“Wanna Watch the Game?” // Maggie Brennan, M.A.

Photo by: Boiler Television Network

“Wanna watch the game? If anyone’s watching tomorrow let me know and we can watch together!” This request from a classmate was met by positive, albeit non-committal, responses from our friends. Football season had officially started. Some of us were excited about it and some of us were just excited about having an excuse to spend time together.  I found myself falling into both of those camps.  As I was thinking about it later, I kept coming back to one question - why don’t people ever offer to hang out and watch women’s sports?

The Women’s Sports Federation (W.S.F), based on the research of Sabo and Veliz, reports that by age fourteen, the age at which I stopped participating in sports, “girls are dropping out of sports at two times the rate of boys (2017).”  The W.S.F. provides a list of reasons for why girls quit organized sports at that age, with the primary motivator being lack of access.  “Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys have,” which is the result of both reductions in physical education classes in schools and the smaller sizes of women’s sports teams in high schools, if teams for girls even exist (W.S.F., 2017).
The W.S.F. also cites the effects of social stigma as a major detriment to girls’ participation in athletics. Those stigmas are applied to athletic women at all levels of performance.  Not only are adolescent girls often derided for participation in athletics, including being subjected to bodyshaming (for being both too fit and not fit enough), but their sexuality and status as women is often called into question.  This is not only harmful to the recipient, but also perpetuates deeply entrenched homophobia and transphobia.  Even women who are considered to be the greatest in the history of their sport are subjected to this denigration, as was perfectly encapsulated in a response to J.K. Rowling’s celebratory tweet of Serena William’s victory at Wimbledon in 2015.

Credit: Tweet by @diegtristan8 

 In his tweet, @diegtristan8 not only diminishes the incredible effort and energy Serena Williams has devoted to her sport, but also plays into the stereotype that any athletic woman is actually just a man playing (pun intended) at being a woman.  In Serena Williams’ case, the implication that she is manlike is particularly egregious due to the centuries’ long history of robbing Black women of their sexuality, thereby depriving them of having the femininity afforded to White women, held to be the standard.  Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman also faced bodyshaming when pictures of themselves in bathing suits drew criticism of their abs.

Unfortunately the negative treatment of female athletes is not merely limited to attacks on their physical appearance, but also the diminishment of their athletic feats in comparison to those of their male counterparts.  A widely circulated image of a newspaper clipping about the 2016 Rio Olympics speaks perfectly to this phenomenon.

Credit: Taken from a tweet by @nancyleong

 Despite becoming the new “best in the world” in her event, Katie’s accomplishment was still deemed less important than the second-place finish of her male colleague.  Granted Michael Phelps is the most medalled swimmer in the history of the sport, and, as some have reasonably argued, his fame could be used to sell papers.  My issue with that argument, however, is that Michael Phelps wasn’t always famous.  He became famous by gaining attention from interested individuals and having his accomplishments celebrated by the media.  Female athletes are never going to be famous enough to “sell papers” if they aren’t given appropriate credit for their accomplishments.  The real danger of not celebrating the accomplishments of successful female athletes at the Olympic and professional levels is that it teaches adolescent girls they can be the best in the world, but their accomplishments will be overshadowed by a second-place man.
Going back to my original question, why don’t we as a society commune around women’s sporting events in the way we do men’s? It is evident the answer is multifaceted.  As they age, young women’s athletic opportunities decrease. At the same time, they are faced with increasingly sex-typed stereotypes related to athletics (Eccles, 2014). This not only leads many young girls to drop out of sports, but also to become disinterested in sports in general. Matched with the shaming and diminishing of the accomplishments of women athletes, women’s sports as a whole is robbed of some of its appeal.  Finally, and perhaps most insidious of all, if one has the desire to view women’s sports it can be incredibly challenging.  The WNBA does not show games on network television like the NBA does, the college women’s basketball tournament is largely, if not completely, overlooked during March Madness, and popular women’s sports like volleyball and softball don’t have professional leagues. This not only means they receive less attention, it also means that whenever college matches are shown on television they’re usually on one of the more exclusive ESPN channels.  Making them harder to view means less support, ad money, and interest in women’s athletics. This perpetuates the belief ingrained in our society that women’s sports just aren’t as important, or as the other excuse for not watching women’s sports goes, “as fun to watch.”

Now, I understand that I am as much to blame in perpetuating this cycle because this past week I didn’t watch Venus Williams have her most impressive showing in a decade, or watch Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys compete for the title at the American Open.  This past summer, I only begrudgingly sat with my mom as she watched Stanford’s volleyball team win the National Championship.  Despite my love of figure skating, I haven’t watched a single competition in years and have no idea who’s currently competitive in the U.S. field.  If I can, however, lend my eyes and implicit support to a three hour football game on Sunday, put on by a league that perpetuates an ideal of hyper- and often toxic masculinity (Thomas, 2016), then I should absolutely put my explicit support behind women’s athletics which have been shown in many cases to increase self-confidence and foster healthier body images (W.S.F., 2017).  I guess what I’m saying is, I’d love to watch the game with you, but only if The Girls are playing.

                                                                                                   ~Written by Maggie Brennan, M.A.


Do You Know the Factors Influencing Girls’ Participation in Sports? (2016). Women’s Sports  
        Foundation. retrieved from: https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/support-us/do-you-    
Eccles, J. S. (2014). Gender and achievement choices. In E. T. Gershoff, R. S. Mistry, & D. A.
          Crosby (Eds), Societal contexts of child development: Pathways of influence and
          implications for practice and policy (pp. 19-34).
Sabo, D. and Veliz, P. (2008). Girls drop-out at different rates depending on where they live. Go
         Out and Play: Youth Sports in America. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.
Thomas, Kelsey. (2016). Personal Foul, unnecessary roughness: Throwing the flag at the NFL’s
         domestic violence problem. FEMPOP. retrieved from:


No comments:

Post a Comment