I have recently found myself in the most unlikely position: On the board of a local sports association. Anyone who knows my former real life glasses-wearing book-reading self would be surprised at the disconnect.
So I have come to sports late, in a sense. I had almost forgotten my child self, the child who did well in marathons but never actually won, who made it to inter-school athletics and the first eleven girls’ soccer team in high school and who consistently surprised P.E. teachers with both my negative attitude towards P.E. class and the ease at which I picked up certain sports.
Then I turned 14 and gave up sport for 20 years.
Giving up sport is pretty typical for teenage girls.
Instead of an amazing burst of power at adolescence, we start bleeding from our nether regions and any increase in strength is offset by the addition of several layers of fat in preparation for the creation of human life. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason why lots of teenage girls give up sport. Suddenly I could no longer do chin-ups. My lithe high-jumping pre-adolescent body would have looked ridiculous to onlookers, throwing itself over a pole, lying prostrate and disconcertingly vulnerable on a vinyl-covered mattress.
WE TREAT GIRL ATHLETES DIFFERENTLY AND MOSTLY DON’T EVEN NOTICE WE’RE DOING IT
About a month ago I was learning how to serve a tennis ball alongside a bunch of adolescent players — all boys apart from a girl — when the coach started the session by ‘teaching’ us how not to throw a ball:
“First thing to remember is, don’t throw like a girl.” (Points at a little boy.) “Now X, you throw like a girl. You’ve got to stop that.”
Seething on the inside, I pulled the coach up on his sexism. He then explained (mansplained) to me that boys and girls do indeed throw differently, because boys go out and climb trees and exercise their upper bodies, whereas girls sit inside and do crafts, and need to be taught how to throw.
This is otherwise an excellent local coach, who does a lot for the sporting community. But I have been unable to get through to him that despite his nurture over nature logic, teaching kids that girls throw badly is a classic case of sexism. Nor does he realise that he routinely calls the girls ‘Sweetheart’ and the boys ‘Champ’ or ‘Champion’. How nice it would be, to just once be called a champion! I had a primary school teacher who called me ‘Shortcake’ and I hated it. My mother had given him shortcake as a Christmas gift. I’m sure he wouldn’t have adopted the name of a pastry for me if I’d been of the male persuasion.
In this way:
GIRLS LEARN THAT WE’RE NOT QUITE AS WELCOME IN THE SPORTING ARENA
Yesterday I helped out at the tennis club open day. Throughout the morning, parents and their children dropped in to have a few hits of the ball with a variety of tennis rackets we hung on the fence to entice them in. “Look!” the little boys said to their parents, tugging at their sleeves. The little boys dashed onto the court, threw the ball, hit it badly, had fun anyway. So did the toddler girls. The older girls I played with stood at the gate and waited to be invited onto the court. (I actively solicited business.) I placed racquets in the girls’ hands and told several of them that girls tend to give up sport at adolescence, but promise me you won’t do the same. “Sorry!” they said, hitting the ball to me badly, but no more badly than the boys. And I remembered my own self, just a year ago, coming back to tennis as an adult, having to be gently reminded by the male president that I don’t actually have to say sorry for hitting the ball badly. Hell, I’ve since played with women who apologise for hitting it well.
In New Zealand where I grew up, media coverage and general interest in sport is very high for men’s sport, but women’s sport hardly gets a look in. NZ is of course completely typical in the disparity. It’s possible that coverage of women’s sport is even decreasing in relation to men’s despite feminism:
There are so many ways in which the UCI could support the sport for women, but instead they have acted, regardless of their intent, in a way that has caused the sport to lose events. Gone are the women’s Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L’Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America. No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a 2 week Tour de France we have nothing. Today, in January, the major race in the women’s calendar this year, the one from which I have the pink tee-shirt, has no organizer and no route.
– from Nicole Cooke’s retirement statement (cycling)
In Australia, there is more coverage of horse racing than of women’s sport.
In NZ and Australia there is too much media coverage of sport in general. I’m arguing for less coverage of male sport rather than more coverage of women’s. The percentage of air time is disproportionate to how important sport actually is. (It’s not very important.) But as long as we’re all gawking at groin injuries, our eyes are averted from bigger social justice issues that Australia is facing right now. If we all directed as much attention to the asylum seekers as we do to sport, I’m sure enough voters would be horrified enough to do something about it.
sport is undeniably a significant part of Western culture
Sport is one of the major means by which values and attitudes are shaped in Western culture. Governments spend large amounts of money in the pursuit of national sporting success, successful sportsmen are idolized and imitated, and televised sport is avidly watched by millions. Those sporting activities which arouse the most passion are constructed as ritual re-enactments of the myth: ‘our’ team, or ‘our’ Olympic representatives go forth to do symbolic battle with their opponents. They are expected to be strong, brave and dedicated to the cause. They are expected to win. If they succeed they are awarded a glittering trophy and we welcome them home as national heroes. Significantly most of the sport which is widely promoted through the media is male sport. In a paper delivered at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1995 Gay Mason argued that sport, in general, plays a central role in the development of masculinity and that ‘sporting discourse offers a prime site for the construction of ‘maleness’. According to Mason the images of male bodies engaged in sporting activities constitute one of the main ways in which the superiority of men becomes ‘naturalised’, and the media, in their reporting of sport, ‘conspire in naturalising hegemonic masculinity’. The notions of male physical strength, force, potency and skill constructed by sport are translated into social concepts of masculine authority and power.
– Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan
We can’t be what we can’t see
“You know what, Dad? I’ll just become an umpire. There. I’ve figured it out!” He laughed, wished me good luck, and said “I’m not sure how well that would be received by a lot of the people who watch the games, Caitlin.”
– from Why aren’t there more women officials in sport? from Persephone.
AND WHEN WE DO SEE OURSELVES IN SPORT, IT’S NOT OUR SPORTING SKILLS THAT ARE THE MAIN INTEREST
Note the headless female body, even on the cover of a feminist novel by a feminist author
60% of girls have quit a sport because of the way they look, from Policy Mic. (How many have never started?)
Eugenie Bouchard Asked To Twirl by [Australian] Male Reporter from SBS
Sports Illustrated Loves Models. Female Athletes? Not So Much. From Jezebel
SPORT FOR GIRLS IS MORE HEAVILY SEXUALISED
…here in Sydney: a portrait photographer submits a range of photos for an exhibition about women’s sport. Her folio includes – among others – portraits of a surfer, a footballer, a basketball player, and a pole dancer, but the gallery decides to reject one of the portraits. [The pole dancing one.]
What do you think? Is pole-dancing a sport? Is it a ‘women’s sport’?
Is pole dancing a ‘women’s sport’? from Daily Life
Yes, pole-dancing is a sport in that it requires much physical prowess and fitness and dedication. But I note with interest that straight men are not taking it up in droves. Why not? Because pole dancing is for women, or because being sexually objectified is for women?
How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes? from BPS
LFL is Not a Sport! It Is Glorified Sexuality (I would amend that title to ‘Sporty-Fetish Porn’
The truth is, audiences are happy to watch girls playing sport. But audiences are not so happy to watch women playing sport. Teams of unaccessorised, sweaty women playing games at the top level is harder to market.
No, Female Athletes Don’t Have To Be Girly, Thank you, from GOOD
ESPN Cricket News, about India’s female elite cricketers
This is also from Jezebel, so take the title with a dose of irony
Sexism, LBGT and Sport from FTB
Is Women Playing in Men’s Leagues a step forward? from Daily Life See also: Girls and Sport by Chris Scanlon
The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport from The Age
President Obama Is A Big Fan Of Girls’ Sports, from Jezebel. (Notice they didn’t say ‘women’s sports’.)
One! Two! Three Strikes, You’re Outdating Yourselves With Your Views on Women and Sports! from Persephone Mag
The Ladies’ Guide To Football Promises To Tell You Dumb Broads What All The Man-Fuss is About from Jezebel
Women in Sports Week: Because Being Girly Doesn’t Mean Being Weak: ‘Bring It On‘ from Bitch Flicks
Sexism and blogging in the hockey media: Puck Daddy roundtable debate