Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Women's Crew and Title IX

The women's crew team at the University of Cincinnati is bringing suit under Title IX (and the equal protection clause) against the university for failure to provide adequate funding. This is going to be a fascinating case to watch. Title IX does not mandate that equal funding--dollar for dollar--go to men's and women's team--it mandates equity. The crew team notes that they had been promised a boathouse to be completed by this year and it never happened. University officials claim the original estimate of $3million doubled to $6million and made it less feasible. Yet the baseball stadium is a brand new 11 million dollar complex and the football stadium also underwent substantial renovations. And, it should be noted, that in NCAA re-accreditation reviews of gender equity which look for the completion of proposed action items,"it was too expensive" is not an acceptable excuse for failure to complete a project. Additionally, there is a million dollar differential between men's and women's scholarships. (Guess who's a million ahead?)
The team's lawyer has stated that the university treats women's crew "like orphans." It's an interesting comparison. The team was added in 2000 to meet Title IX participation compliance. But apparently has received very little support since.
This is actually not that surprising. Athletic departments like adding women's crew because it's a quick fix to compliance problems that result from the super-sized football squads universities carry. Because crew carries larger numbers than any other women's sport, adding it reduces the disparity drastically and immediately. But it is not a quick fix if you don't provide them adequate facilities and funding. The University of Cincinnati women's crew team has finally called the bluff. Athletic departments can't just use women's crew to fix the numbers and then leave them to pee in a port-o-potties and without a (promised) boathouse. Success in the lawsuit will hopefully strengthen Title IX and women's athletics. In a year when the Department of Education compromised the commitment to equity by altering prong 3 compliance regulations, we certainly need a case to swing our way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Female coaching Part I

[I added the part I because I anticipate future entries on this subject. I limit this entry, however, to a short anecdote, followed by an even shorter comment.]
I was watching the Grand Prix ice skating event which is taking place in Paris this week when I was at the gym yesterday afternoon. I have been out of the ice skating loop (both the double and the triple loops--ha!) this season and since it is an Olympic year I thought I would see what was going on and who was hot/injured/without a coach/etc. I turned it on during the men's short program which frankly is probably the least interesting to me. But I stuck with it (Sunday afternoons do not offer great programming variety). The actual performances didn't really impress me but as usual what comes out of the commentators' mouths is always of interest and worthy of comment.
Gheorghe Chiper was skating first. I had never heard of him. He happens to be having a good week--he got the bronze. Chiper is 27 and from Romania where he has won their national chmapionships seven times and he is coached by his wife. The commentators--all men--gave a chuckle at that last piece of information and said facetiously--I can't imagine how that works.
My guess is that it works just fine given that he's one of the top twenty male skaters in the world. Women coaches are not as anomalous in figure skating as in other sports but apparently it's not okay, abnormal, unnatural, for a woman to coach a man, especially if you're having sex with that women. Never mind that men frequently coach their wives, or daughters, or that men are most often those that sexually abuse their pupils. These things are all apparently much more normal than wives coaching husbands. Good grief! In arguably the gayest sport in the world, we still have to deal with all this gender norm bullshit.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Brazen European Curlers?

[apologies for not blogging sooner--major computer meltdown this past weekend. But I am up and running again.]

So the girls of curling calendar I wrote about earlier still has me thinking. Oh sure--there are lots of examples of female athletes acquiring material (and non-materials even) gains from their sexuality. So the concept of the calendar I guess does not really shock me, only that it was so blatant in its attempt to get people to watch curling by using near naked photos of athletes. I have to question whether this will really work anyway. It's not as if when you tune in to a curling match the women are going to be in sexy outfits or anything (at least let's hope it doesn't come to that!)--won't those who tuned in to get turned on quickly realize they are not getting the calendar version of these women?
Anyway, what intrigued me about one part of the story was the construction of the European women as much more sexually free than the Canadian women. Do we really still have this stereotype? Sure different cultures have different restraints and freedoms regarding the expression of sexuality, but are European women really that much more "free" that they would readily agree to be in a naked curling calendar whereas Canadian women would have to think about it a little more? I am all about social construction and do believe our sexual behaviors are highly indicative of our culture/environment but it seems too easy and frankly ahistorical and lacking proper analysis to just say European women are more comfortable with their bodies and so have no qualms about posing nude. ALL European women? What about the influence of Catholicism in Italy or Ireland (so they curl in either of those places?)? This construction of European women as some sort of monolith is problematic in that it makes them--all of them--subject to the interpretation that they are all sexually available. Of course I guess if you pose naked for a calendar that is the dominant reading--even if it is not the correct one.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Yikes--I hadn't realized it had been so long since my last post. It's been a busy few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (US version for my international readers) break. And still there is work do get done so I simply offer here a preview of what is to come:
More on this curling calendar-- I am still a little stunned and amazed.
Progress of the US women's hockey team's road to the Olympics tours in which they are not doing so hot. Canada keeps beating them handily. Not good with so little time left to prepare.
And lastly since the year-ending tournaments are over (for the women) and near over (men's master's event is currently underway) I will do a tennis year in review and maybe even make predictions for what is to come next year.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Now I've seen everything (?)

And if you take a look at the new "ladies of curling calendar" you too may just see everything! A former curling skip who is also a photopgrapher has created a calendar in which female curlers (including her) pose nude or nearly nude in an attempt to generate more interest in the sport and make some money for curling teams.
Oi vey--where do I even start with this?
How about with the prophetic statement by former world champion Colleen Jones: "I think the women are going to have to curl naked in order to get people out there,” she said at the time. “I'm not kidding."
Apparently she wasn't. Jones also mentioned that curling needs their own Anna Kournikova. So curling wants someone who is really beautiful, hangs out with (and eventually marries) A-list celebs, engages in cattiness with teammates, and has a mediocre career from which she basically retires at a very young age. I don't think any sport really needs their own Anna. Women's tennis was gaining in popularity before Anna and continues to get very good TV ratings (not that I truly believe such standards are a true or fair measure of relative popularity).
Again on the issue of female sexuality in sports I find myself conflicted. As a believer in the power of individual agency to disrupt hegemony, I try not to disparage the women who made the choice to pose for the calendar. But as a good postmodernist, I also realize that the concept of choice is problematic and that "agency" can never exist outside of ideology.
As a sort of sidestepping of the above issues, I want to focus on the reasons behind the calendar: to promote the sport and raise money. This makes the concept of the calendar a little more creepy. This is not a celebration of the human body type of collection a la Annie Leibovitz. The connotations of the calendar format prevent such a reading especially when considered alongside the photographer's intent to show that curling can be sexy.
And herein lies the problem. Why does curling have to be sexy to draw attention? I don't see any plans by male curlers to attract attention to the sport (which I would argue is equally obscure) by posing naked. Yes, I know that in some sports (beach volleyball for example) the athletes' sexuality is a draw but they aren't necessarily actively encouraging this. In the case of the curling calendar, the intent to sexualize the athletes in the pursuit of more attention is the primary motivation.
I have more to say on this calendar including the strange construction of European versus North American women and their respective levels of sexuality. But I shall save it for another time.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Divorcing (homo)sexuality

Recently out WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes gave an interview to Planet Out where she mentions the climate of the WNBA and her experience in this climate. Swoopes seems to be a little too kind (naive?) about the organization saying that she doesn't exactly think they are homophobic, just that they have issues about how much to market to their large gay fan base.
The "not exactly" homophobic position of the WNBA is apparent when Swoopes recounts her conversation with WNBA president, Donna Orender who said (and I believe Swoopes may be paraphrasing here): "Sheryl, your sexual preference has nothing to do with who you are on the court and who you are off the court. What you choose to do is your business and we're happy for you."
Why do people want to divorce your "sexual preference" (learn how to say gay or lesbian without getting tongue-tied, Donna!) from "who you are"? Of course it is about who you are! Orender would never suggest that Swoopes's race has nothing do with who she is or her gender. If sexuality is so divorced from who you are as a person (whatever that really means) then I guess everyone could just be gay then since it really has nothing to do with who you are. This move of separating the sexuality (i.e. the homosexuality) from the person is a version of homophobia.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spin Pedagogy

I have been teaching in higher education for about 6 years now and have always been very conscious of my pedagogical practices. And I have been going to the gym since...well...a long time but have not, until recently thought about the pedagogical practices aerobics instructors employ. And even more recently I have been moonlighting as a spin nstructor. So I have decided to combine all my interests as well as my work on women's activity and its empowerment potential and write a paper about feminist pedagogical practices and spin/indoor cycling. This is very convenient because while I am taking and/or teaching spin classes, I am also doing research.
I have made many observations thus far some good, many bad (many instructors continually reify the hegemonic female body and the male model of sport) but last night a good thing occurred.
During one of the sprinting drills which was done in stages the instructors described our effort level by encouraging us to visualize another biker just ahead and we had to work to keep up with HIM because HE had just passed us. Oh no--I thought to myself. She's succumbing to the dominant paradigm in which we picture the bicyclist as male. I was dismayed, especially because the instructor is my girlfriend and I did not want to have this conversation with her after class. Luckily I didn't have to. Because as we moved to the next stage of the drill the bicyclist passing us was a SHE and we had to keep up with HER this time. She really is a feminist who practices feminist pedagogy. Phew.