Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gender Equity in Sports: Apparently WAY More Complicated Than We Realized

The New York Times reports that college athletic programs are being manipulative in order to meet Title IX requirements.

Essentially, what is happening here is that big schools are listing male athletes as rostered on women's teams in order to boost the numbers, allowing more slots for male athletes on male teams. They are also listing women on the roster who are not actually team members, and may not be aware that they are rostered. Go read the article, I'll wait.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Higher education can resemble big business in a lot of ways, and athletic programs - men's in particular - are a money-maker. That's not quite good enough for me, though.

I have a few problems with this. First, I really detest this underlying assumption that women aren't as good at sports as men are. I know a lot of very athletic women who would have problems with that assessment.

But I don't think it's really about whether men or women are better athletes. It's about who people would rather watch in a sporting event. And the answer to that appears to be men, clearly. People always forget that the US has a women's soccer team that has been extremely successful - more successful, frankly, than the US men's team. But they get much less attention. Why?

I don't have the answer to that, but I suspect it has something to do with gender. There is an expectation that men are rougher, tougher, and more physical. Women aren't meant to be out there beating each other up. Fuck that, I say. Women aren't less able to handle contact sports than men. Any attempt to justify the greater attention to male sports based on feminine weakness is grounded in sexism, full stop.

Second, this whole ordeal is about manipulating women's sports to help men's teams. It shows how marginalized women are even in women's athletic programs. There is no argument made that women's teams benefit from having men practice with them (I can't see how such an argument would hold water, but if someone wants to point me to such a study, go for it). In fact, this is explicitly about using the women's teams as an end-run around Title IX, if you'll pardon the pun.

There is no way to justify this that isn't sexist. Women are considered to exist primarily to benefit men in far too many ways, from taking on the majority of domestic responsibilities at the expense of their professional lives to being expected to accept lower pay and crappy treatment by corporate employers.

Finally, I think this listing of men on women's rosters is just really weird from a gender perspective. The article says that women who practice with men's teams are counted as female athletes. This could use some exploration. For one thing, it's certainly buying into the idea of gender binaries that I don't subscribe to. For the purposes of college athletics, which are gender-segregated according to these unrealistic binaries, though, why are we okay with counting men as women but not women as men? There are plenty of people worried about the crisis of masculinity right now - are they worried about labeling men as women? Of course, it's FOR SPORTS which MEN PLAY [better than women]. And, of course, it wouldn't help men's athletic programs to roster women as men, when the whole point of this shell game is to make more room for male athletes. I wonder what the men themselves have to say about it, given the context of anxious gender-policing our society is just soaking in.

Anyway. What do you think?

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