Are you a “Lady” or not?

I had a Twitter conversation with a few people last night over the use of “Lady” before a team mascot name to denote women’s sports versus men’s sports at the high school and college levels.

One person made the argument that by having the “Lady” qualifier, women’s sports are being separated and there’s an implication that they aren’t on the same level as men’s.

The other person felt that getting upset over the use of “Lady” was taking political correctness too far. They said they’d never even thought about the topic until someone else brought it up and felt that there was no underlying problem with differentiating between the two.

A quick internet search didn’t pull up any history in terms of the first use of “Lady,” but I hypothesized last night that the origin may have come from newspapers needing a way to distinguish between the teams when covering the sports.

It also likely had its origin in the early part of the 20th century, when being called a “Lady” would have been flattering and possibly used as a way to feminize sports and the athletes who played them.

One of the things I most hate about the use of the “Lady” qualifier is when it creates incongruous names. Here in Milwaukee there’s a Catholic high school who’s nickname is the Popes, meaning the girls teams are known as the Lady Popes.

There are a few cases where the “Lady” moniker has gone beyond use in recaps and has become an accepted part of the team’s name. The Tennessee women’s basketball team is known as the Lady Vols.

As someone who’s had to write recaps of four games at one school in one night, I appreciate the ability to have the “Lady” qualifier at my disposal to be able to help differentiate the articles and make sure the reader knew which sport was being discussed

I also admit to being annoyed when I go to my favorite college’s website and read a headline and am not sure which team is being discussed, so in that way I would appreciate the use of “Lady.”

But those are both opinions tempered by my background in journalism. I can see the need to have a way to distinguish between the men’s and women’s sides for clarity and that tends to outweigh my feminist instinct on the matter.

I find myself not particularly bothered by the use of “Lady,” but I feel like I should be more annoyed. Normally any sort of distinction that separates women from men would get my hackles up, so I’m not sure why I’m so unmoved by this issue.

What do you all think? Acceptable usage or inappropriate separation tactic? Does the very mention of a “Lady” team make your blood boil and you start yelling “Oh hell no!” or are you as ambivalent as I am?

9 thoughts on “Are you a “Lady” or not?

  1. The only time I don’t mind gender distinctions on sports teams is when it’s something like “Cowgirls” where it would sound ridiculous to call the women’s team the “Cowboys” or “Lady Cowboys.” But most sports team names are gender neutral– particularly animal names. (I HATE the UConn women’s basketball team for personal reasons, but I do give them credit for not calling the team “Lady Huskies.”) Giving the women’s teams even a slightly different name, to me, makes it clear they are not the “real” representatives of the school. It’s the same reason why I hate that ESPN.com uses “College Basketball” as the category for only the men, while segregating both college and professional women’s ball under “Women’s Basketball,” even though I think in general they do a pretty good job with their women’s basketball coverage.

    My alma mater just refers to teams of both genders as “Sooners.” On the sports news site for the university the headlines sometimes read “Sooner women win …” or “Sooner men take on…” I admit we have an advantage because Sooner has an adjective form. Still, I don’t think it’s that confusing … it seems like in most stories the lead usually clarifies which team it’s in.

  2. I am usually the bitchiest bitch on this kind of stuff but this really doesn’t bother me on a few levels, the first of which is that we have bigger fish to fry. As long as the girls get funding and get to play I kind of thing I could care less what they were called. (Except maybe if they were called the “Lady Beavers”.)

    I do think that at this point they should just call them [blank] women’s [sport]. Cornell women’s basketball, Cornell men’s basketball, it might be tedious but it works.

  3. I have never really given this much thought until reading your article. Our high school mascot was a tiger and our women’s teams were referred to as the Lady Tigers. That has never, and still doesn’t, bother me. My college mascot was a Trojan. I never heard Lady Trojans that I can recall. It was always Trojan men or Trojan women. Like GM’s example, this can take adjective form so it flows very well. I don’t mind being qualified as a Lady. Just don’t call them girls and it will be fine by me :)

  4. Oddly, Mr. Bee and I were talking last night about the Syracuse Orangemen are now the Syracuse Orange (and also, how I should have picked them for the Final Four *sigh*)

    I’m strangely OK with this because I think it always depends on the context, such as a news story or radio ad (I used to have to do this often as a radio copywriter) where you are differentiating between the men’s and women’s teams. But I think schools need to consider the impact names have on the teams and communities they play in. Let’s not patronize these athletes because of their gender, and let’s keep cultural sensitivities in mind. I’m looking at you, Washington Redskins!

  5. I can’t avoid any conversation about this topic because of my high school. First off, the mascot for the school’s sports teams is “Redmen,” which is bad enough because of the racial component. Then, you have the women’s sports teams which were called the “Lady Redmen” for the longest time, but I think are now just called the “Lady Red” (not sure about that, though).

    Just a little story about how ridiculously stupid my high school is and how we have a name that manages not only to be racist but sexist too.

  6. Part of the reason Tennessee’s called their women’s teams the Lady Vols for so long is that the men’s and women’s athletic departments are actually two separate things at UT. It’s not a “separate but equal” thing; Summitt’s women just draw in enough revenue/donors that I assume that’s feasible to structure things like that.

    That said, this has never really bugged me: It’s an easy way to differentiate between two teams that play the same sport, it’s far less feminizing and dismissive than some things thrown at women’s sports, and it’s primarily used today by athletic departments that keep the “Lady” proudly because of some history.

    I can see where it would bug people, though. I’d guess a case-by-case basis is best.

  7. When I was in college, I was pretty irked by this. I played club hockey, and I still have my “Lady Buckeyes” jersey. I’d thought of myself as a Buckeye for as long as I could remember–why did I suddenly have to be a Lady Buckeye? Were Buckeyes actually only male all along? And did that mean that women were lady men?

    I still don’t like it. I guess I can see the journalistic practicality, but do people really not know what team they’re reading about? I don’t think something like the Cowboys/Cowgirls bugs me as much.

  8. What Holly said. I played varsity basketball in college, and thankfully we were all just Lions — we didn’t make the distinction between the men’s and women’s teams. I honestly don’t understand the need for it.

  9. I’m mostly neutral on the “Lady” moniker, except for the Lady Popes. Come on.

    (Honestly, I’m more surprised that the Catholic Church is OK with even men’s/boys’ teams using Popes as a nickname. I’d more expect them to say that there’s only one Pope and he does not live in Milwaukee.)

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