Women In Competitive Bowling – Behind The Gender Lines

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On Sunday, for the first time in the history of any U.S. Open bowling competition, a “Battle of the Sexes” match was televised between the winner of the male division and the winner of the female division. The match made headlines and garnered a lot of media attention when the female athlete, Liz Johnson, ultimately prevailed.

Which begs the question, “Why?”

In short, the answer is because men do not usually compete against women in sporting events let alone lose to them. Women aren’t expected to win so when they do it’s a very big deal.

What many people don’t realize is that female bowlers are no strangers to bowling against the guys. When the Professional Women’s Bowling tour went defunct in 2003, women were forced to join the Professional Bowler’s Tour and consistently compete against the men on a national level. Not to mention that female bowlers bowl leagues and tournaments against men all the time. Battle of the Sexes is not just some special exhibition match for female bowlers. It’s a way of life.

Bowling is a unique sport in that being a male does not necessarily give you an automatic advantage as it would in other sports where strength and power dominate. Your real opponents are the lanes. In that regard, it makes sense that men and women compete together all the time.

So why then do female bowlers still have a difficult time being treated as an equal in athletic ability to male counterparts?

My guess is it’s because the sport of bowling often times defies gender roles that are engrained into the minds of boys and girls from an early age. That women can compete against men and that they can win too. And it’s just not something society is used to when it comes to sports.

In my experience, growing up in the sport and competing against guys was not always an easy task. If I bowled somewhere no one knew me, the consensus was usually “hey, there’s a girl – an easy win!” Or those that told me they didn’t “feel right” competing against me because I was a girl. And I have countless stories of sore losers who were in disbelief that they actually “lost to a girl.” At one point in my bowling career, I was even asked to leave a men’s scratch league during the league meeting. I was told that the men did not want a woman on their league. At that point, I was still being viewed as a woman and not as a bowler with a 204 average and other bowling credentials wanting to bowl a scratch league.

I want to go on record by saying that the views above were not of everyone. A lot of guys did accept me and treat me as an equal. And I gained a lot of support over the years from both male and female alike. But I also encountered a lot of prejudice and injustice, too.

Truth is, it’s an uphill battle for female bowlers. You have to be that much better and work that much harder to get accepted. You have to overcome that stigma of gender inequality from society.

Even so, I wouldn’t trade a second of any of it.

Because here’s what I ultimately realized: Male or female. It doesn’t really matter. No one’s road to the top is going to be easy. Stick with it. You will encounter those that will try to make you feel inferior. Take their attitudes and use it to fuel the determination to prove your talent. You’ll find that the journey is worth it, the camaraderie is wonderful, and the competition is energizing.