Shrinking and Pinking: Athletics in a Post-Post Title IX World

The XX(X) Olympics were an enormous success for women– especially the Americans.  If the US women had been their own country they would have placed fifth in the medal count standings.  Even more noteworthy is that 60% of the all the US’ medals came from women and 2/3rds of the American gold medal haul were won by the females on Team USA.

Of course a year from now we’re not very likely to care as much about our amazing female athletes.  As this piece from Fortune explains, female athletes are hot commodities every four years, but in between even the professional basketball players suffer.  According to the author a lot of this has to do with the fact that marketers aren’t quite sure what to do with non-traditional female bodies, which helps explain why Gabby Douglas and the Fierce Five are doing so well. (Side note: My favorite tidbit from this article is that the first sports bra was made in 1977 by a grad student sewing two jock straps together!)

1977 Jockstrap Sports Bra

While I completely understand why we need to focus on developing women in sports (it’s striking that today, for the first time ever, two women were invited to join Augusta National Golf Club), I also found it somewhat disturbing that in the Olympics there are now only two sports where only one sex participates– synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.  In both cases these are female-only sports.  Now if men did not want to participate at the highest levels that would be one thing, but the fact is that there are male synchronized swimmers and they aren’t allowed to compete at the highest levels (per documentaries like Sync of Swim, which I reviewed last fall).  Men also participate in rhythmic gymnastics, though with a more martial arts-like focus it sounds different enough to be less of a concern.  If these last two sports were male only I am sure we would see more of an outcry that the female sex was excluded.

Sure, the numbers in sports like synchro and gymnastics in general skew female.  That is also true for a sport like football, though in this case men dominate.  This year for the first time ever a female, Shannon Eastin, refereed an NFL game.  Perhaps in sports where the numbers are so lopsided the way for the opposite to really participate is through officiating and judging, or perhaps coaching (if you watched women’s artistic gymnastics you know that the head coach of the Team USA and most of the athletes’ primary coaches are male)?  I’m not sure this is a fair trade-off for those who want to compete themselves but in cases where parity isn’t possible due to numbers perhaps this is a way to include both sexes.

I understand that most “serious” Olympic sports fans think synchro and rhythmic should be excluded anyway (despite this wonderful New York Times article on how athletic synchronized swimming really is), perhaps because they are so feminine and competitively marked as such due to the subjective nature of judging, but does it both anyone else that the fact men are excluded isn’t given the same amount as concern as when women are excluded?

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  1. […] news out of the world of female athletics has been nothing but positive lately.  From the success of women in the Summer Olympics to the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX we’ve been very busy focusing on the […]

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