Gender vs Gym: The issue with co-ed gym classes


Devan Baldwin

The North Penn logo located in the navy gym. Last year, the boy’s and girl’s gym were changed to the Navy and Columbia gym.

On June 23, 1975, the amendment Title IX went into effect, stating that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” which resulted in single-sex gym classes transitioning into co-ed gym classes. Amidst the gender-equality-era where women are just as capable as men, both sexes have differing fitness interests and capabilities, so why force someone to participate in an activity that will not benefit them?

My reasoning for not liking gym class never occured to me until this year. During one of my gym classes, I fortuitously got assigned an all-girls team for a game of ultimate frisbee. Being in a group of all girls who had the same skill level as me instantly made me feel more comfortable. We encouraged each other to run and make passes and avoided giving a side-eye look to our friends when one of us dropped the frisbee. We ended up doing well during our game and had a productive gym class.

Then it hit me — I dread going to gym class because every team sports game (which is most of the phys ed curriculum) is dominated by the boys.

So, the issue is not that I don’t want to participate in gym class. The first issue is that I have no interest in playing certain sports (take football for example), but I am expected to play anyways. The second issue is that when I have multiple varsity football players on my randomly-assigned flag football team, I know the ball is not being passed in my direction.

When I think back to my elementary school days, I recall everyone loving gym class. Back then, gym class focused on fun skill-building and teamwork activities where everyone had the chance to participate. When the class walked in and saw the big blue mats set up for kickball or scooters sitting in a pile, everyone’s face lit up (and let’s not forget all of the hype about Olympic Day). Participating in activities that were not predominantly male or female sports seemed to create a more positive environment.

Once middle school came around, however, gym class took a completely different turn. Activities suddenly focused on physical team sports, which quickly became dominated by males in the class. This ‘battle of the sexes’ issue still has not resolved itself at the middle school level. “Elementary school is basically just playing games,” said Alaena Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Penndale Middle School. “So far [in middle school gym class] we’ve played frisbee. Girls don’t really care and the guys just try to compete and see who can throw it farther. The girls don’t really have a point in trying since the boys are trying to compete against each other.”

According to Education Week, girls are more likely to participate in single-sex gym classes that are tailored to their fitness interests. When girls are forced to partake in predominantly male sports, they attempt to sit out or avoid participating actively.

By forcing girls to participate in activities geared towards men, we are perpetuating the stereotype that girls aren’t good at sports or that they don’t care about gym class, when in reality, many girls feel uncomfortable participating when they are constantly being one-upped.

To fix the gender-dominating environment that is gym class, phys ed teachers might see higher participation levels if they attempted to level the playing field. North Penn could switch their physical education curriculum to a structure of letting students choose their own marking period elective classes or integrating more fitness programs that are widely popular among girls.

For example, if a student likes playing games like football or baseball, they could take a marking period of team sports, or if another student prefers working out independently, they could choose to take a marking period of yoga or cycling.

Are there girls who like playing football? Yes. Are there boys who would rather take an aerobics class? Yes. With that being said, it is not fair to completely separate boys and girls back into single-sex classes, but a more individualized approach to gym class could benefit students greatly.

While this may seem like a good idea to students, gym teachers disagree.

“While I think that participation may go up with some students, I think it would be a disservice to the students as a whole.  One of our jobs as PE teachers is to expose students to a variety of activities. Teachers need to equip students for life outside of high school.  Hopefully students experience new activities that pique their interest and and they choose to do some of these activities outside of school either now or as adults.  High school students should get exposed to as many activities as possible, not focus on a few,” explained Mr. Jon Fluck, a P.E. teacher here at North Penn. “I always strive to create a welcoming and safe environment in all of my classes.  My hope is that students are not afraid to make mistakes in class and therefore are more willing to participate in all activities.”

While the argument of co-ed gym classes seems ongoing, the best thing students can do for now is make sure that everyone feels comfortable participating in gym class regardless of their gender or physical capabilities. Not every student that comes through North Penn will be a star athlete, and students need to realize this in order to make sure everyone, including gym teachers, has a positive experience during gym class.