Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Women and sports

I have been mulling over the difficulties of women's sports after reading this article.  The thing is, women's sports are caught in a very difficult situation.  They get very little TV coverage and drastically lower monetary as well as cultural support than men's sports and this holds back their ability to field truly top notch teams.  Nearly all the coverage out there though is covering the top notch teams and the leagues they play in so you can't get attention without being awesome and you can't get awesome without attention.  Clearly some of the difference is attributable to pure sexism but a lot of it is rooted firmly in the desire to watch only the best teams play.

Do you know about the Houston Aeros?  I sure didn't up until now, and that is entirely attributable to the fact that they aren't good.  I don't know much about hockey but I sure can recognize the major teams.  It doesn't matter whether or not the Aeros have great sportsmanship, put on a fantastic display, or have sparkly jerseys.  They aren't the best so hardly anybody cares.  It is the same reason that you see so many people in Thunder Bay with Toronto Blue Jays gear ... the local team isn't playing in the big leagues.

If the rules of the games were changed to get rid of men's primary advantage I think this trend could be changed dramatically.  That primary advantage is size.  Hockey, football, and basketball players who are fast are great and all but being really big and strong is powerful.  Imagine if the team were limited by weight instead of by body count though.  Shaquille O'Neal and titans like him might well make way for two skilled female athletes at half his weight, but while size and strength are very important and we limit teams by person rather than by mass women have a nearly insurmountable disadvantage.  At the extreme top end the largest and most powerful female athletes are dwarfed by the men and that isn't changing any time soon.

One thing the article I linked suggested was removing the gender divide in sports, specifically the Olympics.  While this would be good in that it would remove difficult questions about transgender, intersex, or other folk who don't fit easily into gender norms it would, I think, demolish female participation in the Olympics.  I always found the gender divide strange (especially in things like chess!) but it certainly serves to increase female participation.  I don't think you can reasonably have women competing against men in most physical disciplines without really gutting overall female representation and I feel like the segregation is the better of the two options.

I would like to see more equal representation in sports and I would like to see mixed gender teams and competitions at high levels of play.  What I don't see is a path to get from here to there.  The sports we as a society like to watch massively favour males at the very highest levels of play and encouraging and supporting female athletes can only partly mitigate that.  We can remove barriers to female participation and provide all the support we can but I don't think we can fundamentally change the desire to only pay attention to the best of the best.

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