Thursday, January 28, 2016

A rare opportunity

One thing I really like about parenting is having complicated discussions with Elli, and figuring out afterwards how I could have done those conversations better.  This week she and I went out for dinner at a pub and she asked me why all of the TVs were showing sports shows about men and none of women.


I mean, you could just summarize with 'sexism!' and not be exactly wrong, but it isn't complete.

The Toronto Marlees don't get on TV much, and they are an all male team.  They don't get on TV because they aren't as good.  That is a really powerful driving force, and it hits women in sport in a bad way.  If you have leagues that are the absolute best, those leagues are going to have nearly all men in them, and they are going to get all the coverage.

Sexism certainly plays a big part though.  After all, it isn't a coincidence that the most popular sports are focused around violent smashing that requires players to be extremely strong and large rather than focusing on finesse.  Sports with rules that highlight things that top male players excel at are the most widely watched at least in part for that reason.  Also of course there is plenty of institutional friction keeping women from competing in those sports, ranging from the way we treat young children really differently based on sex to overt barriers to adult women in sport.

Normally when I go on long rants about these things Elli's eyes glaze over to some extent and we end up moving on to talking about her favourite TV show or something, but this time she came out with something that I should have mentioned myself but didn't:  The real problem for her is that she really wants to see people like herself represented and that doesn't happen.  It isn't fair, she told me, that boys get to see men playing on TV but girls don't get to see women.  (I would argue that it is unfair to everyone to see only men playing, but I certainly see how it is most impactful for small girls.)

It is tough when home and school send the clear message that women are equal and can do whatever they want, when TV sends the message that men get to do the cool stuff.  It makes it seem like teachers and parents are just fooling themselves, like we are just lying to ourselves and each other.  Which, I suppose, is sometimes the truth.  We want women to have every opportunity that men do.  We believe that they should.  But we have to recognize that out in the world that isn't true.  It is getting better, no question, but still there are so many problems.

I guess I need to say that yes, my small one, you aren't going to play in the NHL.  Neither am I.  But there are so, so many wonderful things you can do, and I hope you don't let other people's foolish impressions of what women can or ought to do stop you from doing those things.


  1. You could watch women's hockey or basketball with her (the fact that it's harder to find may be a lesson for another day). You could talk about or


  2. Curling and tennis also have rather robust women's divisions that get shown on tv.

  3. Good points. I don't have a TV though, so she only sees sports when we go to a pub... which is about once every 3 years or so. :)