‘Lady Dragons’: Is gender name for sports teams empowering or patronizing?
While the country is glued to TVs this month to unravel the final episodes of “Game of Thrones,” a lesser drama is playing out at Sonoma Valley High School. Both have ladies and both have dragons. But only at the high school does anyone have a problem with that.
Sonoma resident Deirdre Dolan wrote to the Index-Tribune last week observing that, “disturbingly, the girls high school teams are often referred to as ‘Lady Dragons,’ rather than just ‘Dragons,’ as are the boys.”
A cursory glimpse at the Index-Tribune’s sports headlines show the examples abound: “Sonoma’s Lady Dragons stand up to league-leading Vintage High,” “Lady Dragons cagers hunt for Vine Valley wins,” and “Lady Dragons tough out win against Napa,” among others.
In her letter to the I-T, Dolan, a former high school athlete and human resources professional who retired to Sonoma, goes on to cite an admittedly archaic definition of “lady” as someone “not able to stand alone; dependent.”
One must scroll down to find the definition Dolan cites in her source, dictionary.com. The site defines “lady” first as “a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken; of high social position or economic class.” But under the use of “lady” as an adjective, the web dictionary defines it as “sometimes offensive, being a female” – with the example given: “a lady reporter.”
According to former Index-Tribune sports editor Bill Hoban, the use of “Lady Dragon” to refer to the female sports teams at Sonoma Valley High School has been around for some time. “I can’t remember not using it and that goes back 22 years,” he said.
Former Index-Tribune owner Bill Lynch said the origins of “Lady Dragons” start with Steve Serafini, the longtime sports editor who preceded Hoban. “Not sure when,” he coined the term, Lynch recalls. “Retire it please,” he adds.
For his part, Serafini recalls that when he started as the paper’s sports editor, in 1991, he got flak from readers who objected to the term “Dragon girls.”
“So I changed it to Lady Dragons, and I never got a complaint,” he said – giving legs to the legend that it was the press who coined the term in the first place.
But it’s not just Serafini or Hoban who have used “Lady” to refer to female school sports teams. According to a 2015 article in the Tennessean, a USA Today publication, at that time 95 NCAA schools used the term “Lady” for their women’s team.
The same article quotes Ketra Armstrong, a University of Michigan professor, who believes no distinction should be made between men’s and women’s sports. “I think if we get rid of that ‘Lady’ moniker… it’s really going to help create this unified identity for consumers, for the athletes and for the entire university that is being represented.”
So while the modifier “lady” is not uncommon in sports, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
Dolan points out that merely by applying an adjective, the value of the boys and girls teams is differentiated. “Why is the gender adjective applied only to the girls’ sports teams?”
The adjective issue was apparently of concern to Armstrong as well. “I think it has created this binary: the norm and what’s out of the norm, the good and what’s not so good, this is the real sport and this is the other sport,” she is quoted in the Tennessean.