Yu-Hsien Tseng’s mission? Bring sports to girls in Taiwan

By Amanda Angel, espnW September 12, 2014

For the past decade, Yu-Hsien Tseng, or “Blue,” as she’s known, has been fighting to bring equality for women’s sports in Taiwan. The society around her favored delicate features and long hair, and discouraged women from serious athletic pursuits. Tseng, with her close-cropped hair and powerful build, had a lifetime of experiences to back that up. But she had few tools to help her change it. One of her most important weapons turned out to be Google.

Tseng, an associate professor at the National University in Taipei, was searching online one day for successful models of support for women’s athletics. She Googled “gender” and “equity” in English, and found articles about Title IX legislation in the United States. Passed in 1972, the act guarantees equal support of women’s and men’s sports. Tseng became fascinated with the law. She also discovered her country had passed a Gender Equity Education Act in 2004, which pledged equal academic backing for male and female students. She set out to use that to provide equal footing in athletics as well.

Her work in Taiwan caught the notice of the U.S. Department of State, which invited her to be one of 16 participants in the 2013 Global Sports Mentoring Program. She was paired with directors at the NCAA and met with coaches, leaders and colleges to learn how they were promoting female athletics.

When she first heard that she would be participating in the program, Tseng says, “I wanted to learn all about Title IX.”

Growing up in Taoyuan, Taiwan, a small city 40 minutes west of Taipei, Tseng sensed she didn’t fit in. She preferred contact sports to playing with dolls. Even on the basketball court, where she was most comfortable, Tseng was often criticized for not being feminine enough.

“They want girls to look like sweeties,” she says, even when they’re defending a layup. Tseng pointed to an expectation that female athletes look and act “ladylike” and to mandates that high school players have long hair tied back for games.

“The ponytailed regulation started in recent years,” Tseng says. “If you came to Taiwan for a high school basketball game, you’ll probably find most of these players look almost the same. I don’t know why people in Taiwan care about the hair so much.”

She says her family wanted her to be a “girly girl” as well, but “when I play, I just want to be as aggressive as I can.”

These days, Tseng, 31, channels the aggression she once reserved for the basketball court into fighting stereotypes of female athletes throughout East Asia.

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