It is common knowledge that boys like to play baseball while girls favor playing softball more. But why is that?
How did softball become a sport just for girls? This is a question that many baseball and softball professionals struggle to answer because it’s not as simple.
Here is a short, watered-down answer to this question: during the 1970s, softball and baseball were considered equivalent sports, and schools during this time had the right to prohibit girls to play baseball when these girls can play softball instead. Also, sexism may have a role in this as well.
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How did softball start? And how did it become a sport for girls?
If we want a more detailed history of softball and how softball became considered as a girls’ sport, here is a longer answer. Originally, softball was not invented for women specifically.
In fact, softball was invented in Chicago, Illinois by a group of men who were waiting for the outcome of the Harvard-Yale football game. They used a broomstick as a bat and rolled up a boxing glove, which was used as a ball.
Eventually, the sport grew popular all over the country and was first named indoor baseball because it was initially invented for men who prefer to play baseball indoors and for baseball players to be able to play during harsh winters. After World War 2, more and more men prefer to play softball than baseball.
Issues of sexism became a factor as to why softball grew as a girls’ sport. Even as softball evolved, and more men started playing more softball, there is also this fear within the American that men would be slowly seen as feminine as they now start playing indoors while women started participating in outdoor sports.
In 1972, Title IX was issued. This law mandates equal funding to both men and women’s sports teams. Title IX gave women a fair opportunity in almost all sports.
However, this law excludes baseball. Instead, Title IX mandates that there must be an equivalent sport that women can play, which, in this case, was softball. As a result, schools had a right to prohibit girls from joining the baseball team as long as there is a softball team.
At present, women are able to play baseball at a professional level, and there are also women’s baseball leagues for girls and women of all ages.
Even though the United States has one of the strongest women’s baseball leagues, most American schools still do not have a women’s baseball team, but they do have a softball team that women can join.
Is softball really a female sport?
Now that we have answered why softball is a sport for girls, let’s talk about this: Is softball exclusively for females?
We all know that baseball is a male-dominated sport while softball is reserved for girls and women. The short answer to this question is no, it is not just a sport exclusively for women.
As mentioned previously, softball was originally invented and played by men, especially during winter when they are unable to play outdoors.
In addition to that, boys would still play softball as the sport was seen as a safer and effective way to introduce baseball and its basic skills.
Nowadays, it is uncommon to see men play softball as the sport is often considered as a watered-down version of baseball. Despite the sports’ rarity among the male gender, and contrary to the popular belief, men are still able to play softball professionally, especially here in the United States, but it’s not as common.
Men’s professional softball leagues actually started and continued to grow in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The American Professional Slow Pitch League was one of the first men’s softball league to be established. However, in 1982, many professional softball leagues were disbanded. At the same time, the era of men’s professional softball leagues has ended.
Even though softball is a female-dominated sport, men still continue to play softball recreationally. Softball isn’t exclusively a female sport since there are men who play softball both professionally and recreationally, but the majority of the softball players are dominated by female.
Does sexism play a factor in this?
To answer this question, yes, sexism may have played a role in this, especially in the early days of softball.
Softball and baseball may have been equivalents, but there are significant differences between the two sports, so let’s talk about some of the differences first before delving into the sexism issue.
First, let’s talk about the softball and baseball fields.
While fields in both sports are arranged in the exact same format, the bases in the softball fields are typically 60 feet apart while bases in baseball are 90 feet apart. In addition to that, the home plate to the outfield fence in softball is around 250 yards while baseball is around 300 feet.
Second, balls in both sports are different as well.
Softballs are larger compared to baseballs with a circumference of 12 inches. These balls are neon yellow in color and are softer compared to baseballs.
Third, The indoor version of baseball
Softball was originally the indoor version of baseball, which explains also why softball fields are a lot smaller compared to baseball fields.
Now, the sexism issue was rooted in the early days of women’s softball, but most of them were not changed over time.
Since softball was originally an indoor sport, and more men eventually preferred to play softball, there were beliefs and fears that started circulating within the society that the roles were changing as men were seen as more feminine as they started spending more time indoors due to softball. Meanwhile, women became more active. During this time as well, women were believed to belong indoors.
In addition to that, softballs were softer and larger than a baseball because it was believed that women are unable to throw the ball efficiently due to their small hands. A slow pitch was also encouraged because people believed that a fast pitch may injure women. Back in the early days of softball, women were seen as very fragile.
Eventually, this attitude towards women in sports waned over time. Nowadays, women are seen as athletic and capable in the world of softball and baseball as most women play in professional baseball leagues.
However, baseball and softball are still seen as equivalents. Softball fields still remain significantly smaller compared to baseball fields, and softball players (who are mostly women) still use an oversized ball to play. And until now, it is still worth noting that women are still unable to play baseball at a college level.
Even though women are able to play in professional baseball leagues, there may have been attempts to hinder the development of women’s baseball since it was believed to be a male-dominated sport. Even films, pieces of literature, and media of today still portray baseball players as men.
This type of perception led to women investing more time and energy in playing softball than trying to push through with baseball.
Additionally, baseball is believed to be more of a contact sport that is prone to injury. Because of this perception combined with the attitude that women are incapable and fragile, society discourages women from playing baseball.