Saturday, October 13, 2007

"There's no crying* in baseball**!"

*By “crying” it is meant “audience”
** By “in baseball” it is meant “for professional women’s sports”

Editor’s (My) Note: This is pretty damn long. It was written during weekend peyote & coyote binge.
Also, it is severely un-edited/proofread

My Sunday routine at this time of year is rather simple. I wake up around 11, make myself an omelet that I would categorize a just bit shy of “an effrontery to God,” and then put on a pair of basketball shorts. This sweet and gentle foreplay provides me a base for the sweet love making that will occur between the television and me for the next few hours. From here on in, the day consists of watching football from the noon time pregame until I pass out around 6 p.m. because of an illness I have, which doctors have diagnosed as “eating too much chili.” After an hour or so, I recover from being drunk on chili, just in time for the Sunday night game. Throughout the entire duration of this Sunday sacrament at the altar of blasphemous gluttony, nothing without the stamp of the NFL makes an appearance on the screen. The only possible exception to this is what ESPN immediately airs after its pregame show, which invariably is women’s bowling. Just as invariable is my forgetfulness in regards to football scheduling, and forgetting that ESPN doesn’t show a football game right after the pregame show. And so, a mad scramble ensues as the TV says things like “Split,” “Gutter,” “Turkey,” and “Liz Johnson.” While those things put together may constitute a tragically funny Thanksgiving Day disaster worthy of being portrayed on Frasier, when heard in context though, those words are as boring as female bowling. After a few minutes of utter confusion, I usually find a moment of clarity, and am able to rock myself back and forth, until I get enough momentum to get up from my nest of cushions and blankets, and waddle up to the television to change the channel.



My aversion to women’s bowling is not a strange one. I don’t like bowling, nor would I like to spend any of my waking life watching other people do it. After watching the film Kingpin, I assumed the world of professional bowling was a glamorous one, filled with Amish oafs, hook-handed has-beens, and John Popper cameos. Instead what I get is tedium and John Popper look-alikes. This general disdain for a pseudo-sport got me thinking though on one particular Sunday. To me, bowling is bowling, and bowling is boring, regardless if participated in by males or females. I would change the channel every time there was a bowling telecast shoved in my face by the Pro-Bowling Lobby that controls much of these United States, regardless of who is involved. This, however, can not be said about all sports (the real ones anyways). There are certain sports that I absolutely adore and love to watch, but I can not watch the female equivalent of the same sport. (I doubt it’s a sexist thing, because let’s face it, its 2007. Sexism died in the sixties, much like with racism, intolerance, and a couple of Kennedy Brothers.) And so, the entry will probably be about why professional sports played by females have been largely unsuccessful, and why for the life of me I can’t watch the WNBA. I admit that this entry will probably be devoid of any real arguments.



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First thing that should be addressed when discussing gender and sports is the fact that women’s sports have come very far since the days in which the only sport a girl could participate in was the sport that resulted in a clean house, dinner, and a male heir (I think the Canadians call it “curling”). Since the inception of Title IX (which forbade the gender-based discrimination in any federally financed educational programs, including athletics), there has been a dramatic increase in participation in women’s sports. Today, about 1 in 2 teenage girls participate in sports.

A real pioneer in the sport of Mopping, Ruth Hafner perfected the one-handed mop twist that is still prevalent in competetive Mopping.

But while the progress has remained steady for the amateur levels of high school and college athletics, it has not translated to popularity of women’s sports in the professional domain. Professional women’s sports are currently missing from the American landscape. Other than the WNBA, one would be hard pressed to find any other professional, mainstream league that is exclusively for women. This lack of representation could be attributed to two things: lack of big time investors and a lack of support from the general public. One could hardly blame investors for not putting money into a women’s professional league. The WNBA is undoubtedly the most successful women’s professional sports league, and yet, as of 2006, has never turned a profit. The only reason the WNBA has remained afloat is because of subsidies from the NBA, and the NBA’s commissioner, David Stern’s dedication to the WNBA. For an investor, putting money into the WNBA or any other women’s sports organization is like investing in typewriters, asbestos, or the advocacy of pedophilia: while it’s nice to dream about all the potential profit, ultimately no one is going to buy it.


The next hindrance to the success of women’s sports is public support and public perception. Fairly or unfairly, women’s sports are considered secondary to men’s sports. Currently on TV, there is a commercial that receives a fair amount of airplay that seeks to address the perception the public has about women and sports. In the commercial, various female athletes and coaches, and even some male coaches, approach a megaphone and scream about the following topics: women’s sports have the stigma of not being as good as men’s sports; men may be bigger, stronger, and faster than women, but those qualities aren’t the only things that account into being an athlete, and finally that sports are not about gender, but about skill. The commercial seeks to have women’s sports respected and embraced as their male counterparts by explaining that women’s sports are just as good as men’s, and that there is more to being an athlete than being bigger, stronger, and faster. These claims, at best, are dubious. To say that there is more to being an athlete than being big, strong, and fast is like saying that is more to a ham and cheese sandwich than just ham, cheese, and bread. Sure you can add a tomato into it, and make it with love, but at the end of the day, I’d have to say that the ham and cheese sandwich with more ham, cheese, and bread is the better sandwich. By admitting that men possess these qualities that make them more athletic, these female athletes concede the fact that the men are indeed superior to them in sports, enforcing public perception that states men are better athletes.


The commercial does provide one great insight into perhaps why some female sports are so unpopular compared to their male counterparts. The last statement made by the commercial is that sports are not about gender, but instead about skills. This reasoning, coming from female athletes, ultimately absolves people like me from being deemed sexist. I agree that sports are about skills, and while these women are undoubtedly athletic, and talented, they are by no means the most skilled individuals in their field. In the realm of basketball, football, hockey, or baseball/softball, the disparity of talent, between male and female professionals, is cavernous. To watch the WNBA after being used to watching the NBA is like going from drinking an ice cold Coke to a warm, flat, no-frills brand of cola that no one cares about. If the best WNBA player was transplanted into the NBA, she would have a difficult time cracking the starting line up of any team. This is ultimately relates back to the idea that men are bigger, strong, faster, and are also skilled. In certain sports, being bigger, faster, and stronger is everything. The reason I can’t watch the WNBA without fighting the urge to take a cyanide enema is because the skill level is not as high as it could possibly be. It is settling for a product that isn’t as good, when there are vastly better alternatives. The reason I don’t watch the WNBA is the same reason I don’t watch high school basketball, or Division III college basketball: the level of play is low and it’s not fun to watch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, it seems that women themselves don’t watch the WNBA. A survey conducted showed that there were three times as many women following the NBA than there are following the WNBA. Some of this could be attributed to horrendous marketing by the WNBA and that the NBA has been around longer with more recognizable names. Yet it still shows that even women who like basketball, a target demographic for the WNBA, still prefer the better product provided by the NBA.


The idea of level of skill & talent being the determining factor as to why female sports aren’t as popular can also be seen when it is compared to women’s sports that are actually watchable and popular. Professional women’s tennis would probably be the best example of this. Women’s tennis has produced more easily identifiable female athletes than almost another other sport. This can be partially attributed to the fact that the disparity between men’s tennis and women’s tennis isn’t as spacious. Tennis is a sport in which skill is not necessarily tied to how big or how physically strong someone is. If one were to put Serena Williams into a tennis match with a top men’s pro (barring Roger Federer, who at this point is the Scott Latham of Tennis), it would be an entertaining competitive game. The same could not be said if Sue Bird or Diana Taurasi were put against LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. The level of skill and talent on the women’s tennis stage is about as close to the pinnacle as men’s tennis. Thus, women’s tennis retains a level of popularity and credibility. The most obvious historical example of the parity when it comes to tennis talent between genders is the Battle of the Sexes match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (although this hardly seems fair as King was still in her prime when this occurred and Bobby Riggs was actually a myopic badger and wristbands on). One could also cite Martina Navratilova’s play and dominance in mixed doubles as evidence that in tennis, the difference in performance between men and women are not too different. And this equality in skill could possibly explain the equality in popularity. In fact, one could argue that women’s tennis has been more popular recently (especially in the good ol’ U.S. of A.) than men’s tennis. Tennis shows how gender is overlooked when the talent is relatively equal among genders. It shows that the audience does not automatically assume a sport being played by females is worse than its male analogs because of the gender of the participants , but instead, the audience makes a conscious choice on what they prefer based on how entertaining and how skilled the participants are.


After beating Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King finally showed that in tennis AND in life, women and badgers were equal
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It would seem unfair to write this, and state how sexist attitudes and gender differences don’t contribute to the failures of women’s sports, without addressing social influences that would show how perhaps sexism does play a role in women’s sports. As much progress as women have had in advancing their prominence in the arena of sports, athletics is still identified as a masculine construct. As Messner points out in his interviews with athletes, sports are ingrained into a young male at such a young age, that most don’t remember when they were first introduced to sports. Sports and the characteristics that go with being an athlete such as physical and emotional strength, toughness, durability, violence, endurance, are characteristics that are traditionally viewed as masculine. It is almost a rite of passage for a young boy to play little league sports; trying your best to not disappoint your dad until the 4th Inning, because by that time, he’s no longer sober or conscious. And so, for boys, rejecting sports are usually interpreted as a rejection of masculinity. For the parents of a male child, the rejection sports could be taken as a foreshadowing that the boy will participate in musical theater all through out high school, make fake girlfriends to placate their suspicious friends, and develop an unhealthy obsession with whoever plays Batman lately. This of course isn’t true. A lack of interest in sports does not mean one does not have the normative masculine values, and even if a boy didn’t have the normative masculine values, it shouldn’t be frowned upon (Although I think developing fixations on British actors in hard plastic costumes isn’t the best for a person. I mean, I know he was handsome in 3:10 to Yuma, but he’s not that great).

"Struck out four times? Say buddy, do you wanna go visit that "magic farm" we took your dog to after it got too sick to live with us..."

It works the same way with girls, only in the opposite. A girls’ participation is sports goes against the normative roles put forth by society. It is embracing traditional definitions of masculinity, and denying what has been historically accepted. Even though now girls are more apt to participate in sports, at the end of the day, liking sports is still a quality that is attributed to males. When a girl takes interest in sports, especially in the professional realm, it is still, to an extent, going against the grain of what is expected. As Henley & Freeman point out in their work The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior, the appropriation of behavior and values that go against expected gender roles is bound to be met with resistance. Perhaps this provides an insight on the acceptance of women’s professional sports in society, and why I can’t stand to watch softball or the NCAA Women’s bracket. By participating in professional athletics, women are challenging the old, accepted paradigm; by refusing to accept women’s professional sports as readily as men’s sports, one could interpret it as society as a whole reacting to this shift, as a way to maintain the old ways of understanding sports and gender.

Concepts of beauty also must be considered when discussing women in sports. While I stand firmly with the idea that pro women’s tennis is more popular because it is more competitive and an overall product than women’s basketball or professional softball, one can not omit from the argument basic aesthetics. Women’s tennis has produced such popular stars such as Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Chris Evert, Anna Kournikova, and others not just based on their skills, but also based on the fact that their looks were marketed to a male audience. These women were able to be both marketed to women as heroes and to men as both athletes and sexual objects. It seems that society is more than willing to accept women in sports if they are talented, but also if they are visually pleasing as they do it. This seems to be a pervasive idea not just in tennis but in all female sports. The female athletes that seem to receive the most attention and popularity are usually the ones that are both good at what they do and look good while doing it. It’s no surprise that the most enduring image of women in sports is probably Brandi Chastain scoring the game winning goals in the World Cup, celebrating without her jersey on. The image shows the dichotomy that society seems willing to accept: talent in a masculine field is accepted, but it is embraced when it’s juxtaposed with feminine beauty. Jenny Finch, Amanda Beard and Danica Patrick all benefit from this dichotomy. While they are all very skilled, the fact that they fit the traditional mold of beauty helps them take their career to a level that many of their peers can not. This superficiality can be seen in men’s sports also, but not the same extent. People like Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant (not as much within the last four years though), Derek Jeter and others have definitely been marketed to both men and women in the same way attractive female athletes have been. These are highly skilled individuals who also unfairly happen to be dashing men who look terrific in a tailor made Italian suit. But in the male arena of sports, one could garner attention and sign endorsement deals based on skills and not looks. This speaks to the ability for male athletes to be marketed for the sole purpose of their talent, devoid of any sexual connotations. You could pick any of the various commercials with Peyton Manning and see that his commercials are based on him being attractive, and there are no overt sexual messages in the commercials. But when takes an advertisement with a female athlete, sex is as much a part of the advertising campaign as sports. This social binary in aesthetics points out that in order for female athletes to get any sort of publicity or any sort of a following within our culture, they must be attractive and willing to capitalize on her sexuality.


"Hi, I'm Tom Brady. I'm so damned talented and handsome that I make Christian Bale look like Carlos Mencia."


Are you still reading this entry? Christ, you are a trooper. It’s long, isn’t it? I was going write more, but honestly, I’m tired of writing, especially about this topic. Here’s a synopsis of the last few paragraphs I was going to write: I was going to make the argument that women were a protected class, society won’t allow them to get hurt or too physical, football is the most popular sport but has the least female participation, lack of participation is because football is more violent that an American business man with a school aged Burmese prostitute, show that the most popular female athletes participated in non-contact sports, show how this fits society’s views on feminitity which explains why these sports are more readily accepted. So instead of writing what could be another page, I whittled it down to that.

Societal influences on what is normal, and the fact that certain women’s sports are simply not as good as men’s probably explains why women’s sports aren’t popular. And if it doesn’t, then I just wasted everyone’s time. But I’m sure reading this was still like twelve times better than watching women’s bowling. I mean, those broads can’t bowl for shit!






Referenced Material
1. Messner, M. Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities.
2. Henley, N. & Freeman, J. The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior
3.
http://www.nike.com/nikebiz/news/pressrelease.jhtml;bsessionid=SE3P5TDVOWMHWCQFTARSF5AKAWMEOIZB?year=2007&month=08&letter=h
Nike Assembles All-Star Cast Calling for Equality in Women's Sports
4.
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/wnba/316263_wnba18.html?source=rss Other Voices: Women don't watch WNBA, either

7 comments:

dob said...

Issues:
-You neglected to mention stripping. Stripping is officially recognized as a sport according to this article (http://lemonparty.org/lemonparty.jpg), and women strippers get a whole lote more attention than men strippers.
-Christian Bale is Welsh, and you're pathetic.
-I appreciate that this post, in addition to having some of the best one-liners and subtle shout-outs to pedophilia, will be completely ignored, not due to its length, but because once people realize "Oh it's about women's sports," they'll quickly read/watch/masturbate something else. You're theory that women's sports are boring and pointless will be verified when no one reads this post. Really, effective in a...meta sort of way.

Jessie said...

Joe-
Love the post, but I'm a bit confused...is this a leap into some addional jouranlism of your own? I'm hoping that's the case...hmmm...please email me or just let me know when I see you :o)
-Jessie
http://jessiebg.blogspot.com

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