I do promise to make this brief, because I’ve already unpacked a lot over these last two weeks about women’s sports, and more precisely, the movement behind them for the last four decades.
All the links in the “Women’s Sports Without Illusions” series can be found here. And just a few other things to point out as I wrap this up:
What are the illusions?
I’ve referred to this in my series title, but didn’t allude to them specifically as I went along. The illusions, as I’ve examined them, are:
• That the women’s sports “revolution” is still young: Actually, it’s in fine middle age, as am I, and that’s a place that ought to be relished. The heavy lifting of getting girls and women in the game — the most arduous task — is over. Girls and women have won, resoundingly. But the “evolution” continues, especially in areas that Title IX cannot touch.
• That women and men are equally interested in sports: This is a major bone of contention that animates so much of the Title IX battle. But that’s not the right statement. As women have had more choices and options open to them — largely because of Title IX — we’re seeing that their interests are more wide-ranging than men.
• That the male sports culture must change: Title IX isn’t enough for some women’s advocates. But most institutions in American society and American society itself have undergone dramatic change by opening doors to those who’ve been left out: African-Americans, immigrants, women, gays and others. Their fuller participation in society, over time, results in those institutions and society changing, not clarion calls for a cultural revolution. This evolution with women in sports is well underway.
• That women athletes are helplessly “sexualized:” There is a difference between gratuitous displays of “babes” who play sports and portrayals of a healthy, mature and adult female athletic eroticism. Some women’s advocates refuse to make a distinction, complaining that women athletes are being “exploited” by a media culture bent on reinforcing heterosexual “stereotypes.” Gay male admirers of male athletes have no such hangups; they gaze, unabashedly, and so do more than a few women at women athletes. Male and female athletes use their bodies to compete. Regardless of orientation, it’s impossible not to notice the sexual element in all this, and absurd to insist that we shouldn’t.
• That girls and women “need” sports: I can’t imagine not having sports in my life. But the truth is that a vast majority of girls and women, even four decades after Title IX, are happy, healthy and well-adjusted without sports in their lives at all. They’ve used Title IX to dominate college undergraduate enrollments, and many post-graduate and professional programs as well.
I didn’t get to a few subjects I intended to address in depth, but they are priorities in the near future:
• Cheerleading and “Bambi” sports: Competitive cheer is gaining traction as a possible varsity sport at the college level, but there is resistance.
• International and youth sports: The development of sports in other countries and at the community level in the United States, where Title IX does not apply, fascinate me and I really do want to explore these issues more here, and elsewhere.
• Media, marketing and business: Complaints about a lack of media coverage for women’s sports, struggles to improve corporate sponsorships, endorsements and expand wider commercial viability did not get proper examination here. Some of my previous thoughts on media are here.
• Keep it short: I see that I’ve already gone too long summing up this series, for which nearly every post went longer than I planned. My apologies for making too much work for some readers. There has been so much ground to cover, and plenty more beyond what’s been mentioned here. This series ended up being more about catching up with nearly 40 years of women’s advocacy and not enough about looking forward. Maybe there’s another series in that!
There have been terrific comments here and I’m gratified and humbled by the response. Please don’t be strangers; I will be posting here intermittently through the rest of the summer but need to take a couple steps back for the time being. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The best way to stay in touch is to follow me on Twitter. It’s become my online home.
I’m absolutely fired up to continue the conversation and expand on these topics. I’ll keep everyone abreast of what happens when I sort out some options I’m pursuing.
A reader asked me if I wanted to “start something,” meaning a group or organization, but I’m not an activist or organizer. While I’m pleased with how this series turned out, my aim has been to be a crusader for a common-sense approach to how we think about women’s sports.
For now, I’m going to watch the Women’s World Cup, catch up on summer reading, and perhaps get to the beach.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned!