Blog post response 2

Class today (March fifth) was incredible.  Discussing the same question for over an hour, with nearly everybody in the class pitching in their two cent’s was fascinating.  The debate raged on, with no clear consensus aside from the fact that if you were male, it was horrible to be beaten by a female in pretty much any activity.  But the most interesting part of the discussion, and the one I have found myself thinking about the most, was the debate about gender in sports.  Women’s sports are often laughed at and lorded over by men’s sports and male viewers.  Women’s basketball is not interesting because the women can’t dunk on the 10 foot hoops.  Women’s soccer is relatively popular in the United States, but is unpopular everywhere else.  Softball keeps women from even playing baseball, and women’s football can be exceptionally ridiculous, sexist and exploitative.  However, this discussion didn’t really resolve what, to me, is the biggest issue for female athletes: the occasional disconnect between theory and reality.

        Thank god for the shoulder pads.  Otherwise this could be dangerous.

    In theory, it would be fantastic to allow women into the world of male-dominated competitive sports.  There are certainly women who could play with the men, probably even do better than a lot of the men.  But when it comes down to it, I’m not convinced that the strongest woman in the world will ever be able to out lift the strongest man, or outrun the fastest man.  This has nothing to do with cultural norms or whether or not the woman believes she can do it through the power of positive thinking, but instead has to do with the physiological and anatomical differences that men and women had.  The attachments of muscle to bone on men are larger than on women, giving the men a larger moment arm, and a distinct advantage.  No man will ever be able to out lift a gorilla for these same reasons, no matter how hard he tries. Women also have distinct advantages over men in some cases, oftentimes being much more flexible than men, and more able to metabolize fats efficiently, aiding in ultra-long-distance running.

           A larger moment arm means a larger torque, which means that the muscle can produce more force about the joint.  F = force, r = a segment, the lower leg, for instance.

        The dialog needs to change.  In class, we kept indicating that men and women should be on equal playing fields, with women playing in the same leagues and on the same teams as men.  This would be fantastic, and would work wonderfully in some sports, but would be harder to pull off in others.  My high school soccer team was co-ed in a predominantly male league, and it was harder for the girls to play with the boys, simply because of raw speed.  One of the girls had the best technical capabilities on the team, but kept getting stymied by the guys on the other team, simply because they could outrun her.  Instead of putting women in a position where they might be less capable simply because of anatomy and physiology, women’s sports and women’s leagues themselves need to be taken more seriously. And it’s getting there.  The WNBA is not very popular, but is only about 17 years old.  Baseball has been a professional sport for over a century, basketball and football close to that.   Nobody cared about them when they were in their infancy, but now they have a strong foothold in the culture of the country.  Given time, women’s sports may become equally popular and equally important.

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6 Responses to Blog post response 2

  1. kjjohnson52 says:

    Blog Post Response 2:
    (Disclaimer: I want to mention a few things not addressed in your blog post, but I’m not trying to say that you didn’t consider them/don’t agree with them – I just want to expand, because it’s hard to comprehensively write in 500 words!)

    I also thought our discussions this week about sexuality were interesting. And I agree, the way you frame the conversation is something important to consider. I think you’re 100% correct, biologically males and females are different, and therefore capable of doing different physical things. I also think our discussion in class diverged a little (I was also at fault for this) and we lost the relation this discussion had to the video game world.

    I think your “theory vs. reality” idea is an important point to consider, which makes the ‘being beat by a girl’ conversation relevant. Sure, theoretically, it shouldn’t matter if you’re beat by a girl in a sport you’re equally matched at – maybe soccer, or something else. But it does, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. Going along with the physiological difference, it isn’t realistic to completely and totally make men and women ‘equal’ in the sense that they’re on the same field, because in some areas their bodies will be less competent than the opposite sex.

    I think that the equality a conversation like that is looking for isn’t so much related to the physical exclusively. It goes back to that idea that ties into our discussion on Thursday, about how being womanly can be the worst thing a man can be. I think that, with a few exceptions, in a lot of the cases we see this type of behavior (women beating men or girls beating boys) affecting people the most is in stages of youth, maybe 25 or younger. In those cases it seems to me that there is relative physical equality between female and male bodies (again, with some exception). So in these cases, when the two are physically matched, why is it so awful and humiliating? Given the context I described, it becomes a more relevant question.

    This is where the equality I brought up comes in, and the equality conversation that would transfer to video games. Now we’ve switched things up – in theory, in a lot of cases men and women are equal, but in reality it’s disgraceful to use that as justification for a girl beating you. Men and women being equal, in that conversation, is referring I think to that idea that being womanly or being ‘not as good’ as a woman is the worst thing possible. And while you’re right, that might be something that changes over time, or something that might just fade away as women’s sports become more popular, but as a societal norm it’s a problem that should be addressed.

    This applied in the video game where is also distressing, and part of the conversation that we just didn’t get to in class. Everything else aside, in the video game world, there should be nothing physiologically preventing women from doing as well as men. Yet, this same attitude exists, where being a women or being beat by a women is just the worst, period. That’s where, in a perfect world, men and women would be equal.

  2. vishesh2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #3:

    Hey R.J., thanks for continuing the discussion on this interesting and relevant topic. Like you, I really enjoyed our discussion of this mentally stimulating and complex question. As our in-class discussion revealed, there are myriad explanations for why it is so damn terrible for men to be beaten by women (or called women by other men, for that matter).

    The argument about biological differences seems to be the place everyone starts, so I’ll go ahead and put my two cents in. No surprise here – I agree with K.J. and you pretty much completely. There are indeed anatomic and metabolic differences between genders that offer specific athletic advantage to one sex over the other. Your examples already do this point justice, so I’ll waste no space discussing them here. The only thing I might add, just to make this point more explicit, is that this hypothesis posits that because most of our society, consciously or unconsciously, believes that males are biologically stronger, faster, and more sporting than women, they expect men to beat women all the time. Thus, it follows that when exceptions to this hypothesis occur, society reacts by questioning or attacking the masculinity of the loser.

    Yet, and here I’ll address K.J.’s post more directly, in the realm of video games this biological differences hypothesis should fall apart, right? While many personal (read: not credible) websites purport that men are “biologically better” than women at video games, the one peer-reviewed study on the subject I dug up showed conclusively that there were no differences in motor coordination between the two sexes (see http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/dailydose/11/20/video.game.brain/index.html). With the only scientific source showing no difference in gaming capability between men and women, why does our ugly question still rear its head? Is it because, as K.J. states, there’s something more to this issue than biologically-driven expectation that men should always beat women at sporting activities. Isn’t the biological differences hypothesis invalid in this world?

    Actually, I would argue that it still might be somewhat applicable here. Sounds strange coming from a guy who just cited a study showing no differences between men and women in motor coordination, right? But let’s think for a second. Remember that the biological differences hypothesis, or my interpretation of it at least, is based on the societal expectation that because men are biologically suited to be better at sports that reward brute strength, speed (i.e. reward masculinity), they should easily beat women who compete against them.

    With that in mind, can we now apply this hypothesis to video games? Perhaps we can at least provide a testable sub-hypothesis: gamers are co-opting, consciously or subconsciously, their culturally reinforced expectation that men should beat women at sports into the video game world. I have no evidence to back this up – but there are definitely ways to test this, perhaps through anonymous surveys of gamers asking questions about their views of women in sports and then women in video games. In any case, I hope this post sparks further discussion on this engaging question.

  3. Sigh. The biological. Ground zero of arguments about the sex/gender system. I don’t think that anyone would argue that there aren’t very real differences. But we make big differences of those differences, don’t we, often trying to make them universal and absolute, in ways that can obscure similarities. Keep in mind biologist Ann Fausto-Sterling’s question about why, given that women and men are so very similar, we keep reproducing arguments that men are from Mars and women are from Venus?

    Can the best male athletes run faster and lift more than the best female athletes. Sure. But could Shelly-Ann Fraser run faster than most (all?) the men in this class? Likely. And Billie Jean King did beat Bobby Riggs :D. Finally, don’t underestimate the continued impact of Title IX: “According to the American Association of University Women, in the 1971-72 school year, 294,015 female high school students played sports (compared with 3,666,917 males); by 2008, more than 3 million female high school students participated in athletics (as did more than 4 million males). Within almost four decades, high school females increased their participation in athletics by 940 percent. Similarly, NCAA figures show female college students increased their participation by 456 percent between 1971 and 2005” (http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/02/23/title-ix-a-long-term-leg-up-for-women-studies-show/), which amounts to a massive social and physiological experiment.

    How, moreover, do we explain sex-segregation in sports before children reach puberty?

  4. tsvarga says:

    Blog Post Response #3
    I do agree that when you look around, there are many key differences between men and women – men are mostly taller, maybe stronger most of the time. However, how much of this is innate and unchangeable, and how much is fabricated and perpetuated by our culture? A lot of what you talk about seems to operate within the assumption that these things are fixed and do not change, at least in sports. Like K.J. mentions, I think a key link back to the video game world is that, within digitally created environments, any physical differences disappear. Vishesh provides the lone peer-reviewed study supporting exactly this. IF physiology was the true reason for gendered sports and separation based on ability, then that should mean that such gender differentiation would disappear inside a video game, but it doesn’t! Men are still assumed to be much better at video games because the disparity is not rooted in the physiological and biological differences, but more embedded in notions of male dominance.
    While at some point these standards of men being stronger than women probably stemmed from actual differences, they have been perpetuated both by assumptions, as well as societal structures that actually limit the ability for this dynamic to change. If you took a cross section of men and women, you would probably find men to be stronger than women on average. This is evidenced by countless athletic records where men rise to the top. But as Carol brings up, this is starting to change with the introduction of more and more girls and women into athletics at a young age. Men and women are actually more alike physically than they are different, and it makes sense to propose that at least some of the assumption of physical differences arises from socially structured restrictions instead of attributing it all to nature.
    The question of sex-segregation in athletics before puberty is, I think, a nice way of bringing this back to your original discussion point about the fear in men of being beaten by women. While there are examples, like in soccer, of co-ed sports at a young age, most sports still divide kids based on gender at ALL ages. Here, like in a video game world, the physical differences between men and women are not represented because adult muscle development has not begun to affect pre-puberty athletes.
    This is an excellent example of society imposing limitations that keep us from breaking the assumptions of physical difference. Separating girls and boys operates on the assumption that eventually men will be “better” than women and/or in order to set up variant standards of performance to keep girls satisfied with accomplishing athletic goals appropriate for their gender, not in general. For boys, this produces a sub-level of performance where they cannot tread, otherwise they are not achieving full male potential. Instead they are competing with players who have the “handicap” of being a girl. For a young boy, especially in the hyper-masculine world of sports, much less a male-led society, this pressure about not fulfilling full potential contributes directly to the anxiety about getting beat by a girl.

  5. madeleinelw says:

    Thank you for continuing this talk! Perhaps I am re-hashing the same things that came up in class. I think that as children we are all pointed in these specific directions for the types of sports and ways to play. Women are pushed mostly towards flexibility and agility style sports and activities while men are typically pushed towards strength-focused activities. This is my problem. I get that biologically we are different. I’ve figured that out by now. It’s cool. I’m fine with it. I’m not saying that we should all be allowed to play together (though that would be a fun world too). I just think that there should be the option for men to pursue typically women’s sports and vice versa. It seems as though typically if a man were to partake in “feminine” sports, that somehow makes him a sissy. And if a women wants to partake in “masculine” sports, then she has to be super sexualized in the process. It came up in class a little bit. Guys like dancing. Girls like football. Or whatever you’d like. Any sports will do. Both require incredible skill. Both can be exhilarating to watch. In my utopia, we’d have ditched the notion that these activities are assigned to genders. Let’s just all play and have an amazing time doing it. If we raised children to believe that really could play anything that they wanted to, then we’d raise a generation that already doesn’t use “fag” or “pussy” in jest or as a tool because they’ve already lost gender assignments to activities. Losing to a girl means nothing if we all can just accept that we all play the same games and we all love it. Even feminine sports are incredibly difficult! I’d like to see the standard cartoony “tough” guy try to take on some of the challenges a male ballet dancer would have to do! But the gap between where we are and that is just far enough that I don’t actually know how to bridge it. Let’s just start with trying to let homosexuals get married. And then we can work towards a powderpuff team that actually kicks some ass. (Perhaps there already are some. Point me in the right direction. They only ones I ever knew of were just girls in their underwear and shoulder pads. Ala a photo I think someone posted earlier.)

  6. yojeffg says:

    As I’ve brought up once this class I taught a CHIP class in the fall on sports sociology and it is one of my passions, viewing sport as an agent of socialization and how it interacts with society. Many of the students in the class argued that the WNBA was boring because they couldn’t dunk. On the whole, women’s sports were boring simply because they were inferior athletes to men. Meanwhile, any woman playing in the WNBA would beat one of the students in the class, and maybe even a man on Oregon’s basketball team, but there are obvious limitations in the sense that a woman probably won’t perform as well as LeBron James.

    Here’s the exercise I gave them though: make any suggestions you want to improve the WNBA to make it more watchable. Suggestions went from lowering the rims to dunk to obscure rule changes to make it different but interesting. We came up with a version of the sport that would make it “better.” I asked them who would watch this new and improved sport where women could dunk and their suggestions were put in place. No one raised their hand. Most shocking, even the women in the class were opposed to watching women play sports. This is the prime example I given when people say that sexism doesn’t play a part in women’s sports popularity. If you see a top version of the sport, and you don’t watch it because its women playing, then its sexist.

    People watch high school football on ESPN, and D-3 football can get ratings competitive to women’s D-1 basketball. That takes out the argument that you’re seeing the best at their sport.

    The issue shouldn’t be over women being equal in the sense of a woman lining across from Wes Welker in the NFL. It should be about recognizing that women can bring just as much to a sport as men. Just because women may not reach the same physical heights of men, does not mean that their performances are any less. I think a prime example of this is women’s fighting. Female boxing is very exciting to watch. UFC just had the main event for their latest PPV card be two women fighting each other. The PPV numbers were similar to the other PPV events that UFC has put on this year, and this may be an early sign that women’s sport appreciation is increasing.

    The war for gender equality on the playing field is being fought mostly in the realm of the LGBT community and sports. Sports, whether naturally or forced upon it, is an arena for masculinity. How is a feminine woman supposed to compete in an arena where you have to be “masculine” to win? Dominant women are labeled lesbians just like terrible male athletes can be called “homos” and “fags.” Then, the angst over a man losing to a woman will also decrease when athletic performance is not indicative of manliness and gender roles.

    P.S. While I do think for commercial success women have to be attractive, this shouldn’t be surprising. Males are judged off performance and you can see their commercial success that way, while women are attractive and commercial success that way. Advertising likes to play off gender norms and expectations, which isn’t shocking to anyone. However, I would be slow to say that an athlete is being forced in to be sexualized. Many female athletes like to do ESPN’s “The Body Issue.” For many of them they’ve said in interviews they like showing off the strength of their body and it was their choice to do so.

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