By Mckenna Middleton | Copy Editor
We have been sorted into gender-specific categories since birth, when a child’s genitals somehow directly correspond to a particular colored blanket: pink for girls and blue for boys. Starting the day we come into the world, the genders are separated into to polarized groups, one marked by masculinity and expectations of entitlement, the other filled with femininity and implied frailty. For the rest of our life, we are presented repackaged versions of that same pink/blue distinction.
One of these gender distinctions has recently come to the attention of the media in Waco. The name of the Midway High School sports team is the Panthers. However, if students are part of a women’s sports team at Midway, they instead go by the “Pantherettes.” The feminization of mascots is nothing new, even here at Baylor where we support both the Bears and the Lady Bears.
Earlier this summer, Midway senior Miriam McCormick spoke out against the different titles in front of the school board. She explained that the “-ette” suffix implies something is “smaller“ or “inferior.“ She brought forward the radical idea that there is nothing inherently masculine about this particular title that deems it necessary to make a feminine form of the name.
To put into perspective just how offensive and demeaning the “-ette” terminology is, imagine if female lawyers were referred to as lawyerettes. Or if female doctors were referred to as doctorettes. It doesn’t seem like such a trivial sexist suffix in these terms. Like “lawyerette“ and “doctorette“, “pantherette“ is not a real word; it suggests a society in which language must be used to differentiate female athletes from male ones, serving as a constant reminder that though women can now participate in collegiate and high school athletics, they are still viewed as “smaller” and “inferior” to the men they play alongside.
Thanks to McCormick’s efforts, the school board voted to change the team name to be uniform regardless of gender. However, this small but notable triumph was short lived. In the months following the decision, community backlash reached such magnitude that the school board decided to reconsider and eventually reinstate the “Pantherettes.”
People opposed to the name change claim it breaks “tradition.”
While I understand that there is sanctity in continuing a 60 year old tradition, the issue goes much deeper. Traditional patriarchy has promoted a society that constantly distinguishes the differences between women and men and implies that they are inferior to men. While seemingly trivial, the feminization of mascots illustrates this very principle.
Simply put: an underlying toleration for sexism in the name of tradition is the very core of the issue. Tradition told Sonia Sotomayor she couldn’t be a Supreme Court justice. Tradition told Sally Ride she couldn’t go to space. Tradition told Venus and Serena Williams they couldn’t be professional athletes.
Ironically, many of McCormick’s critics were former Midway female athletes advocating the tradition of the “Pantherette” team name. McCormick even reported facing cyberbullying and community backlash for speaking out about this important issue. The recognition of these kinds of casually sexist classifications must be met with a communal support for positive change. Gender equality begins at these seemingly simple levels. If we can’t band together in support of small steps for gender equality, like getting rid of “-ette” at the end of a mascot name, how can we ever expect to minimize the wage gap or put an end to things like rape culture?