Monday, August 29, 2005

Not a word was spoken

I tuned in to both the National Pro Fastpitch championship games between the ChicagoBandits and the Akron Racers AND the All-Star game that followed eager to hear the commentators' takes on the release of the IOC vote which ousted softball from the 2012 Olympic Games. All throughout the Little League World Championships and, prior to that, the coverage of the World Cup, commentators spoke about the importance of fighting to reinstate the game, the numbers of the girls who would be without a dream if it got taken away, and the fervor of the fan response to the vote. I mean one vote!! And the rumor of confusion over what delegates were voting for and that the abstention was Jim Easton, chairman of Easton sports, the baseball/softball equipment supplier who abstained because of conflict of interest. (Turns out he recused himself prior to voting--he was not the delegate whgo abstained.) What fodder for the commentators.
And yet not a word was spoken. How can this be? I asked myself (because unlike the commentators who had a national audience--I had no one to talk to about this yesterday). Then I wondered whether this game was taped. And that in itself pissed me off. A league championship that is not shown live--are you kidding me? Well it turns out it was not live. It was on delay. But both games did take place on Sunday. So it was not as bad as I thought--except now there is no logical reason why the issue did not come up. There were plenty of opportunities, especially with commentator Cat Osterman talking about all the national team players and upcoming camps.
I thought softball would be yelling this news as loud and as often as they could. What is up with the weird silence?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

LPGA commercial sponsors

Being able to blog about commercials that are aried during women's sports events combines my most favorite subjects for analysis: women's sports and pop culture.
So two commercials struck me while I was watching today's coverage of the Wendy's Championship for Children. One was for the home security system ADP (which also sponsors rookie Paula Creamer) and the other for DSW, which is a big sponsor of women's golf and several, at least, of its players.
The ADP commercial has a faux reenactment of a very suburban-looking woman (who is providing the voice-over) waking up in the middle of the night to her ADP alarm going off. Everything is fine, of course, because she has ADP and we see her huddling her children close to her, assuring them everything is going to be fine. What is conspicuously missing is the man, as in her husband, not the ADP guy who answers the phone. We don't know why there is no man: is she a divorcee, widow, wife of frequently traveling businessman, lesbian? OK--she's probably not a lesbian, like the LPGA needs that suggestion even slightly made by any of their sponsors. Whatever the issue, she is alone. And, the message is there, if you are a woman alone, you need this system. Sure they are spot on with the demographic: either middle-class women or middle-class men who have middle-class women in their lives who may be at home at night alone. But it send sucha countermessage to the actual event which showcases strong women competing, succeeding at once was solely a man's game.
The second commercial for DSW I have seen versions of before. This campaign's premise treats shoe shopping like hunting. And not humans hunting with guns but animals hunting their prey, often in competition with other animals. So basically we see women looking at shoes in a DSW store while the voiceover, meant to sound like the running commentary on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel, constructs a narrative that could easily be on an animal show. Why is it that women are only allowed to be "wild" when they are shoe shopping? Oh yeah, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to tame them and they would go "wild" and try to do things like play golf--with men! Hmmm...maybe these DSW commercials aren't as effective as I thought.

Tennis umps fight back

Though my primary interest in gender and sports lies with athletes and often the organizing bodies to which they are beholden, I also pay some attention to the gendered aspects of sports leadership/administration, including the cause of sports officials (referees, umpires, etc.) an issue I have highlighted in previous blog entries .
In part, my interest is in the overall lack of interest this issue receives, so often overshadowed by the equity issues among athletes that predominate the discussion. But even the casual observer (OK maybe you have to have a general awareness of gender equity issues at-large) can see that men officiate men's games/matches/events and most often do so in women's events too. I don't remember seeing one female umpire at the Little League Softball World Series. This practice is also very engrained in professional tennis. While women do serve as linespeople in both men's and women's matches, they are rarely in the chair as the match umpire and if they are, thay are officiating women's matches only. (Though I did hear, but did not witness, that Wimbledon had begin to let women officiate early round men's matches.) Well the umpires in tennis have had enough and filed a discrimination suit.
But what is most interesting is that suit is actually citing racial discrimination as the primary grievance. Both umpires are black, one a man, one a woman. As much as I wish a lawsuit was not necessary, this one reminds us of the importance of coalition building even in sports. Where there are issues of gender equity, issues of racial equity/discrimination are oftne not far behind , and vice versa. I am eager to see what comes of this lawsuit. One of the two has already being fired, allegedly for bringing complaints about the US Tennis Association to light. The other fears she will be terminated soon as well. Given the emerging publicity about the case and the pending US Open, such a move would probably be unwise, but it also hasn't been the best policy to practice such blatant discrimination.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Overt Sexualization of Female Athletes

I have tried to distance myself from the debate over the sexualization of female athletes primarily because I am just not sure where I stand on it. Historically, the fear of sexualization of female athletes, especially young females athletes, has been used to limit women's sporting opportunities. The argument that men would leer and lust after girls in skirts playing basketball (when they wore skirts to do so) didn't seem to me a very good reason to keep girls from playing--I think paternalistic is the right word here. Allowing girls to play might actually demonstrate that they are more than sex objects; or at least make the leering men forget that for 40 minutes or so.
But while opportunities have increased (because of legislation mostly) the leering men seem to still be around. So the strategy that showing the world that women are athletes has not successfully mitigated their status as sex objects. Part of my ambiguity over the debate though stems from the fact that many of these athletes enter "willingly" into some of these photo shoots (i.e. Brandi Chastain, Anna Kournikova). While I believe societal pressure to prove femininity often coerces these women into posing in the first place, I also believe that they are not completely without agency. They do make choices (for whatever reason) and I hesitate to outright condemn them.
But now I wonder if the agency some of these athletes exert is giving carte blanche to today's version of the leering men: namely those who post on the internet. Looking for some info on Misty May and Kerri Walsh the other day I found an appalling blog. It's devoted to May and Walsh but not in a very celebratory way. Close-ups of wedgies and lewd captions about May and Walsh rolling around in the sand together dominate the site. And to add insult, there are hundreds of comments that support this guy's view that May and Walsh's primary role is to provide fantasies for men rather than to actually play volleyball.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A rose by any other name---stinks!

As I mentioned below, I caught some of the women's AVP final at Manahattan Beach this weekend where Kerri Walsh and Misty May won something like their 7th title of the year. Congrats are in order of course. But I just wouldn't be my analytical/critical self if I didn't find something about gender/cultural norms that arose to blog about.
There seems to be some confusion about what Misty's name is. She did get married and is apparently going by May Treanor. The commentators called her Misty May and the graphics lacked consistency showing her as May Treanor as well as just May.
I could go on and on (and on) about women changing their names when they marry and the huge problems with that practice but that's not really what this blog about. So instead I will just focus on the huge problems I have when famous female athletes change their names. Sure there's the cultural reasons all marrying women face but because these athletes have already established themselves in the public it makes it even more egregious. May is internationally known, respected, admired, etc. Famous female celebs rarely change their names after marriage. Courtney Cox added Arquette when she married but then subtracted it again. And sure Britney says she is Britney Spears Federline now but is that name that is really going to headline her next tour or record? No--because you don't mess with a good thing--which in this case is name recognition.
In sports, it's slightly different. Making it clear that a female athlete is married by adding the husband's name constitutes the "apologetic behavior" that so many female athletes engage in (no pun intended). May's case seems a little different though given her chosen sport. Beach volleyball seems to strike the required cultural balance between appropriate femininity and aggressive play. How unfeminine can you be playing in barely-there bikinis? There also doesn't seem to be the lesbian stigma that surrounds other sports. So there appears to be less reason for May to show the world that she now belongs to a man. Of course she could just be like so many other women and just think it's the right thing to do, tradition and all that. I don't know which is more disappointing.
Well this next incident is--for me anyway. Though it happened last year, it's relevant to this discussion. When Mia Hamm played her last game for the US National Team, she came out in the second half wearing a jersey that said Garciaparra on the back, having switched out of her Hamm jersey. I nearly gagged. "Look at me! Look at me! I am married. I am not one of those lesbians that play soccer. I am straight and I scored me a baseball player." She was even announced as Mia Garciaparra. Granted it was not a permanent switch. Her sponsors would have killed her had she done that. She said it was to honor Nomar and his family and their support. sweet. Yet odd given that she was (and remains) so private about her relationship with him. But she makes this very public proclamation. Of course in Nomar's next game he went out with Hamm on the back of his jersey and the sportscasters announced him as Nomar Hamm in a public gesture of his love and gratitude for Mia.
Yeah, right.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Some thoughts on prize money

I caught some of the beach volleyball finals at Manhattan Beach this weekend. I saw the amount of money that women's winners May and Walsh won (around $28,000 which they have to split) but didn't watch the men's award ceremony. So I went looking around to see if beach volleyball has the same sometimes problem that professional tennis has: unequal prize money in some tournaments. It was a difficult search (which blows my theory that google can solve any problem) but I finally found an article specific to the Manhattan Beach tournament which stated that the founder believed in equality between men and women. Good news of course. But I am still not sure that it is a universal standard.
Anyway this got me thinking about the reasoning behind differential prize money. In tennis the argument has been that 1) men play longer (3 out of 5 sets vs. 2 of 3 for women) and 2) that more people want to watch men. The problem with the first reason is that only in the grand slams do men play 3 of 5. And secondly if those who want to hold onto the belief that females are physically unable to play 3 of 5 then they should also not be penalizing women--because after all, it's women's fault, right??
But the second reason is more interesting to me. In recent years women's tennis has increased dramatically in popularity. If prize money was based on popularity women might be paid more. Of course I am not really a proponent of this plan because leaving "equality" up to society-at-large is never a good idea, but it's interesting to think about what some paradigm shifts in our thinking about women and prize money might entail.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

PS to Talking about Female Bodies

As a brief addendum to my observations about the lack of discussion about larger softball players I add this tidbit:
While glancing up briefly to the Little League World Series (baseball, not softball) as it was playing in the background, I noticed an interesting discrepancy in the personal "stats" displayed on the screen. When a player is up at bat, on the screen appears the player's name, age, height, some personal fact or interest (favorite team, actor, movie, etc.) and weight. Weight was missing from the stats shown during the L.L. Softball World Series. Why is this? Are we worried about scarring girls by displaying their weight on national television? If so, why doesn't that same concern apply to boys? In a warped form of "equality," we see incidences of eating disorders rising among boys and men. Of course the issues can differ. Though larger boys might feel embarassed by possible excess weight (or the percpetion of excess), it seems more likely that smaller boys, not wanting to be seen as the "weakling," would want to add weight. And at this age (middle school) most boys are just hitting puberty and growth spurts so it's likely that many are smaller, relatively speaking. And adding weight might entail not just eating more, but supplementing with questionable products or even steroids. In the end, I think that America just does not really need to know what 12-year olds of any gender weigh.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Danger of Cheerleaders

[with thanks to amateur for finding this article for me]
While this particular event/incident is a little outdated, having occurred at the summer games in Athens last year, I think the issue is still relevant. And since I am still on my bring-softball-back soapbox, I will relate the issue of cheerleaders to softball. You just wait and see...
So last year at the Olypics the FIVB, the international governing body of volleyball, hired a team of cheerleaders (actually they were referred to as a dance team) to perform at the men's and women's beach volleyball matches. And of course this caused controversy--and rightly so I may add.
I am not going to enter into a debate on whether cheerleading is a sport or not--not yet anyway. But I am going to argue some of the points presented in the article which claims that the women were there to keep the crowd entertained between points. Umm...I am not an avid volleyball watcher but I think the time between points is pretty short. And they game itself is very exciting. It's not golf or baseball with lots of down time. (Please don't take this to mean I think cheerleaders should show up doing high kicks on the Green Monster or pyramids on the 8th fairway--they should not.)
The argument also goes that the cheerleaders--oh I'm sorry--dance team--bring in a crowd. Now, it was a year ago but I don't think beach volleyball had a lot of trouble finding fans. (If cheerleaders are supposed to bring in a crowd why weren't they at women's soccer or the tennis venues which were woefully empty?) One British spectator brought his sons and, upon seeing and videotaping the cheerleaders, said they would definitely be back.
Those are not the type of fans I would want at an event. And here I bring it all back to softball as promised. Softball has no cheerleaders, and hopefully no plans for cheerleaders. The fans are the cheerleaders--in the truest sense of the word. And they are good. They might not be able to do basket tosses or awesome cupies but they make signs, they paints their faces and they yell great cheers. And they fight for their sport. I would bet that at least 75 percent of the audience at the Little League Softball World Series last night wrote or is planning to write letters to the IOC to argue for the reinstatement of softball. If beach volleyball was on the chopping block, do you think the English guy who shows up for the cheerleaders would be leading the campaign to keep it? No, because there are women who look like cheerleaders everywhere. The Brit just has to turn on his computer to see women dancing around nearly nude on a beach. In the end it's not a big enough incentive to keep fans coming back.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Lessons from Little League Softball

As I write I am watching the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series (special thanks to houseguest Kevin for hooking up the wireless at our house to enable this multi-tasking). So here are some of the things I have learned so far.
1. There might not be crying in baseball but there is some crying in softball. The starting pitcher for the CT team got a little weepy when she was pulled in the second inning. But the point is that crying can be a good thing. The pitcher went to first base and has played well since. In such a high pressure game maybe a few tears are a good release. A few years ago at the French Open American Ashley Harkelroad had a commanding lead in the final set and let it slip until the set was even. A dejected Harkelroad, during the changeover, had a good cry in her towel and then came back to win the match.
2. That as much as I hate the hyperbole about little girls' dreams being dashed by the removal of softball from the Olympic games, this series has shown that the players and the supporters are really passionate about their sport and do intend to put up a fight to get softball reinstated. The best sign I have seen so far: "The Olympics without softball is like Wheaties without milk." So please help the cause by going to the international softball federation's web page and sending a letter to the IOC (you can compose your own or use a sample letter the federation provides).
3. That if softball does get reinstated it will be entirely due to fan and player support. The cause is not getting any help from media outlets like ESPN which doesn't even run the professional fast-pitch league's scores on their ticker.
4. Perhaps the argument that softball truly is an international sport and thus deserves to be in the Olympics would be better made if in the Little League World Series all the international teams weren't pitted against one another almost guaranteeing an all US final.
5. The diversity of interests among the girls is fascinating and refreshing. (Though the lack of racial and class diversity, at least in the final two teams is disappointing.) In an era when we are hearing about the push towards specialization for young athletes, it is good to see girls who play softball and like other activities like ballet, soccer, acting, and watching Boy Meets World.
6. Maybe sports really do have the possibility to help girls escape the cultural norms--or at least postpone their susceptibility to them. After being disappointed by the very coiffed and made-up women in the college world series this year it's nice to see the Little Leaguers not caring that their hair is falling out of ponytails and braids.
7. While I think the male coaches (who are all fathers of players) have done a pretty good job keeping things positive and fun (though Ken Slowik, the CT coach, is a little too harsh as he tries to rally his team), I wish more women would start coaching at the youth level so that by the time girls get to high school and college a female coach is not a surprise and girls realize that women can do an equally good job coaching.
8. I realize now that the "like a girl" may never die. One of the coaches was reported to say that when his team takes the field they have guts and grit and do not play like little girls. Well they are technically little girls so what exactly are they playing like? How many years do girls and women have to play sports before we start believing that there is no such things as "playing like a girl"?
So those are my observations and now the game is over so many congratulations to both teams for a great game and to the winners from McLean, Virginia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Not talking about female bodies

It's not a stretch to say that we (society/media) have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with female athletes' bodies. I feel I don't even have to give the myriad of examples here (though I will upon request). So as I have been watching softball this spring and summer I have been fascinated by the lack of discussion about the larger women who are the big hitters on a team. They have a body shape that in any other context would be deemed overweight but use their size to their advantage in hitting and frequently play first base. When they get on base after a hit they are immediately replaced by pinch runners. In watching the Little League Softball World Series I see the trend exists even at the youth level.
I guess what I am wondering is why, in our thin&fit-obsessed society is this phenomenon not discussed. And what is the effect on these girls/women? I imagine there must be some kind of double consciousness. On the field these girls are often the heroes of the game or at the very least equal contributors. Are they being empowered by their experience? Maybe these girls are the part of the solution to dismantling the hegemonic ideal of the fit, athletic woman. But that might be a little hopeful. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that many of these girls leave the softball field and face the same ridicule and other cultural pressures that non-athletic overweight women do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Must be uniform

Well I came back from vacation just in time to catch the final rounds of the Little League Softball World Championships. But I apparently missed some controversy. During tonight's game pitting the Asia-Pacific team against the East team (from Orange, CT) commentators mentioned and cameras panned to East team's centerfielder, Taylor Sullo, who had been suspended for a game. But no one would say why. After much searching (starting with the tournament's own web page which is useless--do I really have to go on a tangent about the need for quality communications/media in women's/girls' sports?) I found my answer:
East champion Orange will be without center fielder Taylor Sullo, who must
sit out a game after being ejected Sunday in a 2-1 victory over Cedar Mill
because she rolled up her shorts at the waist after her team had been warned not
to violate the uniform rule.

I probably should not be the one to question this ruling given that my sport of choice, tennis, still has rules about "uniforms"--namely the wearing of whites at posh country clubs. But it's also the sport that saw Serena Williams playing in a black catsuit at a Grand Slam tournament. So I don't think I am a hypocrite when I say "How ridiculous!" to the one-game suspension and wonder aloud whether this has anything to do with controlling the female athlete's body. Sure, an argument can be made that perhaps the rule is meant to prevent to the sexualization of young female athletes. But if these girls continue in the sport they will have to be sexualized--heterosexualized a la Jennie Finch or Cat Osterman with their short shorts (compared to their teammates'). This rule just appears to be delaying the inevitable all in the name of some form of propriety I would assume. But a form no one seems to want to talk about. The commentators and the press have been remarkably silent about the cause of the suspension.
Luckily Taylor's team pulled out a victory and she will be able to play in the championships on Thursday. And lucky for me I got home just in time to blog about it!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Morgan Pressel vs. Michelle Wie

OK--I'm not really going to the compare the two players in any substantial way as I know little about the mechanics of golf and only slightly more about their lives. But I know that Pressel, also an amateur, does not get nearly the amount of attention that Wie gets yet it seems Pressel has been more consistent. Pressel, of course, is not out there trying to break down the gender barriers that exist in professional (and amateur) golf. [SMALL TANGENT: Though I question if that is what Michelle Wie is really trying to do. I don't think she is attempting to make the game more accessible for other women players. I believe she is trying to make herself a more outstanding player. This is not unlike other athletes and I try to suppress the essentialist inclinations that sometimes creep in that suggest that Wie, and other female athletes, should be helping their sport and their fellow women players. I get especially angry when people like Frank Deford suggest that Wie is hurting women's golf by playing with men. It's all about Wie and has nothing to do with the male-controlled media that covers more men's events than women's or the years of male tradition--that still exists in various forms--at country clubs and other venues of the sport.]
But back to Pressel...She has been playing in the Women's US Open since she was 13 and was runner-up this year, finishing ahead of Wie who made a run at the title but faltered on the last day. And having watched her at the Open and now seen and heard from her as she plays the US Women's Amateur this week, she just seems like a very pleasant young woman. She shows some genuine emotion on the course. She is very complimentary of her fellow players and gives due credit to their play and abilities. She admits they played well rather than she played badly.
I am not suggesting Michelle Wie is a solipsistic, narcissistic player who is just no fun. But despite playing with men and women of all ages all over the world, she just doesn't seem to have the level of maturity (she is two years younger than Pressel though) and self-awareness that Pressel has.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Some International News

Since I just recently complained (using a newly released study) about the lack of coverage of women's sports in the United States I thought I would share some news from around the world. I am not suggesting that other countries pay more attention to their women's sports--these articles certainly do not sugest any type of trend. But given that so many of us--myself included--forget in these non-Olympic yeas that there are millions of women worldwide playing sports at some level, I thought I would create this sort of transnational reminder.
This first story is about the women's national Pakistani tennis championships. While Western news images of women in veils in hot, arid climates flood our senses, it's good to see the Pakistani Daily News promoting women's sports and offering a counter image.
China View has a brief story on the Chinese women's volleyball team defeating Jordan in the regional World Championships match. Again, we think of Jordan, we think of the Middle East, we think of war and religious conflict. Yet life and volleyball still go on. (Though the volleyball for Jordan has come to an end as they lost to China.)
And lastly, a South African news outlet reports on the upcoming netball tournament to take place in one of the poorer provinces of the country in an attempt to bring some economic prosperity to the region. I don't know all the ins and outs of netball, though I have been reading quite a bit of history about it recently. I do know that it was a game created for women and remains popular in Britain and its former colonies, but seems to never have garnered much international interest. (Though that might be very ethnocentric of me. I should say it has not gained any popularity in the United States despite being invented here.) But interestingly the last lines of this article state that men are growing more interested in the sport and a number of men's teams have entered the tournament. Hmmm...I wonder if this is similar to softball in the US: a distinctly female version of a male game created but that men are becoming quite interested in playing. Anyone want to undertake some kind of comparative history?

Chasing Skirts: Why do women tennis players wear them?

First apologies for the sporadic posts of late (and a pre-apology as it continues to be a pattern, or rather non-pattern); I am on vacation. Woo-hoo!
And so having just played tennis for the first time in 2+ months I was somewhat inspired by this very old Slate column about women's tennis skirts. First of all, I am still somewhat skeptical that talking about skirts is the real issue behind the gender inequality in sport. But I do find it fascinating. And I have heard some interesting research on the history of women's uniforms.
That having been said, I feel the need to talk about my theories and observations on the tennis skirt.
I like them. I won't apologize for it. While I did occasionally don shorts during matches, most of the time I wore skirts. Because I really do think they comfortable, despite the Slate columnist's (Eliza Truitt) claims to the contrary. With skirts there is no tugging between your thighs for the bunched up fabric that sometimes accumulates or rides up (even Serena was tugging at her catsuit a few years ago).
Does it make women players sexier? I don't know. With the length of shorts these days, it doesn't really matter. Truitt's note that some women are wearing them is interesting. Anna K., she mentions, wore them a few years ago but Truitt believes it's because she no longer needs to prove her sexiness. Have you seen the shorts she wears? They are shorter than most skirts and the sit well below the belly button. Shorts do not equal less sexy in tennis.
And 4 years later (the column was from 2001) more women are wearing shorts. Nike makes versions and players such as Anastasia Myskina and Daniela Hantuchova wear them regularly. Jill Craybas, who beat Serena at Wimbledon this year, wore shorts made by Under Armour. I am wearing some Nike tennis shorts right now myself. I don't feel more or less sexy in them versus any one of the skirts I own.
In the end, I like having choices. And I think players like having choices. Openly gay Amelie Mauresmo could wear shorts, but she chooses not to. And I do believe it is a choice--for her. She already bucks many gender and sexuality norms--shorts wouldn't make it any worse. Martina, on the other hand, realized she was wearing skirts and dresses because of the tradition, decided she would be more comfortable in shorts.
I agree with Truitt that patriarchal tradition has basically dictated what women tennis players wear. But shunning skirts altogether is a perverted version of radical feminism that just doesn't make sense. It's certainly not the battle I would choose to fight. So I say "Let them wear skirts!" (or shorts or catsuits, or full-length white body suits.)