is where I reach the dead-line. Sorry, but in girls’ sport I can’t go for those violent, facestraining, face-dirtying, body-bouncing, sweaty, graceless, stumbling, struggling, wrenching, racking, jarring and floundering events that some girls see fit to indulge in. Sorry again, but I like grace, sweetness, rhythm, freedom from sweat and freedom from grime among the girls. Of course, it’s a matter of taste. Some of the boys may like to see the girl friend lumbering along from first to second in a softball game, hitting the dirt on her ear, and coming up with a lot of mud or sand ground into her visage. Probably there are some who are elemental that way. They may like to see the girls at hockey, a
spectacle which I consider reaches the lower levels of competitive athletic entertainment after you've watched the grace and speed and certainty and skill with which males perform. They may like to see some nice girl bodycheck another and knock her down, half-stunned and breathless, though, in all truth, the girls in hockey skate in such rickety fashion, bobble along so uncertainly, that a good strong breeze will pretty nearly blow them off their stumbling feet, and body-checks are just so much wasted effort.
These boys, perhaps possessing some sadistic impulses which were not included in my natal make-up, may like to see their girl friends wearing that peculiarly bewildered and distressed look which girl athletes under strain always possess, that strain which so ill becomes them. They may like to see the girl friends in shorts up to their thighs, getting their legs rubbed and massaged by a professional trainer. I hope I’m not prudish on the matter of girls’ legs, which at one time were considered no topic whatever for decent conversation, and were blushingly referred to as “limbs.” The fact is that girls’ exposed legs are no treat. The gay boys of the nineties who stood around the more exposed corners on windy days, trying to get a peek and extracting a naughty thrill at the sight of an ankle, were wasting their time. They got a kick—mentally, I mean — from a well-turned ankle because it was visually forbidden fruit.
But the truth is that the legs of most girls don’t rate so high on exposure. They’re prone to have queer blue marks on them, or lumpiness, or run to bulginess or something. They look more alluring covered up. But even so, darned if I understand a guy who feels no annoyance w'hen some trainer or helper starts massaging the girl friend’s legs in the better interests of promoting circulation, and right out in public too. Sorry, but I like a little delicacy, as well as sex appeal, feminine sweetness and such, among my girl friends. And I can’t see that the more robust forms of athletics, such as sprinting, jumping, hurdling, heaving weights, sliding into bases, struggling wreakly and gracelessly around armed with hockey sticks or crashing each other at basketball in a sweat-reeking gymnasium, are going to enhance any feminine charms, or those charms wrhich I always did associate with fern-’ ininity.
My contention is, in brief, that no sweet feminine girl (and, I repeat, what male doesn’t want girls to be Continued on page 32
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sweetly feminine, and nice and sweet and frilly?) can be much good at the more robust forms of athletics. Those girls who excel in them very frequently look extremely unfeminine. Take the Galloping Ace, for instance—I’m not naming names but I’m thinking of one of the recent topliners of sprinting—which is possibly the least revolting, at that, of the more strenuous sports indulged in by girls. And when I say take the Galloping Ace, I mean you take her; I’ll take a cup of coffee. She can run 100 yards in better than eleven seconds, as indeed can many a schoolboy. Not that there’s any sense comparing men and women on an athletic basis, for there isn’t any comparison. But Ace is a big, lanky, fiat-chested, muscular girl, with as much sex appeal as grandmother’s old sewing machine that we stuck up in the back of the attic. The sewing-machine and Ace both run well. So what?
I’ve seen some really pretty girl runners; at least they were pretty when they weren’t contorting their comely faces out on the cinder track. There’s Hilda Strike, for instance, and Myrtle Cook, and the little Halifax schoolmarm, Aileen Meagher, who has the muscled legs of a male sprinter but who is so feminine by instinct that she wears a bit of frilliness about her clothes out on the track. But my point is that these girls never could whip the big, masculine, fiat-chested, leather-limbed and horselike-looking stars of the game, stars in point of speed. Many nice things were written of the pulchritude of the girls who made up the last Canadian Olympic team. Those pressing the case for girls’ sport laid some great emphasis on the beauty of the team, emphasis which was well deserved, for they were a lot of beauties. But they didn’t win anything. Beauty and success in girls' track and field sports don’t go together so well. All of which goes to prove that a certain degree of masculinity is necessary to complete success in the realm of Violent Sports for Girls. And who wants masculinity in our girls?
T SAID I’m your pal, girls, in the matter
of sports activities, a real pal, because I’m advising you to stick to those sports in which you compete with a minimum of strain, a maximum of grace, beauty and rhythm; the sports in which you can compete with pleasure and sucqess and still retain essential femininity, which includes no grime on your face. I mean, speed and figure skating, tennis, golf, swimming, and a few more in which neither grace nor dignity is sacrificed to facestraining and belabored effort.
It’s for health too. Amateur sport in Canada to my mind knows no more sincere
and diligent advocate than Dr. A. S. Lamb, of the Department of Physical Education at McGill University. The good doctor is another of the little heckled band (I mean the girl sports writers continually give us the bird) opposing participation by girls in violent sports, in which he coincides with the opinions of Dr. H. M. Abrahams of London, Olympic 100-meter sprint winner of 1924. This is Dr. Lamb’s sensible theory:
“There is almost universal agreement that well-directed play and recreative activities are most beneficial, particularly to our youth. Play is, however, a twoedged sword, and misdirected activities and emphasis may be quite harmful. In well-directed play, activities should be utilized which appeal to the natural interests, which harmonize with age and development, and which have inherent values in the contribution they might make to better citizenship.
“The nature and characteristics of boys and girls differ very widely, and therefore care should be taken to foster activities from which the greatest benefits might be derived.
“Nobody would wish to see a return of mid-Victorian fainting frailty and the traditional headaches of that era. There are numerous activities suitable for girls and women, without the necessity of using those types of competition which call for such intensive concentration and effort as many which are now being promoted.
“We need more, not less, activity for our girls and women, but let these he of the type that will be suitable to their physical and mental natures. Let us have more concentration upon the needy ninety per cent instead of spending our time and energies upon the highly specialized ten per cent.
“The tendency for girls to ape the activities of boys is regrettable. In most cases, it is physiologically and psychologically unsound and may be definitely harmful.
“Play, recreation, competition, are just as essential for our girls as for our boys, but this must in no way be interpreted to mean that intensive competition with its excessive emotional and physical stresses is the type which should be participated in by girls and women.”
That’s the story, girls. The violent sports are no good for your looks, dignity, or health. Occasionally some writer comes out stressing the improvements of times and distances being made in women’s sports, and hints that the day is coming when they'll equal the performances of males, which is a very stupid suggestion indeed, because they never will. But they usually omit reference to one athletic event
—and to my mind the one that required the greatest courage and stamina—in which a girl outdid all the men who tried it. This is the English Channel swim record established by Gertrude Ederle. She not only made the swim on rough seas, but she broke the records of all the men. It was a great feat. But today Gertrude Ederle is an almost completely deaf and almost completely crippled woman. The water that penetrated her ears caused deafness. The strain of a performance for which no woman is fundamentally suited brought on other and more serious consequences. Perhaps that’s why the enthusiasts for girls’ sport don’t mention Gertrude very often.
Don’t Be Ridiculous
TNON’T get out on the same field as the men, girls, if you wish to compete in the more violent sports. The comparison may be like most other comparisons—a trifle odious. The report from the last Olympics indicated that the feats of the girl athletes were not taken seriously. “There was a note of mockery in the applause,” wrote Joe Williams from Berlin, of the women’s events. And that sturdy critic, John E. Wray of St. Louis, penned this: “It would be better if they did not clog up the Olympic program with women’s attempts at athletics, but either abandon them or hold games for women separately. Watching the pitiful efforts of some of the girls in field events, observers were inclined to feel the same way about the matter. In each event, one or two unusual specimens stood out above the rest. The grand average performance was incredibly bad.”
Women say they don’t wish to excel male records, and they never will, for they lack the power. And lacking power, they lack grace. The effort of a woman to struggle over five feet in the high jump is rather pitiful, after you have just seen a male athlete, with the superb grace that comes from power, soar over nearly seven feet. Women lack the grace of men in all track and field sports. Their efforts are labored, heavy. Kit Klein, great speed skater, a graceful and rhythmic performer on the steel blades, thinks that most track sports make women look ridiculous. I chatted to her one day in her dressing room in a Montreal theatre. “Girls ought to stick to the things they do gracefully and without injury' to bodies that never were meant for w'racking, jolting sports,” said Miss Klein. Of course, some of the girl w'riters put the blast on her, but I think she was perfectly right.
Organized sport, organized fun, for girl athletes—that’s swell. I’m all in favor of it. But, girls, stick to the things you do gracefully, beautifully, with rhythm, with-
out strain—in which category you can’t put sprinting, hurdling, or heaving weights or javelins. That’s a tip for you, girls. It probably solves the whole mystery of man’s slightly derisive and ridiculing attitude toward women in sport. The men want the gals to stay beautiful, graceful and sightly, not tie their bodies in scrawny, sinewy knots.
Leave the rough, tough athletics to the men. For if the girls think that running and weight-tossing are all right, it won’t be long before they’re into boxing and wrestling too. And why not? These sports are only other forms of athletics; and a few pioneers have already tried them both.
So let’s close the whole argument on that horrible thought.