Well… my daughter’s basketball season is now officially over. I must admit, I never want to see it come to an end. Watching my Loghan play basketball is so life giving and affirming, not to mention I thrive on the competition. In fact, my boys don’t particularly like to sit with me at games because I tend to get way too involved in the action of the sport, the ref calls, and all of the nuances present on the court.
I’ve watched my daughter play basketball since she was in kindergarten – she turned fifteen yesterday. In those years of watching her play and observing some of the aspects specific to girls’ sports, I’ve realized even more just how biased our culture is toward males in sports. Yes, we have progressed in women’s sports, but not near enough methinks. From the naming of women’s sports teams to the general attitudes toward females in sports, there are several ways I think we could improve on the overall value of the sports experience for women.
Back when my daughter first started playing basketball, at age five, I was struck by the difference of the team names between girls and boys. At the beginning of that first year, all the girls’ team names were preceded by the word “Lady,” as in, “Lady Wildcats,” while the boys’ teams were simply the “Cougars,” for example. While I had always taught about this kind of “spotlighting,” this was really the first time I had experienced it up close and personal. In an effort to understand the differentiation, I went to the athletic coordinator and simply asked the question of why the identifying word “Lady” came before the girls’ team names, pointing out that the boys’ teams were not preceded by “Gentleman” or any other identifying information for that matter. I was pleasantly surprised when the coordinator looked at me and said, “I have no idea, but we’re going to change that.” From that point on, the girls and boys alike had team names absent of any demographic information. After all, what is the real point of including that information if not to alert us to the fact that girls’ sports are somehow a subset of boys’ sports? This mindset is evident in national sports as well, where the “Lady” identifier remains, and women’s basketball teams are labeled as WNBA, as opposed to the NBA, women’s and men’s division.
The second obvious differentiation I’ve noticed between sports for girls versus boys is the fact that, in general, we only cheer for boys. So… you have these girls out there in skimpy uniforms, performing provocative moves to show support for the boys playing the game. First, the obvious question comes to mind – why must the girls be scantily clad in order to show support for the boys? Is it not possible to show support in decent clothing? Of course it is, but what fun is in that when we can show some skin and flaunt our sexuality in front of the audience, all in the name of cheering on your team? And… why is it that we only cheer for the boys? Are the girls somehow “less than” in their abilities or entertainment? Some argue that it would be strange for girls to be out there cheering for the girls’ team. What’s weird about that? There are fans in the bleachers – male and female alike – cheering for both girls and boys, but we don’t view that as unusual or awkward. Besides, if we think it’s so strange for girls to cheer for girls, why not have male cheerleading teams? The obvious answer – that’s just “gay!” Who made up that rule? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a girl or a boy playing sports, everyone needs to be encouraged and feel like they have fans and school spirit spurring them on.
Finally, and this is something I found to be very sad and unfortunate, the audience present to view the girls’ games is typically about a third of those who attend the boys’ games. I can’t help but wonder what this difference in fan base says about the value we place on female versus male sports. Interestingly, at my daughter’s school, the girls’ middle school, junior varsity and varsity teams have a much greater win/loss ratio overall than any of the boys’ teams. Yet, they receive less attention, have fewer cheering fans and are just generally trivialized or dismissed altogether. In fact, one of my son’s teachers made this comment in his class to all of the students there: “Give me your best girl’s team and the worst boy’s team and the boys will beat them out every single time because they’re just better.” Wow! That statement sort of puts to shame the whole idea of even having a female sports team. Why bother if they’re truly that substandard?
We’ve come a long way baby, but we’ve got a long way to go. It’s time to start leveling the playing field and recognizing what girls bring to the table, an entertaining, action packed game, worthy of our attention!