Monday, October 30, 2006

Things that make me go hmmm...

1. I knew there were a lot of regulations around the size of women's bathing suits in beach volleyball and also where logos can be placed, how big, etc. I did not know though that six centimeters is the maximum height for the sides of the bikini bottoms. Guess shorts--of any length--just are not an option even if it's a chilly day at the beach. Guesses on the maximum length of the men's suits???
2. It was not until 1998 that a revision of the Amateur Sports Act (originally passed in 1978) forced the United States Olympic Committee to fund Paralympic athletes. When I went to Salt Lake in 2002 there was a lot of advertising of the Paralympic Games that were to follow the Olympics. I witnessed what I thought was a strong commitment to encouraging spectators to attend. For some reason I thought this had always been the case. Guess I was a little naive.
Also, it seems that the IOC doesn't just dislike the gays using their name. The IOC has forced the Paralympics to change their logo several times because it too closely resembled the (trademarked) Olympic rings though none of the designs had actual rings in them.
3. A key eye witness in the Duke lacrosse rape scandal has gone public with a story about the events of the night last March when a dancer from a nearby college alleges she was raped by three of the players. The fellow dancer, Kim Roberts, has changed her story several times now. I don't think changing one's story means she is necessarily lying but I don't see her as being a very credible witness for either side. As much as I would like to see "justice" served, I am not looking forward to the start of this trial next spring.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

(Not) Getting it

The other day a friend who plays on a rec league women's ice hockey team showed me an email she had received from a fellow teammate. Part of the email referenced their coach's upcoming birthday. The team is trying to come up with something to give him.
This was the suggestion of the player (I have edited out the names):
As for [coach's] birthday, I think all the youngsters (X, Y, Z, etc) could give him sex.
She goes on to explain how this would be a treat for the coach and also for his wife, another player, apparently so she could be relieved of her duty to "give him sex."
I probably don't have to explain that my reaction was marked by extreme disgust and disappointment.
My reaction was also likely made somewhat more severe by the sports sociology class I have been auditing this semester. It has been a very odd experience for me, coming from a women's studies background, to be in a class where my radical feminist views are in the minority. (I realize of course that to be in the majority anywhere is a great privilege and I am thankful for that and have learned quite a bit about negotiating one's feminism in a non (even anti at times) feminist environment.)
We have been talking about, well I have been mentioning anyway, in class the fact that people frequently participate in their own oppression. The other night we heard a presentation by a female student on Mariah Burton Nelson's The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. The book isn't actually all about football, but rather about football as exemplifying a male sports culture that reifies masculinity and demonizes everything else. She spends considerable time discussing sexual violence perpetrated by athletes and also sexual abuse between coaches and athletes.
Said student thought the book was filled with "conspiracy theories." Also, she claimed Burton Nelson was "biased" because she herself was abused by a coach as a teenager.
Perhaps this was her way of dealing with--by denying--the many evils of sport that MBN presents. The book conveys many stories of those who have been abused and offers more than just empircal evidence to illustrate the very real and widespread problem of abuse.
So the comment about the coach sleeping with his players was especially irritating to me. It's a joke in very poor taste given that this is a reality for many athletes--young female athletes with older male coaches especially, as is the situation this player lays out in her email.
Class discussion of the book also focused on men's locker room banter. MBN discusses this in the context of violence against and degradation of women but also the issue of female reporters in the locker room.
One student, a former football player and currently a coach, defended, to an extent, this speech as part of football locker room culture. He said people say things to fit in but do not necessarily believe them nor would they act on them. He admitted he himself had said things in the locker room that he would never say outside the locker room.
I think that's a lousy excuse and likely not true for many players. Players become enculturated and begin to believe the things that are being said. When football is your life, inside and outside the locker room becomes an almost arbitrary distinction, an issue of simple geography.
Hockey player's comment above illustrates this. This statement seems like something that would be expressed in a locker room (and even in that context it would be wrong and someone should speak up) but it wasn't. As private as some believe it to be, email is part of the larger public world. And you never know where it is going to end up. It could get into the hands of someone like me!
And finally, what was disappointing was the "equality" that this email evidenced. Women and girls now play hockey, in ever-growing numbers. Apparently the opportunity to play has also created, at least for this woman, a need to adhere to the same anti-woman sentiment that predominates much of the sport.
The student in sport soc who disliked the book mentioned said that MBN's bias came because "she has a stake in this." We all have a stake in "this." I thought that was the most obvious point to be taken from the book. It's possible that those women, and non-football players, who deny most vehemently the implications of Burton Nelson's work on their own lives are at the greatest risk.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Heterosexy Female Athlete

Sports scholar Jo Ann Buysse continues, in the issue of The Scholar and Feminist Online that I have been discussing here to employ the metaphor Catherine Stimpson created in her address that prompted this journal to devote the issue to The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond. I have, as I mentioned previously, enjoyed the way Stimpson’s respondents have taken her creation of the Atalanta Syndrome and expanded the mythological metaphor in productive and meaningful ways. Buysse is no exception. The Atalantan distraction, i.e. the golden apple that entices the contemporary female athlete, Buysee argues is the highly gendered—or femininized—“heterosexy” images of female athletes. Athletes see them but are, of course, also their subject. Buysse does not interrogate this latter aspect, the female athletes who pose for these images, which disappointed me some. I realize the term “choice” become a little blurry when we discuss whether female athletes, who have far less earning power through sports than their male counterparts, should or should not be participating in ad campaigns that attempt to de-athleticize them. But I think there was opportunity for Buysse to discuss the economic and cultural pressure on female athletes to present themselves in this way. Though she cites and briefly discusses other studies of media representations of female athletes, her own research is on their portrayal in college media guides. In this context, the concept of choice or control over one’s own image is even more limited. I have never heard of any athlete vocalizing her dissent over media images. In the realm of intercollegiate athletics it would seem that you either do it their way or you don’t play. I can imagine anyone who might present some sort of concern being told that she was lucky women’s sports get media guides at all. Equitable publicity actually falls under Title IX, though Buysse does not mention this in her essay. But it cannot legislate what that publicity looks like—or even reads like in the case of text-based publicity such as press releases and even player biographies. (It sure would be interesting if it could, though!) There is good news, though. Buysse reports that in her longitudinal research on media guides she found, in her most recent examination (2004) that there was no statistically significant difference in the representation of male and female athletes in their respective media guides. In other words, where in previous studies she found a disproportionate percentage of media guides presenting female athletes in posed, made-up, coiffed and other non-threatening, non-athletic images, in 2004 she found that this trend was no worse in media guides for women’s sports as compared to men’s media guides. The bad news: though colleges and universities have finally begun to portray their athletes equitably, this trend has had no discernible effect on non-educational media outlets such as popular and sport-specific magazines and television. But Buysse believes that the continued success of female athletes, especially at the Olympics where female athletes seem most visible, and the continued work of sports scholars on issues of representation were both responsible for the changes institutions made in media guides. And it is possible that both these factors could continue to produce a ripple effect.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why women's participation in sport falls off: A real life example

I received an email yesterday afternoon from a teammates seeking a sub for doubles last night. The reason: "My husband is working late and I don't want to leave the kids home alone on a school night."
Studies show that women's participation in sports drops off significantly when they enter adulthood. Why? Because of husbands and kids. This is especially true when the women are in a lower socioeconomic class. (Not the situation of my teammate, however.)
I am not blaming the husband or the kids or my teammate here.
But it's important to remember that despite the enormous growth of women's sports, things haven't changed all that much in other realms of society that enable all women to participate freely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Donna Shalala is not a wimp

This past weekend there was some naughty behavior on a football field down in Florida. No, not the usual bad behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct that is ubiquitous on football fields. In the game between University of Miami and Florida International a bench-clearing brawl--ok not everyone was involved in it-- more typical of baseball or hockey, broke out when UM took a 14-0 lead in the game.
Surprisingly (well I was surprised anyway) the game was only interrupted briefly while "order" was restored. But the severity of the actions of the players involved drew one-game suspensions from the ACC commissioner. Later the punishments got a bit more severe with some players being suspended indefinitely.
I don't know the timeline of the events but I suspect that the reasoning by the powers-that-be went something like this: bad behavior by football players in a public setting demands action but not too much action because this is a Div. I football program after all so one-game suspension seems suitable; oh wait--the media is calling this "one of the most disgusting displays on a college football field ever"--yikes! well we better do something a little harsher.
But it's still not enough for some people, like columnist Gene Wojciechowski who thinks more heads--like coach heads--should be rolling their way out of Coral Gables. And he blames UM President Donna Shalala (I did not know that Shalala had gone to UM after her long stint in the Clinton administration) for not doing enough.
You can read the column for yourself but this is my summary of what Wojciechowski is saying: UM football is out of control and Shalala needs to grow a pair of balls and fire the coach.

He points out some of head coach Larry Coker's errors in judgment--to put it mildly. Still I don't think Shalala should bear all the blame here.
First of all high-profile athletic departments are, to borrow a favorite phrase from a university administrator friend of mine, "tubs on their own bottoms." In other words, despite the myriad of regulations that surround, theoretically, intercollegiate athletics, athletic departments are frequently left to themselves, especially where football is concerned. Right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing until left hand gets in a fight and right hand has to--reluctantly--enter the fight too.
I can understand why Dr. Shalala does not want to enter this fight. Football is the sacred cow and my guess is that she does plenty of political tightrope walking just being a woman in charge of a major educational institution. Entering a debate about football is enough to throw off anyone's balance and Shalala is not the first university president to want to avoid becoming embroiled in the controversy.
Despite the apparent consensus over the egregious behavior of the football players, I still believe Shalala would encounter sizeable resistance to firing the head coach or taking any kind of retaliatory action that appeared to come directly from her rather than in concert with the conference.
It is very difficult for a woman to undertake any action that appears to weaken or demean football--even Donna Shalala. Wojciechowski fails to understand this. He expects Shalala to clean up a mess that was started and has been perpetuated by men--at UM and beyond. She may be a woman, but that doesn't mean she is a housekeeper.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The personal lives of female athletes

Watching the final round of the Samsung World Championship yesterday afternoon I realized that the commentators do not talk about the personal lives of the golfers all that much.
I never hear anything about Annika Sorenstam's of the course life. Even when she was going through her divorce the commentators were very respectful of her personal privacy.
Usually we hear about a player's siblings and parents, where they went to college (if they did so), and where they live and practice.
I am not really advocating for more discussion about player's lives during tournament coverage, I am just surprised that there is so little. Why am I surprised? Because tennis commentators, who enjoy talking non-stop and unlike golf commentators, they cannot seem to stick to the game at hand. For example, every time Maria Sharapova plays one can hear the story of her childhood: her immigration from Siberia, the mother she left behind, showing up at Bollettieri's with her father and no money.
But I was actually thinking more about softball versus golf yesterday afternoon. This is there are some interesting similarities. Both are relatively slow-moving so there is plenty of time for commentators to fill up. And both have what I call the lesbian taint: many of the athletes are assumed to be gay. This might actually be because there are a fair amount of queer women in these sports. How relative the numbers are to other sports, I don't know. (I don't think anyone knows actually; I have never seen a study on this.) [Tennis too has developed the lesbian taint but there is plenty of normative femininity on the courts that seems to quell the fear of being tainted.]
What does the lesbian taint have to do with commentators of golf and softball? Well, as I have previously argued, softball seems to be making a concerted effort to appear as hetero as possible. In this same post, I also noted that the LPGA has, in the past anyway,* tried to do the same employing various tactics. What I find so curious, though, is that the golf commentators, unlike the softball ones, are not heteronormalizing the game through their commentary when it would, it seems, be very easy for them to do so.
I find this very admirable. Though it is possible that there are so many lesbian golfers that focusing attention on those players who are in heterosexual relationships would be like outing the others, i.e. it would be obvious who was and who wasn't. They could also just be following the lead of the players, and even the media, who reveal little about their lives off the course.
Again, while I appreciate the fact that this women's sport has not followed the ways of other women's sports commentators who focus a disproportionate amount of talk on players' personal lives, I wonder if the "silence" is read as a confirmation of the lesbian taint by some.

* In the present too apparently. Here is an excerpt about Natalie Gulbis's FHM shoot:
Gulbis' decision to pose for FHM wasn't one she came to alone, however. A PR firm, retained by the LPGA, aided in soliciting the shoot, as it did an offer for Gulbis to appear on Howard Stern's radio gabfest. (Gulbis turned that one down.) "As our players become recognizable celebrities, more unconventional media outlets are becoming interested. If Natalie is comfortable [posing in FHM], we're supportive of the decision" says Commissioner Ty Votaw, who has been urging players to leverage their looks and charm, as well as their swings.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

Yeah, I am not actually going to answer that question using my own personal thoughts on the matter. I remain pretty ambivalent about the debate.
But the issue has come up again. This time in Darien, Connecticut which recently underwent a review by the Office of Civil Rights because a Title IX complaint was filed by a parent of a female swimmer alleging inequity in participation numbers and scheduling (the latter was deemed unfounded by OCR).
OCR found a 1.9 percent discrepancy in examining the ratio of females in the district/female athletes and boys/male athletes. This is pretty small.
Feeling the need to explain, the superintendent of schools said that if cheerleaders had been counted, the district would have achieved proportionality--one test (out of three) for measuring compliance.
But cheerleaders are not counted. Darien is not alone in this. Many institutions would meet the proportionality prong if cheerleaders could be counted. So is cheerleading a sport?
According to the article, the OCR will not allow it. But this is not entirely true. A 1975 letter of clarification stated that "drill teams, cheerleaders and the like, which are covered more generally as extracurricular activities . . . are not part of the institution's 'athletic program' within the meaning of the [Title IX] regulation." BUT given the changes in cheerleading over the years, the OCR has adopted a policy of examining cheerleading on a case-by-case basis when an institution wants to count cheerleaders as athletes. Here is an explanation provided by the Women's Sports Foundation:
Q: Can cheerleading be considered a varsity sport?
A: No in the case of traditional cheerleading where cheerleaders perform at athletic events and participating in no or few cheerleading competitions each year. Yes if the cheerleading team has a coach, practices as frequently as a regular varsity team, and competes against other cheerleading teams on a regular basis and more frequently than it appears to cheer for other teams.

Basically, the cheerleading squad must exist to do MORE than just support other athletic teams. Despite my ambivalence, I do want to suggest that adding cheerleading may not be the panacea many schools believe it to be. Given the extremely high injury rate among cheerleaders, they would likely require a team physician. They would be required to travel with a certified athletic trainer most certainly. And I would imagine there is a decent amount of travel required as well. Coaches would have to be paid commensurate with the pay scale athletic departments use for other coaches likely resulting in pay increases for existing coaches or the hiring of qualified coaches.
If cheerleading was approved as a sport that would mean cheerleaders would have to be treated equitably. They might be eligible for things like training tables; they would have to be given equitable access to practice and weightlifting facilities; publicity would be required. Because recruiting dollars are examined under Title IX, cheerleading would have to be given a recruitment budget like other sports.
For cheerleaders to "become" athletes in the eyes of both the OCR and the institution there has to be more than just a counting of heads--there has to be equitable treatment of them once they are given that status. And since many institutions already have a problem treating their current female athletes equitably, I do not think cheerleaders would fare any better.
But if you're interested in fighting that battle, go to it! Rah!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Send this bitch!

Words uttered by...guesses? Some misogynist male perhaps? A man in power trying to assert his masculinity?
Nope--it was our female coxswain who said this to our boat this morning during what otherwise was a quite enjoyable row on a very serene and mild morning.
Yes, on our last push back to the dock we were instructed to "send this bitch"--the bitch being the boat I would assume. I couldn't think too long about it at the time because despite the ability of many Olympic-level crews to make it look nearly effortless, it actually requires an amazing amount of concentration--no matter what level.
Thinking about it after I got out of the boat, I remained somewhat shocked, slightly offended and generally perturbed. I think it has something to do with the sexually charged atmosphere of sports. I had, until this point, not experienced crew as sexually charged but I figured that was because I escaped some of this because I am in a community rowing program.
Our coxswain does both community and collegiate rowing so maybe things are different. But she called the boat a bitch which is just odd though I suppose, slightly better than calling a person(s) a bitch--but maybe she does during races. Luckily she was a temp and I won't have to find out.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mentoring girls in sports

This post is part of a "series" I am doing in which I comment on some of the articles in the most recent edition of The Scholar and Feminist Online whose theme was The Cultural Value of Sport: Title IX and Beyond.
In my first post, I commented on Catherine Stimpson's address about the Atalanta Syndrome. In this one I turn to the essay by Margaret Carlisle Duncan entitled "The Promise of Artemis." I have liked that many of the authors have continued to employ mythological analogies as they respond to Stimpson's lecture. Duncan invokes Artemis, the woman/goddess who raised Atalanta after her father ditched her in the woods. Artemis taught Atalanta the skills--mental and physical--that she took back with her to her father's kingdom where she engaged in the foot races for which she is best known. (Alas Artemis did not teach her how to avoid the temptation of the golden apple--apples seem to be the downfall of many a woman in pagan and Christian mythology.)
The figure of Artemis, Duncan says, is much needed in the world of youth sports to serve as role models and mentors. Arguing that "socialization is a two-way street," Duncan says that Artemis(es) praise girls for their particpation in sport and physical activity. This stands in contrast to more typical methods of socialization in which girls are praised for conforming to hegemonic femininity.
An Artemis is also able to help girls negotiate the "contested terrain" that is sport and the moment in lives of many sporting girls when being a "tomboy" is no longer acceptable.
But Duncan spends most of article critiquing the most prevalent source of physical activity in the lives of girls: physical education. And she offers suggestions for reforming PE to be more inclusive and supportive of girls including lessening the focus on "the kinds of sports that are celebrations of masculinity." In part taking the focus off sports such as football, baseball, basketball, which many boys already have skills in (because of extracurricular particpation) would alleviate the widening gap between girls' and boys' physical abilities that also serves to reinforce the belief the girls are less athletic.
Duncan provides two responses, one liberal, one radical, to the problems girls encounter in the world of institutional sport and physical activity. In her liberal response Duncan calls for, among other things, the identification of Artemises at all levels of programs and government (in the forms of parents, teachers, administrators and athletes "who have bucked the system") who could serve as advocates for girls' programs.
Though she does not mention Title IX here, I would suggest that advocates at all levels will be especially important in future fights for the protection and expansion of Title IX. People who have worked with girls and supported their endeavors in sports and other physical activities will be more likely to rally against potential harmful changes and interpretations in the law. It is also possible that the growth of a cadre of Artemises might put enough pressure on administrators to effect change without lawsuits.
In her radical response, Duncan suggests (or rather passes on the suggestion of other scholars)that girls should "set the agenda for physical education." This is a suggestion that practitioners of feminist pedagogy (outside the PE "classroom") have advocated as well. I have experimented with it myself--though minimally--in college classrooms and found it worthy of future consideration. There is, of course, the need to balance what students say they want to learn and what we, as educators, believe they should know.
But I believe Duncan (and the scholars she cites) are correct in their asseessment that girls will tell you what they want to know about their bodies and their capabilities given the right environment.
Duncan ends her essay beautifully so I will simply use her words to end this post:
"Sport is the field on which gender battles are fought. The stakes at the material level may seem trivial, but the stakes at the symbolic level are not. These symbolic stakes include the empowerment of girls, the cessation of assualts on female subjectivity, and the end of the assumption of female inferiority and male superiority."

Friday, October 06, 2006

The things the tour won't talk about?

Anyone think that maybe the discussion about eating disorders needs to expand beyond the sports of gymnastics and figure skating?
Hantuchova, who admitted to have some weight issues (I don't think I ever heard the words "eating" and "disorder" in the same sentence--I believe it was explained as a sort of accident--oops, look I forgot to eat while I was training intensely), looks pretty thin again.
And I don't know Morigami so I can't compare this picture with anything, but she looks fairly frail as well.
Besides Hantuchova's weight loss the only other time I heard about anorexia on the tour was a brief mention about Carling Bassett-Seguso (blast from the past, eh?) and I believe she mentioned it after her professional career had ended. (Here is an interview with Bassett-Seguso and Nick Bollettieri about Hantuchova's weight loss.
I don't see it as a rampant problem, but still these women do not look healthy to me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scheduling around men

As I have mentioned previously, I recently joined a women's USTA league team. We haven't started playing matches yet but the schedule just came out which was the topic of convseration at an after-practice dinner the other night.
The schedule is always a source of complaint. We have a long season (October to May) but there are only 8 matches because the USTA regional coordinator has divided us into two "flights" rather than having all 14 teams play one another.
This is annoying but not especially egregious or gender-related, as far as we can tell anyway, at least not in comparison to the days and times we play. Our matches are all on Sundays usually in the late mornings or afternoons.
Match scheduling has been an issue in the past. The women in the league do not always like playing on Sundays. The men play Saturdays--why? Because the men have to watch football on Sundays.
This is ridiculous for so many reasons. First, all men and only men watch football? Second, you can't give up one football game to go play your own sport? And lastly, it's football season. There is a football game practically every day of the week and about ten times on Sunday. There is plenty of football to be seen.
The other interesting tidbit I learned about scheduling was that when and if matches or practices are or have been scheduled on weeknights men get the later time slots because they work. Jeez, I wonder what it is that we women-folk do every day...
Privileging the scheduling of men's sports is a Title IX no-no but alas because the USTA is not an educational institution receiving federal monies we can't bring a complaint. Well we can certainly complain just not under Title IX. Anyone ever wonder what the country would look like if the ERA had actually passed?