Friday, January 12, 2007

Othering women's sports

Christine Brennan duly noted the lack of respect women's sports get yesterday in her USA Today column. The particular slighting she wrote of was the perpetual use of "women's" as modifier to any sports coverage while lack of an adjective is read as male.
What brought on this column was the coverage of Florida's win in the BCS Bowl that prompted sports broadcasters to note that Florida was the first school to hold national title in both football and basketball at the same time. What should have been noted was that by basketball they really meant men's basketball.
I am glad Brennan pointed it out and got UMaryland basketball coach Brenda Frese to comment on the slight. Brennan was also able to plug the #1 Terrapins and note the success in terms of the title and of revenue (MD is selling out games this season).
But it's a pretty basic argument. You don't even have to know anything about sports to know that men and the things associated with them are always the norm and women are the Others. Doctors/women doctors. Judges/female judges. Soccer/women's soccer.
What would have been more thought-provoking was if Brennan had gotten into a discussion of why there are such strong reactions when "little things" like names and titles are called out as sexist. Why reactions such as "calling women's basketball women's basketball is just calling it what it is. Stop making such a big deal about it. There are bigger things to worry about."
In some of the reactions, too, is the implication that women should be happy for what they have and not be rocking the boat over such a trivial thing as the W that follows NCAA is the ESPN ticker to denote women's basketball whereas the ticker designates the men's game as NCAAB (for basketball). [I have a huge problem with the NCAAW designation because it also suggests that collegiate basketball is the only sport women play worthy of coverage. Logically, after NCAAW scores for ALL NCAA sports women play would follow.]
Brennan points out a major issue in the coverage and perception of women's sports but she just does not go far enough with it, preferring praise particular teams to show how they are worthy of respect rather than argue the respect should just be there--period.


Diane said...

Just today, when I complained that--to add insult to injury--Air Force Staff Sgt. Manhart was referred to as an "airman," someone rushed in to correct me: She is called an "airman," he explained, because that is the "proper" Air Force term for all people in the Air Force.

Duh. I told him he was making my point for me. Begging the question, however, seems to be the preferred way of arguing in favor of sexist language: "It is that way because that is the way it is." People have a very hard time getting past the convenience of the language they are used to, and realizing that that language discriminates against women.

The news media could be educating people, but anchors and reporters are clueless when it comes to sexism, especially in terms of language. And if ever there were a domain considered completely owned by males, it is sports.

ken said...

Absolutely. Sport scholar Nancy Theberge has called sport a "male preserve" and I think language is part of that. I hate it when female hockey players who play defense are called defensemen. Yet so few seem to see the incongruity.