Thursday, July 02, 2015

Women's Sports Debate, Redux

Amanda writes about some of the pejorative things one often hears when it comes to women's team sports, and notes that those things have been less heard in the context of the Women's World Cup in soccer.  You know, the kind of stuff about girls not being able to throw a ball or how watching women's games is about as interesting as watching paint dry and so on.

In my opinion,  beach volleyball outfits or the statements of some about how female soccer players have gotten better because they now wear makeup are part and parcel of the same criticism, albeit in disguise.  How to get men to watch women's sports if too many think women aren't athletic enough to be worth watching?   Give us more tits and butts and pretty faces!

Problem solved.

Which it isn't of course, and in any case we need to have both men and women to watch women's sports if those sports are to get commercial sponsors. 

Similar opinions about the weakness of women were expressed in the comments to this article about a WNBA player reading some mean tweets aloud.  Last night when I checked the comments (won't go there again, though many also defended the female players), several pointed out that women are inferior athletes and watching women's games is boring.

I have three quick thoughts about all that:

First, most women's "professional" team sports are really recent.  Little girls have not played soccer or ice-hockey or basket ball in large numbers until quite recently.  What that means is that the foundation of some of those sports is still wobbly, especially in some other countries than the US, and that we shouldn't compare, say, women's soccer on the global level with men's soccer on the global level, given the much longer history, support and base of the latter.

Women's sports are likely to improve a lot in the very near future, and they have already improved a lot.  One coach of women's soccer pointed out that none of the medal-winning teams of the 2007 World Cup could have placed in this year's Cup, assuming that they had paid the 2007 game now.

Second,  the idea that women are inferior athletes uses an odd definition of an athlete, one which assumes that the basis one starts from (bone structure, testosterone levels etc) is what the word "athlete" means.  I have always interpreted "an athlete" to mean not only the genetic talents a person has but also the amount of work and training the person has invested in the sport.

If we used that odd definition of what makes a superior or inferior athlete, then we shouldn't have weight classes in boxing or wrestling, because clearly the heavier boxers are the better hitters.  They hit harder.

Third,  as several people have pointed out elsewhere, why is it so important to compare men's team sports to women's team sports in the first place?  Why not enjoy the good soccer or good ice-hockey in men's games and also in women's games?  My guess* is that this need for comparisons comes from us being used to watching the men's games, so those become the obvious comparison point.  But surely it's possible to get past that point.

*Excepting those who oppose women's sports because they believe women belong in the kitchen and the bedroom and by the vacuum cleaner only.