Mills: Embarrassed because she hits better than the boys

From SABR member Dorothy Seymour Mills at on April 23, 2014:

Smart American girls have traditionally been taught never to reveal that they might know more than boys do. Girls of Eleanor Roosevelt’s era concealed their education, if they had any, because they had been told that boys didn’t like educated girls, who might inadvertently reveal that they knew more than the boys did.

It’s unsurprising to learn that this restraint occurs among girls who played baseball, too. We have known for a long time that a lot of girls grew up playing baseball with boys in their neighborhood. That includes women of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Those interviewed for Jim Sargent’s new book, We Were the All-American Girls (McFarland 2013) told Sargent about taking part in baseball with neighborhood boys as a child. One woman, Joyce Hill Westerman, said she played with the boys in her extended family while she was growing up. But, she explained, “when I got up to hit, I used to be embarrassed, because I could hit better than the boys. Being embarrassed, I didn’t want to go up and hit, because you weren’t supposed to be better than the boys.”

This memory reflects a culture of suppression that must have permeated many American homes. I remember hearing it myself, in the twentieth century. How did girls learn that they weren’t supposed to do anything better than the boys could? The adults who taught girls must have instilled the idea in their minds. If their teachers did not, their parents could have.

And why should girls keep their skills or knowledge to themselves and not show their abilities? Because girls were supposed to fit the image of persons whose job in life was not self-realization but to help boys and men in their life passage. Boys were, therefore, more important than girls. And boys should never be shown to be second in anything.

This view was underlined by organized religion of the nineteenth century, which often taught that a woman must be a man’s “helpmeet.” It followed that only men had the ability to lead, create ideas, and shape the world, while women’s responsibility was to assist men; their own creative ideas and abilities were unimportant.

This set of assumptions has surely shaken the self-confidence of many American girls and women. But there is more to this story. The same assumptions have affected boys and men, who were led by these ideas to believe that they are members of the only important sex, that anything girls and women do is insignificant by comparison with masculine abilities and accomplishments. Is there any wonder, then, that when girls and women displayed knowledge or talent, males were displeased?

Not all men accepted this view of the two sexes. And in the twenty-first century many men have gone out of their way tell how much they admire the baseball playing of today’s athletic women and that they believe women will eventually again compete in a professional league, perhaps with men. But in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, many baseball men reflected a negative set of assumptions about women in baseball.

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Originally published: April 23, 2014. Last Updated: April 23, 2014.