WOMEN IN COMPETITIVE CROQUET..
Introduction by: Bob Alman
THE INTERNATIONAL EDITORS' FORUM
Cartoons by: Jack Shotton
Ladies and gentlemen, I propose to declare that there is nothing wrong with
the balance of the sexes in the sport of croquet or in the way the sport is
conducted by associations and clubs throughout the world with regard to fair
treatment of the sexes.
When THE HILDITCH REPORT went online with the speculations of Richard
Hilditch on "Why aren't there are more top women croquet players?" the
response seemed to warrent a fuller investigation. We decided to ask
prominent editors and other luminaries in the croquet world to report their
observations, particularly with respect to their own personal experiences and
the policies and programs of their clubs and associations.
These six writers have all given thoughtful and insightful commentary on the
issue. They provide convincing sociological and biological explanations as
to why there are so few women at the top in croquet today; they produce
detailed statistical analyses showing the decline, over time, in the playing
level of women when compared to men; and they make entirely reasonable
suggestions for "solutions" to this problem.
When one has read all of it, however, our Editors' Forum shows that all the
"solutions" have been tried or are already in place in one or more countries,
and nothing has seemed to seriously affect the relative positions of men and
women at the top levels of croquet. In every major croquet country, the
proportion of top women croquet players is about the same as the proportion
of female theretical physicists and symphony conductors: there just aren't
very many of them.
In the United States, the only country that celebrates the absolute equality
of women by having NO separate tournaments anywhere, ever, for men and women
(and no significant "mixed doubles" events, either), women at the top are
just as rare as they are on other continents.
In each of the countries of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Great
Britain, there is an established tradition of separate tournaments for the
sexes, at many levels. This cannot be shown to have any effect, one way or
the other, on the ability of women to progress to the top in the sport.
For those who recommend that less complex forms of croquet should be
emphasized to help equalize the sexes, you need only look to the example of
Egypt, where ONLY Golf Croquet has been played for seventy-five years. And
only once in all that time has a woman advanced to the finals of the National
Championships Open. (See "Croquet by the Nile is Hard, Fast, and Thoroughly
"In every major croquet-playing country, the proportion of top women croquet
players is about the same as the proportion of female theoretical physicists
and symphony conductors."
Some tentative conclusions, however, can be drawn from examining the pattern
of decline in the relative excellence of female play in Australia and New
Zealand. Women "down under" were surprising strong, in retrospect, until
the 60's and 70's - which happens to be the period in which the "triple peel"
became the expert's trademark of excellence in croquet. The advancing
complexity of the game seemed to turn women off while at the same time
attracting an influx of male players; the same thing happened in England, at
the same time and, one presumes, for the same reasons.
Croquet distinguished itself in the British Isles in the 19th Century as a
delightful pastime that could be played equally by the sexes. Now, as one
American has observed, croquet in England is "a guy thing." Debbie Cornelius
is one of the guys. Croquet is something the GUYS do together - to such an
extent that now only 25 percent of croquet players are women in Britain.
Surely there is some significance in this one statistic, so radically out of
balance with the rest of the world. One must ask, "How have the British so
successfully excluded women from their ranks, and why?"
Maybe it has something to do with typically British gender-based attitudes,
so well lampooned in the cartoons of Jack Shotton in the GAZETTE (some of
which are reproduced here). Gail Curry's pointed question to the guys who
run the Croquet Association reverberates with undertones of skepticism: Are
they really interested in changing the culture of croquet in Britain? She
Has the advancing complexity of the game in Great Britain - currently the
masters of the sport - anything to do with the declining numbers of women
competing there? Perhaps women find boring the increasing complexity of
croquet at the top, as Hilditch suggests. In a time when world champion
Robert Fulford and others are seriously questioning the value of the refined
tactics and strategy which players must adopt to have any hope of winning, it
may be reasonable to suggest that if croquet were more fun, more women would
be motivated to learn to play it well. Just how much fun is it, really, to
set up and execute the obligatory triple peel - every time?
"Women...were surprisingly strong, in retrospect, until the 60's and 70's -
which happens to be the period in which the 'triple peel' became the
expert's trademark of excellence."
Most croquet players in the U.S. remember when croquet was touted as "the
fastest growing sport in America." The USCA was not organized until the
late 70's. No one played very well. Our club had almost a hundred members
in the mid-80's, and most of them have disappeared. Croquet was a lot of fun
in those days. But then, by the late 80's, we got to be good players. We
learned sophisticated tactics. We had to WORK to win. The social players
This pattern has been duplicated many times in the U.S. in the last two
decades. Clubs are established, lots of people join, it's fun, everybody
learns together - and then, gradually, the men are separated from the boys,
and the women are separated from the men.
Why is croquet no longer "the fastest growing sport in America?" I say it's
because, for most people, it's not as much fun as it could be, whether they
play American Rules or International Rules.
We proudly compare croquet with other, "simpler" sports, but we would be wise
not to be arrogant about it, because wo do not compare favorably in one
essential respect: the game is not interactive in the way that tennis is, or
golf. In tennis, even if you're a poor player going against an ace, you can
still be sure a ball is going to come your way and give you some action in
almost every turn; you're going to get to serve the ball. You're going to
have a chance to play, even if you lose badly.
In golf, it doesn't matter how bad you are, you're still going to get to put
that ball down the hole, eventually. In fact, the worse you are, the more
you get to play!
I don't have to tell you what happens in croquet. If you don't play well,
you don't play. You sit down, you have lunch - unless, of course, it's Golf
Croquet, which guarantees you just as many strokes as your opponent, no
matter how proficient.
What we do to drive people away from our sport is not just a problem of men's
attitudes versus women's attitudes, but I believe the issue of the sexes and
their differences allows us to look at the larger issue - the really
important issue - of how we limit the growth of the sport.
Croquet needs an interactive version of the sport. Croquet needs to
promote and support at the club level a form of the game which is
interactive and which can be as quickly understood as tennis or golf.
"Clubs are established, lots of people join, it's fun, everybody learns
together - and then, gradually, the men are separated from the boys, and the
women are separated from the men."
There is nothing wrong with the balance of he sexes in croquet, anywhere in
the world. What we need to do is acknowledge and celebrate the difference
between men and women, instead of complain about it - the difference in
attitude, in priorities, in habits of thought, in motivation. Women can
learn something from men about focus and concentration on a single goal; men
can learn from women the sheer pleasure of the process of the game and the
social context in which it is played out.
Women should not be stigmatized as "lesser players" because their interest in
the game is not focused on winning at all costs. Golf Croquet should not be
stigmatized as a "lesser game" because it does not require the mind-bending
tactical thinking of more "advanced" forms of the game.
Why is it that only in croquet do we insist that social players conform to
the standards of the "pro's?" This is like forcing softball players to play
the "real" game - baseball. It's like saying to someone who enjoys checkers,
"You can't do that on this board; you have to play chess."
I don't think it works to promote croquet as "chess on grass." I think we
need to promote "checkers on grass," allow people to choose, and not
criticize their choice. Allow "Association Laws." Allow the 14-point game.
Allow American Rules. Allow Golf Croquet in all its forms. Allow Men's and
Women's, Mixed Doubles, and sex-balanced inter-regional teams. Choice
sells - on supermarket shelves, and in croquet's schedule of events.
As more women exercise their choice to become leaders of their governments
and CEO's in their corporations, perhaps more of them will choose to become
top croquet players. And if they don't, so what? It's probably because, as
Richard Hilditch says, they have more important things on their mind.
."...I believe the issues of the sexes and their differences allows us to
look at the larger issue - the really important issue - of how we limit the
growth of the sport."
There is little our clubs and associations can do to prevent traditional
stereotypical images of male and female affecting the way we individually
relate to each other on the croquet court. The differences in male and
female attitudes and behavior are well known. But those are only
statistical norms. They have nothing to do with the way you and I play
croquet with our male and female partners and opponents, anywhere in the
croquet world. (When they get croquet in Afghanistan, we'll have to have a
different conversation about personal choice and sexually determined social
It is evil to superimpose generalized statistical norms upon our personal -
and sporting - relationships. And we all do it, anyway. The contributors
to this Editors Forum remind us of the many ways we do it and spell out all
the reasons. But we don't have to be stuck with the reasons.
Clubs and associations can't change your personal attitudes about your own or
someone else's potential. You have to do that yourself. When the
conclusions of evolution decreed that Debbie Cornlius should put on a pretty
frock and make tea sandwiches while the men played croquet, she wasn't
listening; she was triple-peeling and staking out.
Croquet started out as a uniquely egalitarian sport in the British isles in
the 19th Century. If at the end of the 20th Century we cannot fully
realize this egalitarian ideal in the way we relate to each other as men and
women on the court, I say it's a damned shame, it's your own fault, you have
a choice, and you shouldn't put up with it any longer.
--Bob Alman, Editor
"When evolution decreed that Debbie Cornelius should put on a pretty frock
and make tea sandwiches while the men played croquet, she wasn't listening."
CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE / CROQUET IN AMERICA