Latest sexism skirmishes center on the right to be `considered'
THERE may be good reasons that a girl should not play on an all-male high school football team. There may even be a sound rationale for why females should not be accepted into membership in a community boys' club.
And thoughtful judgment may even dictate that a woman not be the first choice for a Boy Scout troop leader.
But such decisions should be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration many factors, including (but not exclusively) gender.
The point is that tradition-clad stereotypes are no longer appropriate. Furthermore, courts and public jurisdictions are starting to send this message loud and clear. They're not saying that women should automatically be admitted to all and every male-dominated pursuit. What they are saying is that women, simply because they are women, should not be excluded automatically from these activities; they have a right to be considered. Three cases in point
This point is spotlighted in three distinctly different cases now in the news:
In a pair of socially, if not legally, historic court rulings, two East Coast girls were recently given the opportunity to compete with boys on the gridiron. Significantly, neither decision guarantees Elizabeth Balsley or Jacqueline Lanz, both 16-year-olds, a place on her high school squad, only the right to compete for such a spot.
After reviewing broad-based arguments about teen-age girls' physical fitness, safety factors, and physiological considerations, Daniel B. McKeown, a New Jersey state administrative law judge, ruled that Miss Balsley's local school board had unconstitutionally denied her a chance to try out because of an ``outdated belief that girls, by their nature, cannot compete with boys, rather than its independent evaluation of her individual ability.''
A New York federal district judge, Louis L. Stanton, reasoned similarly in deciding that Miss Lanz had the same right to try out for the team as her male schoolmates.
His ruling flies in the face of a state education law that prohibits girls from competing with boys in contact sports -- including football, basketball, boxing, ice hockey, rugby, and wrestling. The jurist said he had no quarrel with this edict's safety objectives, but he challenged physiological data as too general. ``Some girls,'' Judge Stanton said, ``may be more physically fit than boys.'' And he added that the law should not automatically bar them from showing their athletic prowess.
California's Supreme Court, in overthrowing the ``no girls'' policy of the Boys' Club of Santa Cruz, said the ban had an arbitrary bias against females. California law outlaws discrimination at a ``business establishment'' based on race, religion, national origin, or sex. The Boys' Club -- which operates a community recreation center for 1,100 boys -- falls into this category, the court said. It also based its decision on the fact that the Boys' Club is the only facility in th e area that provides a gym and an indoor swimming facility for youth. Can women become Boy Scout leaders?
In a Connecticut case just entering the legal system, the Boy Scouts of America is challenging a state human rights commission ruling that would force it to appoint Catherine Pollard, a longtime Scout worker, to a post as scoutmaster. The commission held that Mrs. Pollard was arbitrarily denied this position on two occasions solely because she is a woman.
The case is now before a Superior Court judge. Both sides indicate that it could eventually end up in the United States Supreme Court.
At issue is not Mrs. Pollard's experience or professional credentials. The Boy Scouts concede that. She has served the volunteer group for 35 years in positions ranging from den mother to ``unofficial'' troop leader. And she is praised by the organization for her positive influence on merit-badge candidates through the years.
What is at issue is a 75-year-old policy of the Boy Scouts of America which has kept any woman from officially leading a troop.
George Davidson, lawyer for the Boy Scouts, stresses that ``boys, particularly those between the ages of 11 and 14, need a male role model outside the home.''
He says many Scouts come from single-parent families, usually headed by mothers. And their school experience is dominated by female teachers. Hence, Mr. Davidson reasons, a male image is vital.
Pollard's lawyer, Susan Bartholomew, says there is no reason a woman -- particularly one like Catherine Pollard -- cannot help ``build character, patriotism, and physical well-being among boys.'' ``Can only men impart these values?'' she asks. Miss Bartholomew also points out that the ``right to be considered'' is clearly an issue in the Pollard matter: ``It goes to the fundamental concept of antidiscrimination law.''
If this case reaches the US Supreme Court, the justices could be influenced by a 1984 ruling in a Minnesota case in which they held that the Jaycees of America violated the state's ``public accommodation'' antidiscrimination laws by categorically excluding women from membership. In so doing, the high court disallowed the volunteer group's claiming the constitutional right of ``freedom of association'' to justify such exclusion.
Davidson insists that the Jaycees' case does not apply to the Boy Scouts, which, he says, is a private volunteer group and not involved in ``business training'' like the Jaycees, which was thus subject to government regulation. A Thursday column