Last month the ECHO published a story that raised some questions about sexism in high school athletics.
Since the beginning of organized athletics, women have been prevented from participation. Women weren’t allowed at the first Olympic games in 776 BC. Instead, they held their own Games of Hera, which only offered foot races.
According to The Sociology of Sports, a dominant belief in the 1800s was that each human had a fixed amount of energy. Using this energy for physical and mental tasks at the same time was believed to be hazardous. Paired with the pervasive view, which still exists today, that women are mentally weaker than men and that they should spend this energy rearing children and making the home, this nasty combination further held women back in athletics.
Women were not active in intercollegiate sports until basketball was introduced at Smith College in 1892. Basketball quickly spread to other colleges, and female students soon began to demand intercollegiate play, taking back some control from the male-dominated athletics programs.
On June 2, 1972, Richard Nixon signed Title IX into the Education Amendment of 1972. During this time, only 295,000 girls competed in high school athletics, compared to 3.67 million boys. This federal law prohibits discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education program or activity, including high school sports. Title IX applies to athletics in three ways: participation, scholarships and other benefits (equipment, scheduling, practice times, coaching, facilities, publicity, etc.)
Title IX requires that men and women be provided equal opportunities to participate in sports. This doesn’t mean schools have to offer identical sports, but they must provide equal opportunities. Title IX also requires that male and female student-athletes receive athletic scholarships proportional to their participation.
Just because it is law, doesn’t mean it is always upheld. According to the National Women’s Law Center, schools in 2013-14 provided about 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to play sports in high school than to boys.
The “other benefits” are where it gets easier to fudge the line. For example, the WGHS women’s basketball District final game was scheduled during the school week, while the men’s was on a weekend night. We also saw this inequity with the daily plastering of the Varsity men’s faces throughout the halls but very little promotion for the women’s game.
In college athletics, the disparity is right there in the numbers. The top ranked, by attendance, D1 women’s basketball team in the nation, Tennessee Lady Volunteers, sees about 11,000 people per game. TSU’s men’s team, ranked 13th, sees about 15,000. The number one ranked women’s college basketball team in the nation has the attendance of the number 35 ranked men’s basketball team.
A popular myth surrounding sports sexism is that women are less talented or suited for athletics, or that they simply don’t like sports as much. After watching the WGHS Women’s basketball team beat Cor Jesu 64-34, I can’t imagine a more dedicated and talented group of girls. I also can’t imagine a good reason why anyone wouldn’t want to watch them play. It should also be noted that the women’s basketball team made it into the Elite Eight, while the men’s team didn’t make it past Districts.
“Are the Roberts Rowdies sexist?” Maybe so, maybe not, but we can’t ignore the history of the devaluation of female athletes, and we are nowhere near equality between men’s and women’s athletics.
To say that they aren’t sexist is to place the situation in a vacuum where for hundreds of years we haven’t undervalued women in all areas of life. Sure, the Rowdies didn’t get up on game day and say to themselves, “Today I’m going to be sexist. Those girls should be in the kitchen, not on the basketball court,” but sexism absolutely influenced their decision not to go.
As women, we discover that everything in our lives is affected by sexism: everyday things like opportunities in school and jobs, and more intimate things like our relationships, genitals and sex life.
Women have to combat these forces in everything we do, as well as defend against both men and other women that this oppression is actually still happening.
When a man writes an article saying not to look for sexism in something, it elicits some chuckles and groans. One of the biggest problems in the struggle for equality is that people in power don’t often recognize their privilege, so to some men, the Rowdies situation might not feel sexist. They feel like they are supporting their friends and enjoying a game, but it isn’t always that simple.
Men are just as entrenched in patriarchy as women except that it isn’t hurting them so they don’t always notice. Men also have the privilege to see sexism and decide to ignore it or blame something else. Women don’t have that privilege.
Sexism is a daily struggle that women simply cannot ignore. Instead of using their privilege to ignore the oppression or silence the cries of injustice, men should use it to call out other men on sexism, even their friends and family.
A white person doesn’t get to judge what is or isn’t racism. A straight person doesn’t get to decide what is or isn’t homophobic. In the case of sexism, men simply don’t know what they’re talking about. The notion that a man would ever get to be the judge of what is or is not sexism or determine when we have truly reached equality is ridiculous.