Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Where are the moms?

Last weekend the Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative, which was co-founded by Brandi Chastain, sponsored a Dads and Daughters Day where dads and their daughters (that's the obvious part) came to hear about women's athletics, participate in some fun physical activities, and check out a couple of women's intercollegiate basketball games.
It all sounded very "rah-rah, go women's sports!"
I mean, I get it. Using active and eager daughters to get men on board in the support of women's sports isn't exactly a dumb idea when we live in a society where men still dominate sports--and I don't mean as athletes, but as administrators, coaches, the people in power. There are a lot of fathers who will go to the mat for their daughters if they are denied opportunities. But how far does this support and potential activism go without a larger consciousness about systemic gender discrimination? Sure, most fathers would argue for better funding for their daughter's soccer team after seeing the perks that boys get or help in implementing a lacrosse program because a daughter wants to play a spring sport. But how many will support a daughter playing football? Or opting to continue playing Little League when there exists a recreational softball program? Or join the wresting team? Some do certainly but it requires a little more crossing of gender boundaries.
And of course there's the question of "where are the moms?" It's quite ironic that this promotion of girls in sports just reifies all our notions of gender: men are interested in sports; dads toss the ball; dads coach; moms drive the minivan and bring snacks. What kind of message is that sending to all these girls: sure play sports now but when you grow up and become moms sit back and let your husband deal with the sports.
I just recently read a bunch of student "sportographies" (biographies of their sporting experiences) and all of the women's papers mentioned their fathers and no one talked about their mothers. I asked one my students if her mother was involved beyond general support of her sporting life and she said that although her mother had played softball, like my student, she didn't "know that much about it." But her father, who did not play softball, was one of her coaches when she was younger.
Why do we have this belief that men in general, and fathers in particular in this scenario, have more knowledge about sport than women and mothers? Maybe mothers can share their experiences with discrimination or how to deal with playing with boys who don't want to share time and space with girls; or *gasp* just their love of sport. Chastain related the story of how she and her father went out and bought books on soccer because neither knew about the sport and so they learned together. Why can't mothers do this with their daughters and their sons?
The last line of the article on the event is just so disturbing. It's from a father who was asked by his 9-year old to attend the event: "it's special because there aren't many things dads and daughters can do together."
What an extremely limited view this guy has of what being a father is. I know from my own experience (and yes my dad and do a lot of sport-related activities--but not exclusively) and from those of friends of mine that fathers and daughters can and do bond over activities other than sports.


Diane said...

I think an event like this is also a (perhaps unconscious) riff on all the father-daughter dances, banquets, etc. that carry the "little princess" subtext. Not only do dads know all about sports, but dads are always there to protect their "little girls."

anonymous said...

This blog entry reminded me of an interesting childhood memory: My parents bought a basketball pole, backboard and rim for my sister and I when I was younger. We bought the pole and just laid it by the side of the driveway until we could get more than two adults to hoist it up after pouring the cement. Well, I came home from school one day and the pole was up all ready to go. It seems as if my mother had set up an elaborate system of pullies (using the family car) to hoist that thing up there on her own. She was the one who started our basketball experience, not my dad. Go Moms!

EBuz said...

In the spirit of jfb's comment, this posts reminds me of my hockey teammates. Ten or so years ago, the women who founded my team were a bunch of hockey moms whose only contact with hockey was as their kids' chauffeurs. They took up the sport themselves and created a team so that their daughters would be able to see that adult women didn't just drive to hockey, they also played it. Now their daughters play on the team, proving that their moms succeeded in handing down a sporting legacy.

Just wanted to share that, lest the dads and daughters trope render the contributions of moms to sport invisible and unappreciated.