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A Sporting Chance

February 14, 2013

There is something I have wanted to write about on this blog for a long time. I have put it off for a number of reasons, chief amongst them is that I don’t know if I can properly paraphrase the thoughts that have been swirling around my head. It is a topic of such importance that imprecise language and unclear reasoning could undermine the point I am trying to make. I have also delayed in writing about this topic because I am aware that by voicing my opinions, I will be labeling myself as a typical lefty-feminist and therefore (in the eyes of many) not worthy of being taken seriously. But this week, for some reason, I have noticed this issue cropping up again and again and I can keep silent no longer.

What is this issue, you wonder, that has our poor blogger so red in the face? What could rile our introspective friend? You will think me silly to make an issue of it.

Women and sports.

That’s what I want to talk about. Women and sports.

While sport is probably the most trivial and meaningless sector of the entertainment industry, it is still held in high regard throughout the world. It is the one thing that the global population can agree on and we regularly celebrate this fact by holding international sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup. More than art or religion, sport has the power to draw people together in common purpose. It is primal and sophisticated. It is the intersection of intellect and strength. Kings and paupers, presidents and hoboes, all are welcome to sup from the table of sport.

All, that is, except for women.

Now hold on, I hear you object, there are many women athletes. There are whole leagues and associations devoted to the participation of women in sport, from the WNBA to the Lingerie Football League.

And that is exactly my point. Now, in what was to be the enlightened future, we still insist that women play in their own separate leagues.

Well, you say, that is because women, because of their missing Y chromosome, simply aren’t strong enough or big enough or fast enough to play with the men. Sport, by and large, is about physical prowess.

And this is where I begin to take issue. Wander into any den in America with a sporting event on the TV. Go to any pub in the UK where all eyes are locked on the telly. Go to a restaurant in Pakistan where they are watching the cricket on satellite. The discussion will be the same. You will not hear anyone saying, “If only WG Grace was a little taller.” You will not hear anyone saying, “If only Tom Brady had spent more time in the gym.” You will not hear anyone saying, “If only Wayne Rooney could run a little faster.” What you will hear is people, men mostly, discussing strategy and coaching. You will hear people discussing the game not the pieces. If you were to say to a sports fan that sport was nothing but a bunch of men hitting each other they would, rightfully, take umbrage. Sport is not just about brute strength. It is not about who is biggest or fastest or strongest (in most cases. I am not including track or weight-lifting here where strategy plays almost no part.) Sport is about cleverness. It is about cunning. It is about outwitting your opponent. As we have learned from books like “Moneyball” and Bill James, strategy is the most essential element of sport. Or is it?

If it was about cunning or intellect, there should be no barrier to women competing in the same leagues and associations as men. And yet, women continue to toil in obscurity, performing the same job as men and being paid less. And if the only barrier is physical prowess and this farcical belief that women cannot be as strong as men, then why are there no female coaches, not even assistant coaches, in the NBA, the NFL, MLB, or any other associated sporting league? The answer, in my opinion, is that women are still looked upon as less than equal and sport is the biggest example of this imbalance. Not only is it acceptable to bar women from proper sport but many women I’ve talked to agree. We are just not as good as the men. They are stronger. They are faster. It is for our own safety that we are kept from the brutalities of male sports. A woman can charge into combat alongside her male counterparts but she cannot take a place on the line of scrimmage.

It is ironic that I become so incensed by this because I have no desire to watch or play sports. I have enjoyed going to many sporting events, but my life would not be altered in any major way if it never happened again. I just think that this gross imbalance is the most blatant example of our male-dominated world. It is out there in the open for all to see but nobody cares. What’s worse is that the majority of people not only don’t care but think that this is the way the world should be.

The sexual revolutions of the sixties and seventies gave rise to a fierce backlash and whatever gains women made in their efforts to force equal treatment were quickly co-opted and turned against them by the opposing side. Sure, okay, you can do the same job as a man, but you will be paid less. Yeah, alright, women can be sexually promiscuous like men, but they are sluts or cougars or whores when they do it. Sure, darling, you can go to school like a man and try to learn things but it will still only be impressive for a woman. Yeah, yeah, it’s your body, but it’s my seed and no one disposes of my seed without my say so.

You may think I’m being hyperbolic. I wish I was. There is a growing movement in the Western World for a return to “proper” gender roles. It flows from religion and has steeped into the groundwater of our culture. If only we could all return to our gender roles everyone might be happy. Men can be men and return to the head of the house and women can be women, taciturn servants whose personalities are formed from the reflected glory of the men who own them.

A woman wants to be cared for, we are told. A woman is naturally soft and smells nice. Women are smaller and subject to the whims of their body. Women are all heart and no brain. They crave security so that their lives have the stability needed to pursuit other interests like sewing, cooking, cleaning, fellating their husbands and raising children.

Men, these same people will tell you, need control. Men are dominated by power fantasies and bloodlust. They concern themselves with matters that help them achieve these primal desires. It is the duty of a woman to help her man achieve his aims and her ambition is subject to his.

These are the gender roles we are told we need to return to, as if there were some time in history when men and women were happy and lived in harmony, content to follow the script they had been given. The Church has been instrumental in propagating this bullshit, assuring the faithful that God wants women to be subject to men. In many churches women are not allowed to hold positions of leadership. They can write books, they can plan services, they can raise children, but they mustn’t be allowed to read scripture from the pulpit or counsel a church member on spiritual matters.

I have heard my own mother say (in one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life) that she believes these antiquated gender roles to be valid. She said, “You know, so many woman talk like they want to be independent and you know, this whole sexual revolution thing. But every time you go to the movies, it’s a story about a woman who realizes happiness in the arms of a man. I think that says something about our culture and that we can’t escape the fact that these gender roles are the natural order. I mean, think about it.”

There are differences between the genders. I will explain them to you if you need me to, but it should be pretty clear by now what they are (think genitals). I will not dispute that the differences may go beyond the reproductive system. There are differences that are evolutionarily hardwired for survival. It would be madness to deny that. I will do one better, even. I will say that men and women are not equal. They are not the same. It is like comparing apples and oranges. But what should be equal is the treatment the sexes receive and the opportunities they are given.

For many years, the world of literature was dominated by men. Women, it was believed, did not have the mental discipline to participate. Slowly, in small steps, this notion was destroyed, helped in part by bold women who wrote under male pseudonyms, confounding the phallocentric thinking of the literary elite. Turns out, women can write just as well as a man, better in some cases.

From the birth of comics in the early years of the last century to the sixties and seventies, the world of comics was dominated by men. Women with talent were often relegated to the role of colorist. A few made a go by using ambiguous names like Dale Messick and Tarpe Mills. Because the aim of many comics was to appeal to boys and men, it was assumed that women did not have the skill to join in. If you look at this week’s bestseller list for graphic novels this week, four out of ten were written or drawn by women.

In America, one of the great things (and also one of the bad things) is that we are told that we are all individuals. We are told that no one can define you and that you are free to be whoever you want to be. A poor black kid can be president if he wants it bad enough. Talent and perseverance are all that is needed to succeed in America. We don’t care if you’re rich, poor, black, white, fat, skinny, left, right, dumb or smart, you are free to be whoever it is you want to be.

Except if you are a woman. You can be anything you want except a football player or a coach or a president or get paid the same as men. Also, you’d probably be happier if you just did what you’re told and kept quiet.

[EDIT: A week after posting I find this. Progress?]

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