Stephanie at OUPblog (that’s Oxford University Press) sent me a post on a topic that us feminists don’t seem to talk about very often — the discrimination against women and girls in sports.
Now, maybe we don’t talk about it often because we’re more theoretically-minded people, more likely to have our noses in a book than be out on a race track. And though there are plenty of bookworms who are also athletes or sports fans, it seems like a large number of us aren’t. Also, women are taught from a very young age to not be interested in sports, even with Title IX, because the TV and all of the school pep rallies are still blaring with messages that “serious” sports are for the guys. In any case, I’ve always been a highly nonathletic person and take little interest in sports. All I know is that even with my embarrassingly gratuitous use of tags, I don’t have one for anything to do with athleticism. But my personal interest or investment in an issue isn’t exactly the defining factor in what is an is not a feminist issue.
And as a matter of fact, I did find this post to be very interesting. It’s an interview with Laura Pappano, co-author of Playing With Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports.
Title IX opened doors for females to play sports, but it opened sex-segregated doors, effectively limiting women’s athletics to second-class status. Title IX never demanded equality – only improvement – and it is not well-enforced and budgets for female sports dwarf spending on men’s sports, particularly football. Ticket prices for women’s events are lower than comparable men’s teams- even when a team (like the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team) far outperforms its male counterpart on the national stage. Publicity, television and print exposure for men’s teams remain the primary focus of college sports offices. This is not fair, particularly at institutions receiving federal funds. We need a wholesale re-thinking of the way organized sports are structured and supported.
It’s an interesting point, and certainly not one that I’ve ever considered before. Of course I was aware of the disparities between male and female sports teams in terms of funds and media coverage. But we always consider Title IX to have made things better. And yes, it certainly did. But it also seems to have had the unintended consequences of creating a separate but (not)equal system.
I find her argument about sports at a young age to be even more compelling:
We need to create more opportunities for mixed-sex play. It may be at the very top levels of competition (some Div. I college sports, some – not all – professional sports) that males and females may need to compete in same-sex arenas. But this should NOT be the dominant way that sports at EVERY level are organized. For most of us – from pre-schoolers to older recreational athletes – gender should not be the dominant consideration in creating teams, playing opportunities or competitions. We should also encourage boys & girls to play sports that have not been traditionally played by athletes of their gender, reinforcing the message that sports are played by individuals, not a collection of sex-group attributes. (The final chapter of the book also has other suggestions).
This is one of those strange moments that I think we probably all get from time to time, when the realization smacks you in the forehead that even you, bad ass feminist that you are, can completely overlook a sexist social structure. Why have I never looked at Little League and seen it as sexist? I don’t know. But while it’s true that some kids’ teams are gender-integrated, a hell of a lot aren’t, right down to T-ball, in some cases. Once kids enter Junior High, it’s almost guaranteed that there are going to be separate “boys” and “girls” teams for after-school sports. And in integrated gym classes, I remember that when we played a team sport, the gym teachers would always tell the guys who played in after-school sports to “tone it down,” not for the other boys who didn’t play regularly, but for the girls.
Now that it’s been pointed out to me, yup, that’s pretty fucked up. We ought to do something about it.
I recommend reading the whole interview, and if this is the kind of thing that interests you, the book sounds like it’ll be a good one.