Twisted, Mister – by Margaret Austin Smith

Frank Deford, I like you. And I like your weekly spot of “Sweetness and Light.” But this morning, on your way to (duly) celebrating the triumphs of the UConn Women’s basketball team, you said something that made me stomp my casted broken foot so hard I’ll be stuck in this boot another six weeks.

“To be frank,” you say (and by all means, let’s be frank), “female fans have themselves miserably failed their sisters; they’ve not yet come to support women’s teams as men do their own athletes.”

Wrong, my dear man. Wrong. Let’s pass over the fact that men have never supported male athletes as “men” but as strong, tough, powerful, dominating, physical—all those things that “man/men/male” are supposed to code for. It is assumed that strength, toughness, power, and physicality will be part of the game if the team bears the epithet “men’s.” Not so for their female counterparts, whose strength, toughness, power, and physicality seem to have to be qualified in ways that coverage of male athletes never is.

No sir, let’s think about this statement of women’s failure to support their sisters. Let’s take a step back and think about the social relations of sport. People get involved in sporting events and games not just to connect to the prowess of the teams and the athletes. People get involved in sports to connect with other spectator-ing people. Consider the subject line of the message emailed to all students, faculty, staff at my fine Division I University. The men’s basketball team would be playing a rival team from our conference at 8pm. The women would be playing at 4. “FREE PIZZA FOR FIRST THE 100 FANS TO THE ____ CENTER FOR WOMEN’S GAME.” Students had been camping out for tickets to the men’s game for weeks. Students had been talking about said men’s game for months. On the eve of game day, students learned they could snag an early bird special of free pizza if they turned out for the women too.

How many messages do we need to decode here, Mr. Deford, to recognize the failure you’ve ascribed to female sports fans was more than a tad premature? Shall we begin the game times? Men’s games receive prime time positions while women’s events are pushed to the margins? Men’s games are all-out media and social events while women’s games are a way to get free pizza at 4 in the afternoon? People enjoy sports not just for their athleticism (and beauty) but for the ways in which they create social ties. We can be-with friends and strangers and never run out of things to talk about. We can experience camaraderie and rivalry, euphoria, despair and recovery all in a predetermined number of minutes (or meters!). We can jump and scream and be part of something. But the message that keeps slipping in to discourse on women’s sports is all too close to the one my University athletic department sent: “Hey, we’re worried there won’t be anything for you to be part of unless we roll out the free pizza.”

So don’t write this failure off on us “sisters,” Mr. Deford. Sisterhood is a darn good bit more complex.

This contribution is a cross-posting originally published on Margaret’s blog, Pedagogy of the Privileged: Thoughts on Teaching and Learning: http://margaretaustinsmith.wordpress.com/

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