Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happenings around the world

1. A very good column about the Pakistani national women's cricket team currently preparing for World Cup qualifying to happen this month. The writer, who spent time with the team as they trained, recounts the obstacles they face as female athletes in an Islamic country. Many of the players receive marginal support from their families, especially male relatives who do not find athletics for women appropriate. Additionally, there is no team sponsor (because there is no television coverage) and there is no television coverage (because there is no team sponsor). Other problems include a lack of senior players because women, after marrying in their mid-20s, leave the team; lack of money to keep up with fitness in the off-season; and players balancing cricket with schooling. But President Musharraf seems intent on increasing opportunities that can emancipate women. And cricket falls under that category. Whether that desire will be enough to overcome the many cultural obstacles currently faced by the team, we don't know yet.

2. Also being encouraged to get active are women in Iran, some of whom are taking up rugby. The article has great pictures worth checking out. Though there are dress requirements, they do not seem to impede the women too much. Also, they compete against teams with similar dress.

3. Germany has been awarded the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. Should be exciting given that Germany will host as the reigning champions. They were chosen over Canada.

4. From the "It would have been better earlier rather than later" Department: Canadian former hockey player Cassie Campbell was recently inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. She is the first female hockey player to be inducted. How that is possible is beyond me. But Campbell is certainyl deserving of the honor. She has been a national team member since 1993 and accumulated 16 gold medals in international competition over the course of her career. She is currently doing broadcast work covering NHL games.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nike: Sport doesn't recognize gender

In my INBOX this morning was an email from Nike, NikeWomen specifically. (I keep telling myself to unsubscribe, but then I hesitate when I get bloggable moments like these.)
Here's what I read first (It's all in caps but I won't do that to you. Also note the punctuation is the way it appears int he original.):
Sport is universal. It appeals to our sense of adventure. Provides a platform for accomplishment. And an opportunity to forge bonds with like-minded competitors. As female athletes, sports defines who we are. Because, collectively, we are redefining sport. Gender doesn't define a great athlete. Great does.
This is part of their ongoing ATHLETE campaign. If you scroll down the email you find a link to the ATHLETE t-shirts ready for you to purchase and the ads that have been running as part of the campaign.
But directly underneath the above "gender doesn't matter in sport" message is this:
Nike helps you put it all together with Shop by Outfit. Because you shouldn't have to "break a sweat to assemble the right training gear."
So apparently sport is not gendered, but shopping is. Because I could not find any Shop by Outfit option when looking at the men's apparel at This is very interesting because, of course, shopping is gendered (as is sport--I don't think Nike's campaign is fooling anyone). But stereotypically it's women who have no trouble picking out an outfit. Men, on the other hand, are generally considered shopping illiterate. Yet Nike is targeting women with this marketing strategy.
Why? Likely because sporting apparel and its meaning is also gendered. Send an email to men saying let us help you pick out that perfect outfit for working out, weekly tennis, weekend flag football and men would laugh because, the feeling is, they don't care what they throw on when they go to work out. (Which is not exactly true. Take a look around the gym. Men may not be wearing an "outfit" but some have clearly made conscious decisions about how they are presenting themselves and the clothes are part of that.) Still a marketing strategy like that would be futile and Nike knows it.
So again we have: gender does not matter; but wait--gender does matter.

Monday, October 29, 2007

To be the same or to be different?

Are these the only choices for women's sports? It seems so. columnist Bonnie Ford has a piece from last week about the firing (or non-renewal of contract) of US national team soccer coach Greg Ryan and all the hoopla over the Hope Solo controversy entitled: Would a Hope Solo situation happen to a men's team? Her conclusion--which you can probably guess from just reading the title--is that, no, men's teams don't deal with intrateam controversy by benching a player. One, I am not sure this is exactly the case. I seem to recall various clubhouse tensions with certain players over the years. Perhaps it is not that men handle it differently but that the media treats such situations differently when women are involved; relying on stereotypes of women's group behavior (Ford calls the situation a "slumber party gone bad") and conflicts (i.e. catfights).
Essentialist beliefs about women as inherently nurturing or conciliatory and forgiving have framed this controversy in ways no one is discussing as far as I can tell. Commentators and writers call on the women's national team to toughen up and deal with the adversity yet at the same time we want them to act like "normal" women; we question their sexuality (the countless hits I get from "abby wambach gay" searches), and place other demands on them to be feminine and otherwise normative.
In other words: act like men, but wait--don't act like men.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The best educators

I am a little late on this but still wanted to report that the Institute for International Sport has compiled a list of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators. Of note on the list (to me, of course; I am sure everyone has his/her own favorites):
  • Christine Grant, professor emerita, University of Iowa, (the bio neglects to mention her academic position though only mentioning her advocacy for women's sports and position as a sports administrator) Title IX advocate (and the person who taught me the ins and outs of Title IX compliance)
  • Vivian Acosta and Linda J. Carpenter, both professors emerita at City University of New York, Brooklyn, who have tirelessly been compiling and analyzing Title IX data since the late 1970s.
  • Pat Griffin, professor emerita at University of Massachusetts, current head of the Women's Sports Foundation's It Takes a team project whose aim is to combat homophobia in sports. She wrote Strong Women, Deep Closets about the lives of gay women in athletics. (She's also a very nice person and good softball player, though I am not sure if these were criteria the IIS committee used.)
  • Billie Jean King--of course!

There are a lot of other very important people on the list. I was a little disappointed to see Frank Deford there as I frequently have a problem with his commentaries on gender and sport but overall I thought the IIS did a good job compiling this list.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

NCAA "settles" with North Dakota

University of North Dakota has been in negotiations with the NCAA over their use of the "Fighting Sioux" mascot since 2005. The NCAA has mandated that institutions with offensive Native American mascots not be allowed to compete in postseason play. It has worked with schools where such problems existed and made decisions on a case-by-case basis. For example, the Tribe of William and Mary was allowed to keep its nickname, Tribe, but had to get rid of the two feathers that served as the logo. W&M was none too pleased with this decision but opted not to contest the NCAA decision through a potentially lengthy and expensive legal process. UND was not so willing to comply when the NCAA said they could not use "Fighting Sioux" in postseason play. It sued the NCAA a year ago and got a temporary order allowing them to continue using the name throughout court proceedings. Yesterday it was announced that a settlement had been reached between the parties.
The NCAA has given UND three years to get tribal approval for the nickname. This is a very odd "solution" in my mind--not knowing, of course, what has gone on behind the scenes nor what kind of legal ground either party was standing on. Still, given that several Sioux tribes have said, on the record, that they oppose the nickname, it seems that UND is taking a risk. But they could also be confident that if they throw enough money at the tribes, a la the Florida Seminoles, the Sioux, or enough of the Sioux, will acquiesce. I hope 1) that this does not happen; 2) that there are very strict rules governing how UND will "convince" the Sioux so as to prevent an all-out, no-holds-barred campaign; and 3) that no one fails to remember that pressuring an oppressed minority group to give in to powerful and emotionally charged lobbying isn't really a fair fight. I am disappointed that the NCAA agreed to (or perhaps even suggested--we don't know because the negotiations were closed) the deal. They may recognize the harm in the nicknames, logos, and mascots, but they do not appear to be aware of long history of damage and oppression done to American Indians that has resulted in the erasure of their history from the country's collective memory and the larger discrimination they face because of this. And that mandating the removal of offensive nicknames and imagery may be a step in the right direction but not a remedy for years of and ongoing ignorance on the issue of American Indians' rights.

Friday, October 26, 2007

They let this stuff get printed?

The Chicago Sun-Times has the most misogynist piece of crap in their editorial section. It reads like a rant against women and their successes--including the ones gained in sports since Title IX. It is so badly written and irrational that I almost wonder if it is some sort of (bad) satire. [Unlike the stereotype of the lacking in humor feminist, I like good, smart satire.] But I cannot find any context that would suggest that was the case. See for yourself.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The concessions women's sports make

As a member of Friends of UNH Women's Hockey I receive the regular updates of how the team is doing. [They're doing well so far this season, thanks for asking!]
This week's update mentions the usual accolades: good wins, players reaching milestones, rookies winning recognition, etc. It also previewed the week's coming contests.
Tonight UNH travels to Boston to take on Boston College, a team that has finally come into its own. [They did have that whole coaching scandal last spring with head coach Tom Mutch resigning after it was revealed he was involved with a freshman player on the team. But former Olympian Katie King has taken over and it looks like promoting her to head coach from her position as an assistant was a good decision.]
Fans attending the game have a couple of things to worry about. Last week's contest between the men of BC and UNH was called after two periods because they couldn't keep the arena, Conte Forum, cold enough as the weather outside was far above average fall temps. The arena was filled with fog and the ice was soft.
Probably not going to be an issue tonight. But hunger may be. Fans were warned to eat before coming to the game. Why? Because the Conte Forum concession stands are not open during women's games. It's always a crapshoot whether one will be able to get food at a women's game. And frankly, that sucks. But these days most schools are opening at least some of their stands during games. I know that UNH, Harvard, Northeastern, Connecticut, Minnesota (but that was during the Frozen Four--not sure what their regular season policy is) all have open stands during women's games.
It's not that we all need watery hot chocolate and over salted, under-buttered, bordering on stale popcorn. It's the principle. The message one gets at a women's game at Conte Forum is basically: we let the women play here. They are clearly an afterthought especially if you see what happens at a men's game at Conte Forum: it's an event, an experience. BC women's hockey has made a name for itself in a fairly short period of time. They made a surprise run to the Frozen Four last year and they deserve better treatment. And that's saying a lot coming from a UNH fan.

10/26 UPDATE: UNH beat BC 4-1

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Holy crap, it happened!

Greg Ryan got fired! [OK it happened two days but I only heard about it this morning because 1) I've been busy; 2) I was unusually out of touch with the internet yesterday--see #1; and 3) how much coverage was the firing of a women's soccer coach really going to get in the midst of football season and right before the World Series?]
I cannot figure out if I am truly surprised. I think I am only because a major change less than a year before the national team heads to the Olympics and the reigning gold medal winners would seem to cause more unease than not. But given the high profile controversy Ryan (with the help of Hope Solo) sparked at the World Cup, maybe this is an attempt to make that go away, leave the collective memory, in enough time for the team to adjust.
I have to say, as I have said before, that I do not think Ryan was a great coach--certainly not compared to past US national team coaches. Whether it would have been as obvious if the Solo/Scurry situation had not happened, or had been handled differently, we will never know. But even before the game with Brazil, I didn't like the guy. I thought he was making bad decisions throughout the World Cup and that the team was not prepared for what they encountered in China.
The article linked above mentions the formation of a committee to find a new coach which will have in the next month or so. The only names people seem to be putting out there right now seem to be the team's former coaches. Given current UNC coach Anson Dorrance's recent (and not-so-recent) legal troubles due to his use of sexual harassment as a coaching technique, I would think US Soccer would stay away from him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tony DiCicco back at the helm. Going back to the familiar after a controversy like this would seem to ease a lot of minds quickly and time is of the essence.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tennis player activism

Diane at Women Who Serve reports on the new gender equality campaign for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) featuring Venus Williams and Tatiana Golovin. It's pretty good. Take a look for yourself.

New channel just for women's sports

It seems specialized sports channels are all the rage of late. The Big Ten Network started broadcasting this fall. (Haven't heard how that is going.) And now plans are in the works for a Women's Sports Network that will start operating in 2008 and feature women's sports from around the world. The network is helmed by American Catherine Masters who is the founder and CEO. Though based in the U.S., the network will partner with the British to ensure coverage from around the world.

Though it does not appear there are any plans for live broadcasts, the network is still a step forward in the journey to bring more media coverage--more sustained coverage--to women's sports.

Additionally, the network will have an internet presence giving viewers the ability to watch on their computers after installing the appropriate video player.

The press release linked above has information about getting games and teams covered as well as contact info for advertisers.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Trying to get to the gym

This is a very interesting and well-done article about the difficulties women in Israel face trying to find time and space to work out in a culture which does not support women's physical development--especially when it gets in the way of their duties to family and community.
We can see some similarities in the obstacles American women face when they want to be active: carving out time during the day between household, community, and occupational duties. But there are sooe obvious differences as well: many American gyms have daycare; a fit female body is a status symbol in our culture and thus encouraged for certain women; and we often don't have the same community obligations--to entertain when a neighbor pops in, for example. [So few neighbors are popping in on one another these days.]
An additional problem with the concept of Israeli women working out is the need to do so in sex segregated facilities. The article actually focuses on the one facility, The Eden Club, in a northern Israeli town of 33,000 where women can partake in physical fitness activities. Other cities have community centers that offer women aerobics classes and other individual and group activities.
One similarity between the Arab and American exercise culture for women: women who exercise (walk, run, bike, etc.) on city streets are subject to harassment. Disparaging remarks toward women exercising in public seem to transcend cultures. The other day friends of mine were cursed at by a guy in a truck while they were biking. Almost any woman who runs outdoors on a regular basis has stories of being whistled at, yelled at, and even forced off the road by vehicles. Not exactly a sign of American enlightenment about women and physicality.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More on new Atlanta team

Here's a Q&A with Ron Terwilliger, the owner of the new WNBA franchise in Atlanta on how the team came about, why Atlanta is a good spot for an expansion team, and how it will get up and running so quickly.

One little bitty concern I have: Terwilliger said--as part of his answer as to why he wanted to do this--"I've watched some women's basketball on TV..." [emphasis mine]

Some? Uh-oh. I realize team ownership is a business but it would be nice if the owner actually came into it a fan already. That said, Terwilliger does see the WNBA as a successful league already but one that needs to mature. And he wouldn't undertake this business venture, I would think, if he did not have confidence in not just his team's, but the league's, success.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The politics of muscle-making

The other day I tried a new weight-lifting workout with someone I consider an "expert." Expert's routine is very different from my own which lacks a certain amount of...well...routineness I would say. Expert was correct, in our post-workout discussion, that I only do things that I am good at rather than challenging my body in new ways.

But I was also told that my lack of routineness (which is only slightly true--I do have a method of working opposing muscle groups on different days) is a "recipe for disaster." In other words, I am going to get injured. Of course I have been doing this not-a-routine for a decade or so without injury and am, in fact, rather careful about not hurting myself so I can pursue my non-gym physical activities. But I was interested in what Expert had to say about lighter weights and different exercises. I don't have a desire to gain more muscle mass because I play tennis and I don't want to pull a Justine Henin and start a weight routine that impedes my movement (note that I am not anything like Henin and I don't have great movement to start with--I am just trying not to exacerbate this).

So I am fairly on board with this general "program" (though I think calling anything a program makes it seem like obligatory work and going to the gym for obligatory work does not work for me.) But I hesitate to use less weight because, frankly, I like not only being strong but lifting the amount of weight that shows I am strong. In a gym environment where women are found in far less frequent numbers in a weight room or are seen lifting 5 pound handweights in classes meant to "tone" those flabby areas, a woman lifting a lot of weight is a statement. I may not be impressing any guys--and that's not my goal--but I am there pushing myself alongside them. But the new routine means less weight, standing on a BOSU ball doing bicep curls (something marked as feminine), and other such things, and I am still not sure how I feel about that.

Though I have to say having done the new not-a-program twice this week, I am feeling pretty good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New WNBA team

Atlanta will be home to the newest WNBA franchise. Beginning in 2008 Atlanta will become only the 6th independently owned franchise. No decisions on name, logo, colors or where the games will be held. Women's Hoops Blog has a link to the press conference announcing the new team.

Parity in volleyball

ESPN columnist Dave Reed has a very thorough piece on women's volleyball which has grown exponentially at the junior level. This has had a great effect on the collegiate game which, according to those involved, has achieved that magic word in women's sports: parity. Parity is the nice way of saying: generally, you don't suck anymore. It's not that I don't appreciate parity--no one like to see a game where one team or player dominates endlessly. But I dislike that frequently the term is used with no explanation. The people who use it often fail to provide a thorough explanation of the historical, cultural, and economic circumstances that impeded parity for decades.
Reed, thankfully, does not do this. His column explains the ways in which the women's game has grown and how that has been helped by more development programs, more money into the sport generally and specifically the attention paid to it by colleges and universities who are intent on turning it into a top two women's sport (alongside basketball). Better coaches, better players, better contests. The latter has been in evidence this season during which, at time of the column's publication, 41 unranked teams had staged upsets over ranked teams.
This may make my friends who are huge Nebraska (perennial favorites) fans a little uneasy, but it's good news for the rest of intercollegiate volleyball. The NCAA tournament starts in December and many are predicting that the upsets that have marked the regular season will continue there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Smash Hits event is all about Davenport

ESPN columnist Bonnie Ford has a good piece about the return of Lindsay Davenport to active player status after giving birth early in the summer. We learn a little more about son Jagger's delivery--it was early and done by c-section to avoid complications; and that she started playing only two weeks later! Another example of how being in good shape going into a pregnancy helps you on the other side of it.

Ford also uses the column to pay tribute to newly retired Corina Morariu, Davenport's former doubles partner and good friend. According to Ford, Morariu has been doing commentary. I haven't heard her yet but I am eager to hear her take on things and hopeful that she is better than, say, Pam Shriver.

And, by the way, the event Davenport and Morariu were playing, Smash Hits, an annual event organized by Billie Jean King and Elton John, raised $400,000 for AIDS causes. And John paid great tribute to King when he commented that she should be

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

And the winners are...

Last night's Women's Sports Foundation Annual Salute to Women in Sports featured some big names receiving great accolades.

Golfer Lorena Ochoa, who last year overtook one of the greatest--Annika Sorenstam--as the number one golfer in the world, won professional Sportswoman of the Year. Tennessee softball pitcher Monica Abbott won the same in the amateur category.

Figure skater Michelle Kwan won the Billie Jean King Contribution Award for her work as a public diplomat travelling around the world talking to kids about education and social issues.

And the Rutgers women's basketball team won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award for enduring all the crap that followed in the wake of Don Imus's imbecility. They met and posed for a picture with former national soccer team member and long-time WSF supporter Julie Foudy, who, while praising the team for their actions, got their gender wrong and called them "guys."
Other attendees included Jackie Joyner-Kersee who had to comment on the recent revelations that track star Marion Jones did indeed use performance-enhancing drugs and lied about it to investigators.
Billie Jean King's special guest was Anucha Browne Sanders, the former executive for the Knicks who recently won her sexual harasment lawsuit against coach Isiah Thomas.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let the reconciling begin

Over the weekend Hope Solo apologized once again for her remarks in China during the World Cup last month, sat on the bench with the team in St. Louis but did not suit up for the US team's first of three exhibition games against Mexico. Brianna Scurry was in goal and had a good game allowing only one goal. The US generated some of the offense they were missing in China scoring 5.
Of course it was against Mexico who did not even qualify for the World Cup so the comparison only says so much. I find it disappointing that the national team's post World Cup "tour" is a mere three games all against the same team. They couldn't get Canada to come down--or even just close to the border--Detroit maybe--to play a match that might have been a little more interesting to watch? I was surprised that the planning was so poor given the desire to grow the women's game in anticipation of the Olympics next summer and the (re)start of the professional women's league after that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Leader in the anti-racism movement dies

Sadly, Vernon Bellecourt, one of the founding members of the American Indian Movement has died. The 75-year old, a lifelong activist, fought racism in sport by protesting the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams. At the time of his death he was the president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media and was arrested twice for protesting at Cleveland Indians games.
It's unfortunate that one of the leaders in this movement has passed, but I think Bellecourt was likely pleased by the strides made toward eradicating American Indian mascots, which remain symbols of the racist and imperialist attitudes of many Americans.
But his death also reminds us that there is still work to be done. While the NCAA has put rules into place limiting the use of American Indian mascots, such restrictions do not apply to professional sports (it's outrageous that there is still a professional football team called the Redskins) or high school sports (when I was in high school we played against the Saugus Sachems--a nickname (and logo) still in use today) which are governed by local and state bodies.
Start your own campaign against local use of American Indian mascots or find an existing one. The link for the NCRSM is a good starting point.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tennis as the ugly stepsister

I love me a post about sport and language. Diane over at Women Who Serve has an excellent post about how tennis commentators demean their own sport by continually using non-tennis metaphors (one-two punch, out of the gate, etc.).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Around the world: All about Asia

1. More competitive opportunities for women's sports in Asia, including the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, are paying off for previously unnoticed teams. The Malaysian (field) hockey team will be participating in its first Olympic qualifying tournament ever because of its performance in these two recent tournaments. Qualifying happens in Vancouver in the spring.

2. In China, officials with the International Table Tennis Federation are worried about the decline in popularity of the sport in the country. Their solution? Encourage the female players to wear sexy skirts and dresses a la Maria Sharapova. While I appreciate Sharapova's--and others'--fashion sense, I am conflicted about using fashion to sell sport. I also have a hard time getting my head around playing table tennis (ping-pong in my mind) in a short skirt. To me, it's more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of sport played in the basement before and after holiday dinners, preferably with a glass of wine nearby for refreshment. But even for those who are professionals and not recreational hacks like myself, short skirts don't seem like a requirement. (Then again they aren't really a requirement for tennis either.) [More pics here.]

3. Singapore is trying to grow interest and opportunities in women's soccer. The Football Association of Singapore is trying to establish 25 women's teams in the country in just one year. The teams will be set up around the country and target students.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Softball ramps up campaign

The International Softball Federation has launched a new campaign targeted at reinstating softball in the 2016 Olympics. In response to the concern that softball is not a truly international sport, ISF is encouraging the creation of new national softball federations, hoping to have 150 by 2009. Other goals include increasing television coverage, enhancing and growing opportunities for youths, and providing equipment and coaching to programs in need.

I was most impressed, though, by the plan to grow opportunities for people with disabilities. I think this population could have easily been overlooked by the ISF in its attempt to get able-bodied softball back on the Olympic program.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The WNBA: "Uniquely feminine"?

The Chicago Tribunehas a feature on the Chicago Sky* and the WNBA generally, the specific angle being how the Sky exemplifies the uniqueness of the WNBA, as compared to the NBA, of course.

I was going to let this article go unexamined even after reading Sky player and WNBA veteran Chasity Melvin's comments that "women are just different than men. We're more sensitive, we're more emotional." But not to fear, Melvin says, they are still very competitive. So much for Nike's ATHLETE campaign that attempts (also problematically) to erase difference between male and female athletes. The athletes themselves are touting the difference--in a classic liberalism, Mary Wollstonecraft kind of way.

Even though I found Melvin's comments irksome and essentialist I wasn't sure I was up for blogging about it--until I read rookie Armintie Price's take on promoting the WNBA, which, according the writer of the piece offsets all that competitive mentality and is a "uniquely feminine" goal.

Says Price: "You're not only looking out for your own name but for the reputation of the WNBA in trying to help it grow. In order to do that, we have to carry ourselves in certain ways, as ladies...."

The article shows the contradictory positions many WNBA players must occupy. Comments from players, coaches, and administrators exemplify the desire to be both the same and different from the NBA specifically, male athletes, and men generally.

It is not surprising that some of these contradictions and negotiations come from black female athletes (Price and Melvin) who have always had to negotiate a femininity that has been constructed and maintained by white society--both men and women-- and a physicality that has also been constructed by white society as animalistic.

Scholar Rota Liberti has an excellent analysis of this issue from an historical perspective. She has written about black female basketball players at Bennett College, an historically black women's college, in the first half of the 1900s in an article entitled "We were ladies, we just played like boys": African American womanhood and competitive basketball at Bennett College, 1928-1942.

In the present day this kind of "we're ladies" rhetoric, as it signals acceptance for some players, simultaneously excludes others who choose to construct or adhere to a different version of femininity or eschew femininity altogether. It is clearly an attempt to counter claims that the WNBA is full of lesbians and is generally an unfortunate yet excellent example of the apologetic behavior that plagues women's sports.

* Interestingly, the article is not in the sports section. It is a feature under "The Women's Health Issue."

Monday, October 08, 2007

One week till WSF gala

Anyone with deep pockets who is planning on being in the NYC area a week from tonight might consider heading over to the Waldorf-Astoria for the Women's Sports Foundation's Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Gala and Auction. For enough money you can purchase a spot at a table with a champion athlete.
The money, of course, goes to a worthy cause. WSF sponsors a multitude of programs and opportunities aimed at bringing the beneficial effects of sports and physical activities into the lives of all girls.
Plus you will get to see the Parade of Athletes which will include Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dominique Dawes, Dawn Riley, Gretchen Bleiler and Jennie Finch. And you'll be there live and in person to see who wins Sportswoman of the Year and the Billie Jean King Contribution Award.

Friday, October 05, 2007

DId you find what you were looking for?

1. They're baaaaack. Searches for headbands. Apparently there was intrigue over the headbands worn in the Solheim Cup a few weekends ago. (Team USA won over Team Europe, by the way.) I already commented on the somewhat nauseating red, white, and blue uniforms Team USA was sporting but thought nothing of the headbands because they were simple navy fleece headbands designed to keep the players' ears warm. (It was a little chilly in Sweden. Non-competing team members were seen sporting big fleecy mittens.) I am sure you can find them in any store that sells winter wear.

2. Still getting the searches on Abby Wambach's sexuality but a new one has been added to the "I need to know which athletes are lesbians" mix. "Cat Reddick lesbian." This is one is easy. Cat Reddick no longer exists. She got married--to a man--and is now Cat Whitehill. This search, though problematic, allows me to address an issue that has been bugging me. Why did Cat Reddick change her name? Foudy, Hamm, Lilly all got married and have not changed their names. Why? Well as much as I would like to attribute it to a strong feminist sensibility (and this indeed could be the case; I don't know what kind of feminist views these women hold) a name change also hurts their marketability. Reddick had established herself as a national team member long ago while still playing for UNC and people who follow soccer knew her. Then she goes and changes her name. I still, when the announcer says "Whitehill to take the throw-in," sometimes ask myself "wait, who is this?" And then I see her face and remember that it's Cat Reddick.

3. Things I don't know: the suggested bat weight for co-ed softball. Having played both co-ed and single-sex softball I can say that there is a range of bat weights regardless of the gender make-up of the team. If you're in charge of buying bats for your team, buy a variety of weights--it's all about swing speed. And if you're just in the market for one to use while playing co-ed softball, buy what feels comfortable to you. And if you are playing co-ed softball, I do hope you don't have to deal with some of the ridiculous rules I had to when playing, like switching out the balls for male and female batters and giving men two bases when they walk. I appreciate the attention to gender equity some of the rules are clearly a manifestation of (like making sure your infield and outfield are equally staffed by men and women) but it all got to be a little bit much and did not seem to foster any kind of actual feelings of equity. It was more of an illusion.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The implications of Tonka

Even my Introduction to Women's Studies students know that the idea that boys like trucks and girls like dolls is a fallacy--because they have lived it. When they get to class they learn it's called social construction.

And yet Tonka has trotted out an ad campaign about how boys are just built differently and Tonka is there because they "understand the unique challenges of raising a boy." Yes, it's a challenge when say a boy wants to play with something other than trucks but is told by others--including Tonka--that he should want to play trucks. Because "boys--they're just built different and Tonka's got the blueprint."

I am shocked that Tonka is getting away with this. The ad, which you can see by clinking on the link above and finding the link for the video of the commercial, shows toys that teach boys to walk and learn shapes and generally be active.

So what does this have to do with sports? Well girls need to learn to be active just like boys, maybe even more so because activity supposedly is natural for boys and not for girls. So while boys are encouraged to do what they are "built" for, girls are encouraged--in subtle ways--to be careful, to limit their movements. The message that Tonka sends about the innate activity of boys has long-term implications for the sporting and physical lives of boys and girls. Skills are developed--not innate. Taking this belief of the natural that Tonka espouses for toddlers down the road a few years and we see it manifest in ideas that girls should not play rough or in rough sports or that their physical activities should somehow be modified to fit their "natural" abilities.

Tonka is owned by Hasbro. Email Hasbro using this form. (Check out the rest of the website including the list of resources for parents raising boys and you will definitely not want to hold back in this email.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I've got a theory

With the defeat of the US National Team by the Brazilians people are wondering, is the rest of the world catching up? is US women's soccer slipping from its spot of dominance?

Before I issue a solid "yes" on this, I have to say that although the US has always been a top or the top team, it is not as if they have won every World Cup or every Olympic gold. There is far more parity in international women's soccer than say in softball where the US has only recently been a little bit challenged by Japan.

But anyway, Yes. A columnist at The Harvard Crimson blames it on the youth and collegiate systems which have a model of the ideal soccer player (strong and fast) that leaves out a lot of talented players. Good points, certainly.

Because we have to wonder how it is that a team that comes together only for the big events so soundly dominated a team whose image is one of togetherness which includes extensive training before international tournaments. A team that gets excellent funding, comparatively, to the other teams in the World Cup, including Brazil, whose president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has promised more attention and support for the women's game after seeing their efforts these past two weeks.

No money, no extensive training, little fan support (OK that's the same situation as we face in the US)--and yet Brazil managed to be the talked-about team of this world cup despite losing to Germany. What's the deal?

Well like Mr. Cruz at Harvard I think the system has something to do with this. But I put more blame on the youth sport system in general. We have overscheduled and overstructured youth sports in the United States. Marta and Daniela didn't learn that fancy footwork in a youth league, I'll bet. They watched (men doing) it on television or in local club teams and emulated it on their own. Does any kid in this country really go out to just kick a soccer ball around and try out some fancy footwork? Are there neighborhood pick-up games at the park or even in someone's back yard? No. And this is true for most sports except maybe basketball. But today kids who want to (and can afford to, an issue that is becoming more and more of a factor) get "put into" sports. I am not pooh-poohing organized sports, but I think that their hegemony has lead to situations like the one in women's soccer. Following the rules of the game is good but there is something to be said for allowing kids to work it out themselves. There is a certain amount of creativity involved in self-organized youth sports and games that kids have no access to or no outlet for when they play in adult-run leagues.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Documenting Muslim athletes

A new and very interesting photography exhibit opened in Paris last week. "Hijab in Sports" is being organized by photographer Maryam Amouzgar who has been documenting Muslim women in sports for over a decade. The exhibit is in Paris but sponsored by Iran's House of Culture and will end later this week. So if you happen to be in Paris, check it out. Hopefully it will be well received and perhaps shown in other cities.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Monday musings

I had a great opportunity to talk about gender equity this weekend when I was on a longish bike ride. One of the women in the group is a former PE teacher and current freelance educator who works with schools to provide equitable after-school opportunities.
So while admiring the scenery and dodging angry drivers who did not appreciate our endeavors, we started talking about her past experiences with single-sex PE and sports activities. She noted that girls with whom she has worked really enjoyed, for example, learning sports skills in a single-sex environment and she would get comments from the participants like "It's so much better without boys around" and "I learned to do something I never thought I could do." And I supported this program and its outcomes. But it was only a one-time program.
When biker friend was a teacher, she taught single-sex PE. A few times she and the male PE teacher tried joint activities, but they quickly abandoned them because they didn't work (not sure of exactly why, however).
I didn't unleash any radical diatribe but I did comment that it seems difficult to know where and when the benefits of single-sex PE end or begin to outweigh the disadvantages and perpetuation of negative stereotypes. Because I don't doubt that girls feel very empowered by learning and even mastering skills in a no-boys environment. The problem is that we don't really know what they're going to do with all this empowerment. Is it really going to carry over into a classroom setting or a social setting where gender stereotypes are not so easily shattered no matter how empowered you have been in gym class.
Additionally, continuing to segregate PE classes (which is actually not allowed in many, if not most, public schools anymore--someone might want to correct me on this) sends a message to the boys as well. The assumption is that what the girls are doing on the other side of the wall is inferior to what they are doing because they bring to school stereotypes of girls' and women's physical inferiority. Sex segregation does not challenge these ideas.
So what happens when empowered girl meets socially constructed boy? I wish I could say that the positive feelings we get when we do something like throw a football or execute a perfect header into the goal or serve an ace carry over to the rest of our lives which include interactions with boys and men. But I am not sure I can believe this, at least not when looking at the way sport and physical activity is presented to girls. There isn't enough attention paid to the whole girl--it's just about making her more skilled and stronger physically. Again, these are good things but unless you connect them to the rest of her life they aren't going to have the full empowering effect.
But sport and feminism (yes, it's a feminist consciousness that I think is needed to counter these stereotypes to allow for a more effective empowerment) have a shaky relationship now and in the past. Unless we can infuse sport with some feminism and get more feminists to see the value and potential of sport things like single-sex PE become exercises in frustration.