This week on the blog, a topic most of you probably never thought I’d write about: sports.
I’m not what you would call an “avid sports fan” or “knowledgeable of athletics” or “able to discern what’s happening at all times during any given match or game”. Most sports are not, in fact, what you would call “my cup of tea”.
That being said, I understand the cultural impact sports have on most human populations, and how important teams can be to their fans, though I’m still a little fuzzy as to why covering yourself in paint and strapping a chunk of latex cheese on your head in public is a socially acceptable way to fan, but wearing my Black Widow costume in public is not.
I digress. I’m not here to air my grievances from the adult version of the clichéd nerds vs. jocks story line, I’m here to talk feminism.
As a traditionally male-dominated field, athletics are steeped in such a huge amount of sexism, that it’s almost laughable. In fact, it is laughable, I literally laughed out loud while doing research for this piece, because I didn’t know how else to react. Some of it is that ridiculous, and the sad thing is, none of it was even a little surprising.
First and foremost, women are not taken seriously in the sports world. They’re seen as intruders in a man’s world, and are coddled as they pretend they’re just as good as the boys. They’re hesitantly given second-rate playing times, practice spaces, and equipment, but are seen as ungrateful when they complain, because they should be thankful they’re given anything at all for their “talent”. To quote a tactless acquaintance of mine, “Women’s professional sports are the longest running practical joke in American history.”
ESPN and other sports networks often show hours of tournaments for things like golf, poker, or NASCAR, while sports like dance and cheerleading rarely have coverage or recognition, if they’re even considered sports at all. I don’t mean to suggest that golf or NASCAR or even poker aren’t difficult, or don’t require a certain amount of skill and talent to be successful; however, dance and cheerleading are extraordinarily physically demanding activities, and can produce world-class athletes, yet are belittled and ignored because they are traditionally feminine.
The attitudes on women by actual professionals are pretty clear, as well. Holger Osieck, manager of the Australia National Soccer Team, has been quoted multiple times stating that “women should shut up in public.” Andy Gray, leading soccer analyst and commentator on Britain’s Sky TV was caught on tape saying “someone f***ed up big” by appointing a female match official. Salvo Sports Apparel received backlash after it was discovered a line of their jerseys included the following message on the tag:
In 2013, Chicago Blackhawk defenseman Duncan Keith, openly mocked a female reporter who asked about a questionable call. In a comment that sounds startlingly like the Fake Geek Girl allegations, Keith said, “Maybe we should get you as a ref…first female referee. Can’t probably play either, right? But you’re thinking the game, like you know it?” In 2014, the Blackhawks were in hot water again, with an online petition calling for the team to drop their long-standing tradition of playing “The Stripper” during the second intermission of every home game, as well as changing the female uniforms for the “Ice Crew” to match the far less revealing male uniforms.
19-year old Eugenie Bouchard made history in early 2014 by becoming the first Canadian to make it to the semi-finals of the Australian open in over three decades, and was immediately asked by a reporter, “You’re getting a lot of fans here. A lot of them are male, and they want to know: if you could date anyone in the world of sports, of movies — I’m sorry, they asked me to say this — who would you date?” Obviously that is the most important question to ask a world-class athlete following a historic win; no assessment of her skills in the match, inquiry into her training regime, or how she felt about winning — nope, we’re just interested in who she wants to sleep with. Perhaps the most upsetting part of that exchange, however, was that the reporter asking the question — former British tennis player Samantha Smith — clearly understood how absurd the question was and chose to ask it anyway.
Historically speaking, men have always been quick to divert attention or credibility from female teams or athletes that posed a threat to their boys clubs. Women playing organized soccer in England, for instance, dates back to the origins of the game in the country. Women’s soccer was quite popular in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, some matches drawing crowds upward of 50,000 spectators. This rise in popularity was quickly staunched in 1921 by the Football Association of England, which published an official statement declaring, “Complaints have been made as to football being played by women, the Council feels impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
Similarly, there’s the story of Jackie Mitchell, the left-handed pitcher with a sinking curve ball, who was signed to the Chattanooga Lookouts on March 28, 1931. Five days later while playing the Yankees, the 17-year old struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back with seven total pitches. Attempting to nurse his bruised ego, Ruth told the New York Times, “I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball… They are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.” Unfortunately, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis echoed Ruth’s sentiments, and declared women unfit to play the “strenuous” game of baseball, which led the Lookouts to void Mitchell’s contract just days after their game with the Yankees. Women were officially banned from the MLB in 1956.
Perhaps the best contemporary example of sports misogyny was nearly everything that happened with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015, which concluded just last week. It started with the Turf War, which was the legal complaint filed by a group of female soccer stars when FIFA announced the women’s tournament would be played on artificial turf rather than natural grass like the men’s tournaments always are. The players alleged that the artificial turf posed an unnecessary risk for injury, raised the field temperature 20-30 degrees, and would adversely affect game play. FIFA, meanwhile, claimed the cost of having natural grass in optimal playing condition in Canada was just too high, which is an interesting assertion coming from an organization that had a high-ranking official renting an apartment in Trump Tower just for his cats.
FIFA president (and Swiss Lizard, according to John Oliver), Sepp Blatter, also cited a lack of interest in women’s soccer as a reason for decreased spending and attention on the tournament. He went on to suggest that women’s soccer could increase its popularity if the players would, “play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, wear tighter shorts. Female players are pretty.” Blatter later claimed himself the “godfather of women’s football” during an interview with the BBC.
Then there’s the perfect sexist ending to the perfect sexist story: The Women’s World Cup concluded Sunday with the U.S. defeating Japan in the championship game, earning the team’s third World Cup. Combined with all the World Cups won by the U.S. Men’s team, the United States has won a total of three World Cups. In case you’ve forgotten, the U.S. Men’s team was knocked out of the 2014 World Cup in the first round, and received $8 million from FIFA. The U.S. Women’s team, winners of the 2015 Word Cup, received $2 million from FIFA.
There is a nearly endless supply of examples of sexism in the sports world, to the point that every single anecdote in this post came from my very first precursory Google search of “sexism in sports“. It’s everywhere, and people are aware of it, and talking about how it’s terrible, and we need to change…yet nothing changes. We throw billions of dollars at sport franchises every year and agree to put our tax money into building massive state of the art stadiums and arenas, and we can’t even be bothered to pretend like women’s sports teams are worth having around. Female athletes work just as hard as their male counterparts and ask for nothing in return. They deserve our respect, and they deserve our support.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!