Women in Sports: Our Own Worst Enemies?
Hey, ladies! Did you know that you’re pretty much the reason soccer isn’t popular in the U.S.? Did you also know that’s due to your ignorance of both the Beautiful Game and its Beautiful Men?
Have no fear! Holly Green Willowes and Jezebel are here to save the sport with this handy primer on the hot athletes who will be on the field in next year’s World Cup. There might also be some high-level soccer being played, but we all know that if you do end up watching, it’ll be mainly for the eye candy.
But surely her post was all in good fun and shouldn’t be taken seriously! After all, athletes are in prime physical condition, so why shouldn’t we celebrate such achievements in human genetics? Male sports fans do it all the time, right?
That may be true, and I don’t think Willowes meant any harm by her post beyond blatant click-bait to a demographic she might find difficult to reach when discussing the World Cup. But give women a little more credit: Some of us have been sports fans since well before we discovered that Gerard Pique can rock a pair of shorts like nobody’s business, and even then, that was never our primary motivation for watching.
The real danger in posts like this is that they perpetuate the notion that women can’t or won’t follow sports through an analytic lens, that our interest in anything athletic is shallow at best. They also do a real disservice to intelligent women who happen to know their stuff. Take Swedish journalist Johanna Franden, who just last week had to deal with the kind of patronizing misogyny that many female sportswriters encounter on a daily basis. Franden asked Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc about his decision to shift his team’s formation on the field from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, to which Blanc responded, “Women talking football tactics. It’s so beautiful.” He added, with maddening surprise, “I think it’s fantastic. You know what 4-3-3 means, don’t you?”
Franden -- who presumably hadn’t forgotten what a 4-3-3 formation was in the five seconds since she had asked the question -- answered, “It’s my job to know what it means,” a defense she never should have had to give. It speaks to the heart of why sexism in sports exists in the first place: the perceived effects of the genders’ biological differences, be it physical or neurological, on our ability to both participate in athletic competition and fully observe and understand it.
Implying that a woman’s interest in sports starts with her sexual attraction to the participants also calls into question the very ability of female sportswriters to do their jobs. If a journalist primarily views a subject as a sexual object -- whether he’s an athlete, a politician, a plumber, whatever -- then she can’t be trusted to report objectively and automatically loses her authority. It fuels the idea that a woman only belongs on a sideline if she’s carrying pom-poms.
It would be a different story in a different world, one in which women have achieved full equality in sports, with female athletes, reporters, officials and executives getting the same level of support and respect as their male counterparts do. Instead, women’s sports take a backseat to men’s; journalists including Franden are repeatedly dismissed; female umpires and lineswomen constantly see their authority questioned; and high-ranking women in front offices are often relegated to positions in marketing and communications instead of those involving on-the-field decisions.
Women in sports and sports media have enough working against them. They don’t need a female blogger further belittling something they happen to take very seriously. It’s their job, after all.