Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Even when they die...

...women are still relegated to "gender-appropriate" sports and physical activities.
I went to see the Bodyworlds 2 exhibit yesterday and because I was not all that into what I am guessing was the main goal of the exhibit--to look at body parts and learn more about what goes on inside us (and camels too which was actually more interesting to me!)--I had plenty of time to consider the things I like to focus on: gender and sports.

Many of the bodies have been posed to illustrate how muscles look when they are kicking, throwing, stretching, etc. So many are in exhibit are engaged in sports and other physical activities. Here's what the male bodies are doing: playing soccer, ski jumping, and a male figure skater holding his partner. Here's what the women are doing: yoga, ballet, and being flung around on ice skates by a male partner.

It was a little disappointing that even the dead bodies have been placed in positions/activities that not only are stereotypically "feminine" but fail to acknowledge reality. Women play soccer. Women, despite popular beliefs, do ski jump. They just are not allowed to in the Olympics. And I have even seen some pretty unique pairs and ice dancing maneuvers that defy gender conventions.

Perhaps most egregious was the blurb next to the female body in a yoga pose that expresses surprise at the musculature of the body. Are you kidding me? Apparently everyone at Bodyworlds thinks that yoga is just meditation and easy stretching? No, it actually takes a lot of strength to push yourself into a back bend (the pose the body is prepped to enter in the exhibit) and other poses.

I know other versions of the exhibit use posed from other sports such as tennis and basketball and I would be curious to know the genders of these bodies and how they are presented.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Does anyone have a wall?

Because I need to hit my head on it repeatedly after reading this column by Arizona Star sports columnist Greg Hansen. Hansen is down on the decision by University of Arizona to add water polo to their list of women's varsity sports in an attempt to bring their numbers closer to proportional.
Hansen doesn't like this idea because water polo isn't played in Arizona high schools nor does it generate revenue. There are plenty of holes in both these reasons (schools might start to add teams if they know they can feed their athletes to their own state university and it CAN be made into a revenue-generating sport with the right financial support and publicity).
But the most egregious moments come when Hansen praises Title IX for offering opportunities--especially to Arizona athletes but then condemns Title IX activists for asking for too much saying that we should "stop digging for more." He has even found an alleged Title IX activist who says she thinks, given football's huge numbers, we have reached equality.
But the worst moment comes when Hansen perpetuates one of the most common and damaging beliefs about Title IX and football: "football pays for women's sports on almost every college campus in America." No. No. NO!
Football rarely pays for itself let alone other programs. Read some of the work economist Andrew Zimbalist has done on the economics of intercollegiate sport and one can easily discover this. I have seen various statistics but according to sport sociologist Jay Coakley only about 30 institutions have football programs that do not run in the red.
Unfortunately many commenters to Hansen's article also held the same belief. Other commenters were just plain misogynist. So if you're plenty disgusted after reading Hansen's column I do not recommend checking out what some of his readers had to say.
What is especially sad about this column is that Hansen did not bother to check his facts. His editors did not bother to check out if what he was saying was correct. Why? Maybe because "it's just women's sports." Maybe because they could not even fathom that football, the manly man's sport, does not support women's sports.
I do know that if I did my job this poorly, I would be fired.

Monday, December 18, 2006

When football asks for money...

...I just cringe. Which is what I did last week when I saw some football team members standing in front of the grocery store with cans in their hands "begging" for money in their varsity jackets with the leather sleeves. I am not sure how widespread this practice of "canning" is but it brought back my own memories of standing there wondering how much eye contact is really appropriate when you're unabashedly asking for money. Or whether when someone asks your win-loss record (I was on the tennis team knowledge of our win-loss record was rare unlike football which many more people follow--but not in a Friday Night Lights kind of way--it was New England after all) if you should maybe pad it a little less they feel you are unworthy of a donation.
Anyway I did not give money to canners because well it's football. I am not anti-football. I actually enjoy it once in a while. I was one of the few people in the band who actually paid attention to the games when we played them. But I am of course critical of the amount of money football gets often to the detriment of women's sports and men's "minor" sports.
High school football has not come under as much criticism as intercollegiate football of course largely because no one is getting scholarships to be there, players are not put up in hotels before home games, etc. But it would be interesting to see how things broke down budget-wise and in terms of amenities. I do know that football at my high school had a pretty big booster organization which could raise a lot of money selling concessions at a nice stand at the stadium--an opportunity other sports did not have.
Thus far most Title IX cases involving high schools have dealt with equity in regards to access to sports. Others have dealt with equitable facilities (fields, gyms, etc.) but it will be interesting to see if booster dollars, other fundraisers, and overall budgetary issues come under legal scrutiny on the future. Just because the budgets are not as big does not mean there are not equity issues in high school athletic departments. Perhaps because they are not as large there might even be a greater imperative to make things equitable.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Female aggression: A case study?

I witnessed a very strange hockey game last weekend. I went to a recreational women's league game and saw a level of aggression that I rarely see in women's hockey--I certainly didn't see it two nights prior at the Harvard-UNH match-up which, though they are not classic rivals, is certainly an anticipated match-up every season.
Anyway, there was heavy shoving that fell just short of hitting and "dialogue" and flipping off the ref from the very first period. The ref, who admittedly was not that good, was giving out double penalties to members of both teams. It was bizarre and seemed to be a little contagious though certainly most of the women on the ice tried to stay out of the whole mess.
Lest you think I am suggesting that women are not or should not be aggressive--I am not. But I was struggling, as I sat there watching this all, with the level of aggression that should be allowed or tolerated/condoned. This is an issue women's hockey has always had to negotiate. Because body checking is not allowed in women's hockey as it is men's there seems to be the implication that the women's game should be just a little bit nicer.
Certainly that was the original intent of the no body checking rule: let them play a feminized version of the "men's" game and thus retain their inherent femininity. There was the fear, present in almost all women's sports since the beginning of time, that the game would masculinize them.
Of course when one is talking competitive hockey we see that there is plenty of aggression. Certainly it exists in the collegiate game where players often at the start of the game push things a little to see what refs are going to call. At the international level, a greater amount of body contact is tolerated.
But that does not mean only women who play higher levels of hockey have or develop a more aggressive demeanor on the ice. Hockey is a contact sport with lots of legal contact, lots of scrambling and fighting for a little piece of rubber that is very slippery when put on ice--and thus frustrating. So it is not really surprising to witness a certain amount of aggression.
But how much is too much when we're talking about recreational hockey?
As I sat there watching this all play out I really wondered how immune I would be if I felt I was being targeted or if the ref was making bad calls. Perhaps this is the reason I do not play contact sports. I take out my aggression on a little yellow ball.
And I certainly have aggression to take out. As do most people I would guess. But as women where are we allowed to vent it?
In sports of course.
In the book The Secret Lives of Girls author Sharon Lamb discusses this particular use of sports for young girls. And the issue of acceptable aggression in for girls and women playing sports is part of the larger discussion of femininity and sport.
What does this not so surprising fact say? I am not sure really. It certainly helps me understand better what happened at that game last weekend. But as for whether it was "acceptable" behavior--that becomes a more complicated question.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ahh women's hockey

I saw my first women's hockey game in over nine months last night and it was wonderful. UNH, after being down two goals in the third, came back to tie Harvard 3-3. It was great hockey, great skating, and in what other venue can you can see an Olympian (Harvard's Julie Chu) for only $8? (And probably some future Olympians too!)

Bright Arena in Cambridge was more crowded than I thought, but I still don't understand why more people don't come to watch women's intercollegiate hockey. You don't have to know someone on the team--you don't even have to be an alum. Just find a team and go. You can even be non-partisan and switch seats every period--trust me there will be plenty of seats for you to do so. And if you have some or know some--bring the kids in your life. Most arenas are pretty intimate and kids like to press up against the glass where they can really experience the action. And did I mention how economical it is? You can take your whole family to a game for less than the cost of a ticket to an NHL, MLB, or NFL game. And frequently players sign (free) team posters after games and do meet-and-greets with young fans.

Hope I have convinced you!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fictionalized homosexuality? No problem!

Actor Tom Cavanaugh, probably most famous for his eponymous role in Ed, is currently filming a movie about an ex-pofessional hockey player who is gay. This article from the Toronto Star writes about the groundbreaking aspects of the film which focuses not just on the star's homosexuality but that of a young boy whom he and his partner have recently taken guardianship of.
The big issue of course is a gay hockey player. No male professional hockey player has ever come out--during or after his career. Cavanaugh said he himself was shocked to read that his character, Eric McNally, is a gay man.
But the more shocking aspect to the film, according to those involved, is that the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed to let the team name and logo be used in the film. Some filming will even take place at the end of a Maple Leafs practice session.
I agree with the general sentiment that this is pretty big news. The NHL and Maple Leafs could easily have said no and probably no mainstream press would have ever picked up on it and the movie would have come out with a fictionalized team name and logo.
Whether this opens the door for a male hockey player past or current to "come out" remains debatable. A fictional gay character is a lot more palatable than a real one--especially in a comedy.
That brings me to my next point which is how do we even know the film will do a good job in its treatment of homosexuality? Will it rely on stereotypes and poor parodies? Will it do enough and do well enough to actually engender changes in opinion?
This statement by the producer,Paul Brown, makes me a little suspect:
"It's a very roundabout way of tackling issues. If films become issue driven, the broader audiences for the most part become turned off of them. When you watched Bend It Like Beckham, did it become an issue movie about interracial friendships? To me, it didn't because it worked on so many levels. It became a movie about two girls on a soccer team. To us, that's sort of what we're trying to achieve."
I abhor this line of reasoning. Every film has an issue whether it's a drama or comedy or memoir, etc. If I had a student write that Bend it like Beckham was a movie about two girls on a soccer team, I would fail that student. Brown is wrong in his assessment--two girls playing soccer is where the movie starts--not what it becomes. If you pitch "two girls on a soccer team" it isn't going to go very far.
It's what happens to the two girls on the soccer team that makes the movie. What BILB became was a movie about ethnicity, generational divides, sport and homosexuality, gender equity, interracial dating, and probably more that I am forgetting at the moment.
I certainly hope the movie Breakfast with Scot becomes so much more than just ex-hockey player (who happens to be gay) raising a boy (who happens to be non-normative in his sexual expression). I'll have to wait over a year to find out though. The movie is scheduled to be released next Christmas.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sport and World AIDS Day

Because my research interest of late is in intersections of sport and activism, I was curious on this World AIDS Day, how the sports world was recognizing and addressing the AIDS crisis. A quick Google news search brought up news mostly from countries outside of North America like this one about a 3-day cycling event in Botswana sponsored, in part, by the Society of Men Against AIDS. Then there was a large half-marathon in Nigeria. In Burma a World AIDS Day Event included sporting events. And in South Africa, there were many campaigns and events including a Sports Heroes Walk.
My initial search brought up only events happening everywhere but the US. But a few hours later I found these stories:
One on Spencer Tillman, former NFLer and sports broadcaster whose brother died from AIDS-related illness.
There were many stories, including this one, on what Magic Johnson has been doing.
But that was pretty much it. Stories on individuals rather than organizations. [I found the same emphasis on individuals on the television specials that are airing this weekend; i.e. what Ashley Judd and Selma Hayek and other celebs are saying and doing to raise awareness, money, etc.] I guess in all fairness, World AIDS falls at the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. There are many bike rides and runs that raise money for various AIDS organizations in the warmer months.
Still, I was disappointed there was not more news of sporting organizations and events recognizing the significance of the day--especially when I walk into any sports store, at time time of the year and am inundated with pink paraphernalia. Not that breast cancer is not an important and worthy cause (and I wouldn't necessarily advocate for the level of commercialization that breast cancer has experienced), but there is a reason the word "crisis" is used to describe the AIDS epidemic. It would be nice if the magnitude of the disease was acknowledged more widely in the sports world.