When I think of all the titles that people concern themselves with, one that is widely recognized is Title IX. Title IX primarily deals with equal opportunity in publicly funded educational institutions for men and women, though now it is mostly thought of in the world of athletics. It may be controversial, but there is no arguing that Title IX hasn’t broken substantial ground in regards to the growing publicity around women’s collegiate sports.
In other areas, however, women’s sports still have not gathered as much attention as they deserve. Oftentimes, in the international arena, U.S. women’s teams outperform U.S. men’s teams, but still do not get as much publicity.
In the 2004 Olympics, the U.S. women’s teams won the gold medal in soccer, basketball and softball, while the men’s teams did not perform as well. The U.S. women’s soccer team has won the World Cup twice, while the men’s team has never won. The success of the U.S. women’s soccer team has led to the opening of another major soccer league in 2009 for women, but no one seems to notice.
Yet, notwithstanding these accomplishments, one must question what exactly the place for women is in sports culture. This was especially exacerbated this weekend while watching the Super Bowl. A lot of conversation was generated about the fact that several channels had unofficial “girl programming” during the Super Bowl, for the large skipping-the-Super Bowl demographic, which naturally is made of females who would prefer to watch “Legally Blonde” instead.
Even with the growing number of female athletes, teams and leagues, cheerleaders seem to be the only women in sports who can retain media attention. Conversation ensued about how, at the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots’ cheerleaders were not so fully clad and how the New York Giants did not have any cheerleaders at all; this is about the most attention women have received during a sporting event.
Women have even been ousted from the Super Bowl halftime show, an integral feature of the sports culture. Since the Janet Jackson incident, we have had mostly aging classic rock artists whose full-coverage-of-clothing emphasizes family friendliness, despite the many songs that may lyrically focus on sex and drugs. Alicia Keys opened the pre-game show – in long pants and a long-sleeve shirt.
Thus, in the Super Bowl arena, women were apparently not watching, cheerleading or, for goodness sake, being kept from ruining the family-friendliness of the halftime show. These are the parameters prescribed for women in the sports environment, leaving out the millions of women who actually watched the game.
On the lesser stages, women’s sports at all levels get less attention than men’s sports. Women’s teams often are consigned as the “lady” team, even in a primarily female sport. They sometimes even have to push to be referred to as the “women’s” team, as opposed to the infantilizing “girls'” teams.
Consumers also buy into sports marketing, particularly for women.
This year, sports merchandising made jerseys cut in women’s sizes, with special emphasis on pink jerseys and pink hats, as exemplified by Pink Notion, an alliance of female Red Sox fans; but how many professional sports team actually wear pink as an official color?
Some progress has been made concerning the fact that more attention has been paid to team sports that have not typically been regarded as female sports. While gymnastics and tennis remain popular, more emphasis is given to team sports like soccer and basketball than before.
Yet, in other male-dominated fields, women’s teams do not get nearly as much publicity. For instance, there is a women’s football team here in Rochester, and, even though there are many sports teams to choose from, most of us have never heard of this tean.
So what’s the relevance? How does it affect you that, despite Title IX, a World Cup-winning soccer team and ventures into more sports, most women’s sports are still under recognized?
Does counting women as less important in the world of sports have any connection with the country not being ready for a woman president, for women in the front lines or for women making their own medical decisions? Or is it as simple, as some may say, that men’s sports are just more exciting?
I would argue that using women in sports just to widen a marketing base or to attract male viewers to men’s sports is not equality. To actually see sports without sexism, we should just see talented people in all areas of sports culture, regardless of gender.
Frank is a member of the class of 2009.