How Disc Golf Isn’t Inclusive and How It Can Be

By Bailey Mareu ~

Paige Pierce at the Silver Cup in Manitowalk, WI (July 11, 2020). Photo Lauren Lakeberg.

During a recent online discussion about diversity and inclusion in disc golf, someone asked me to explain “How disc golf isn’t inclusive.”

The intention in the question was to prove that disc golf is open and welcome to all who want to play and that excluding people, on purpose, because of their race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics simply doesn’t happen.

Calculated discrimination exists (even if you haven’t seen it), and it is a problem, but not being inclusive is sometimes more subtle than being overtly exclusive. I did research to better understand it myself as the discussion on how women are treated in disc golf increased in recent weeks.

Here are a few examples of how disc golf isn’t inclusive of women and girls.

Men as Norm

I work for a disc golf company managing social media channels. From behind the faceless brand, I communicate with a lot of people. I occasionally get messages like “Thanks dude” and “Appreciate it man.”

The men who send these messages assume I am also a man. This is, on the surface, harmless.  Yet, 77% of social media managers self-identify as women. Why is “man” the default when you’re talking to someone whose gender you don’t know?

Uninvited Remarks

Video of women playing disc golf can help encourage more women to try the sport. But when people think it’s okay to make remarks about women’s bodies in the comments section, it’s no longer an inclusive space.

This type of all-too-common harassment recently became the subject of a long (and still, weeks later, continuing) discussion in a women’s disc golf group on Facebook. These discussions inspired conversations on the Ladies of the Chains podcast and PDGA Radio, and has carried over into the #respectHERgame Women’s Disc Golf Campaign.

Here’s the backstory: A well-established disc golf business had been publishing videos of women playing disc golf but was not moderating the comments section. After seeing one inappropriate comment after another, one woman contacted the business and voiced her disappointment, but it took requests from many women for the business to act (some comments were deleted – it remains to be seen what the long-term action will be).

Some people argue that it’s not the business’s responsibility, and that others should “blast” individuals for their inane remarks. But here’s the thing: these comments had been happening on this page for weeks. And commenting on women’s bodies in disc golf – no matter what they’re wearing – has been happening for years. Most don’t listen when one or two women point out sexist remarks. And most men certainly weren’t speaking up. So, online spaces that allow comments about women’s bodies continue to not be inclusive of women.

Proving the point

In some cases, when sympathetic men stay silent and a small number of women speak up to point out and reject sexism, there’s blow back. There are few things that can make a person feel less included than being criticized for asking for greater inclusivity.

A woman points out the sexist logo of an event or calls out a joke or meme for being sexist, and she’s told “it’s just a joke” or “you must not have a sense of humor.” In one case, a woman who pointed out a sexist meme on a Facebook event page became the target of harassment and mockery. The harassers lifted her Facebook photo and used it to make nasty memes involving sexual acts and demeaned her. For what? For pointing out how someone’s actions were not inclusive.

Change, Anyone?

So, how can we become more inclusive to women and girls in disc golf?

Disc golf businesses: Moderate the comment sections in your social media spaces. This is your space and you are responsible for the community you create and the content you allow.

Women: We too can make spaces less inclusive by commenting on what other women wear. Support other women. And let’s work together. We can absolutely make change when we speak up in unison; we’ve proved this just in the last few weeks.

Men: Think about how your comments and behavior might affect women when you’re participating in any disc golf community (offline or online). Women disc golfers need allies. If you’re a man who gets it, express your disapproval for comments that could make women feel unwelcome. And above all, listen to women when they share their opinion. It’s not easy for most women to wade into a comments section with hundreds of comments from men to point out something that makes them feel unwelcome. More times than not, they just walk away. And they’ll keep walking away if things don’t change. It only gets harder in person when, on average, maybe 10% of the people on a disc golf course are women.

Everyone: Tomorrow is the #respectHERgame campaign: “On Tuesday, Oct. 6, we will band together on social media to take a stand against harassment and harmful comments against female disc golfers both online and on the course. Share as many videos of women throwing to your feeds as possible using the hashtag #respectHERgame.”

“Grow the sport” is a rallying cry for disc golfers everywhere. In part, because we want everyone to love the sport we love. But we need to recognize and create the type of environment where that kind of love is possible. For everyone.

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Parked is made possible in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.

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Author Bio

Bailey Mareu has been playing disc golf since 2013. She grew up in Iowa, went to college at The University of Kansas, and currently lives in North Carolina. From 2015-2019, she traveled full time in a camper with her husband, cat, and (eventually) daughter and cannot wait to get back to that nomad life.

2 thoughts on “How Disc Golf Isn’t Inclusive and How It Can Be

  1. This serious discussion is long overdue! Clubs often ‘sell’ disc golf to parks departments and land managers as inclusive, but what is the reality? “Change Anyone?” asks Bailey Mareu. For most (outwardly heterosexual) males disc golf is very inclusive, and accepting, especially if you are competitive. Male ‘club members’ seem to like accepting new male members to the community, in large part I believe because it means more players who they can out-perform (at least in the short-term)… But that’s another topic on competition-driven-participation vs. pure-play-participation which is also an inclusiveness issue… I don’t think the male-dominated disc golf culture overall is very good at adjusting their ‘rules’ for women’s inclusion. Bailey signs off her brave article with “…we need to recognize and create the type of environment where that kind of love is possible.” In this article the word ‘environment’ does not refer to physical space, the actual courses and parks for disc golf. HashTag Activism; #growthesport and #respectHERgame should be promulgated together as she suggests but I don’t see great strides being made in cyber-space alone where screens separate us. As a landscape architect and course designer/builder, myself and my collaborative team believe that the design, construction and maintenance of courses is the physical-space milieu (environment) which is the missing puzzle-piece! The proof is in the pudding; Our latest project includes a 9-hole novice (or pitch-n-putt) with informative, educational, professionally installed signage, trails, built features and landscaping of tees/greens. It feels like a legitimate park, not a trampled after-thought. The number of women playing with spouses, boyfriends, their children, family and other women is off the charts (we need to do a survey). They seem to feel ‘welcome’, I believe, in large part due to the physical design of the space. We must bring design of the physical environment of our disc golf facilities (including introductory practice areas) into the #growthesport inclusiveness strategy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I identify this as the biggest opportunity for growth and also the single biggest hindrance so long as we don’t become more inclusive. How can someone from a smaller local scene (Reno, NV) help involve more women in DG?

      Like

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