Shrinking and Pinking: Sex, Sports, and Sociology

It's always fun when a sociological study makes it into the mainstream press (for a good reason)-- especially one about sports. A new paper out in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport titled, "Where are the female athletes in Sports Illustrated? A content analysis of covers (2000–2011)," has been making the rounds, especially in the blogosphere. I mean, you know you have hit in big when you make it to Jezebel! It likely will surprise no one that the results of the content analysis are that few women are featured on the cover. Turns out it wasn't so bad several decades ago, but has gotten worse over time. It's especially interesting to note that the journal where the article appeared this isn't considered one of the "top" journals in mainstream sociology, but it shows that this doesn't matter when the subject matter and results are ones that people outside of academic sociology care about. Take note, and good for the authors Jonetta Weber and Robert Carini for studying issues that matter in people's every day lives. (Note that I have long been fascinated with Sports Illustrated Kids and the Faces in the Crowd features that both SI for Kids and SI do each week/month and I wonder what the sex distribution looks like here, especially over time and for kids-- does it change and become more equitable at younger ages, which would bode well for the future of females in sport?) A useful counterpart to this story is some of the big sporting news coming out of the Middle East: Girls in private schools in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to play sports. This comes on the heels of last summer's decision to allow a woman to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics. So when we think about the inequality between male and female athletes in the US, it's amazing to think how different this gap really is in other parts of the world., not just historically but also in the present.

And in the US, progress is happening all the time. Now stories appear not just about a single girl playing on a boys' team, but multiple girls playing with boys. One example is this article about high school baseball players Samantha Yarnall and Taylor Jones. I saw this link by following Justine Siegal, written about in my first Shrinking and Pinking entry, and while she is waiting for the day when this isn't newsworthy, I'm waiting for the day when: 1) A team is considered co-ed whenever boys and girls play together, not only when a boy plays on a girls' team, and 2) when there is enough interest to have single-sex teams in almost all sports.

Samantha Yarnell and Taylor Jones, Rich Cooler for Daily

In the meantime, congrats to Yarnall and Jones and both making the starting line-up and here's hoping they might make the cover of Sports Illustrated sometime.

Shrinking and Pinking: Success, with a Reality Check

Recent 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 accomplishments of women athletes. This past month one of the biggest stories about women and sports was Erin DiMeglio.  The 17-year-old became the first girl to play quarterback in a high school game in Florida (which, as the article notes, takes its high school football pretty seriously).

DiMeglio is third-string, but she's performing under pressure and learning how to take hits.  While the fact that she is getting so much attention shows that female quarterbacks (and football players for that matter, like the case of Brianna Amat) are quite uncommon, the assumption is that DiMeglio will help start a trend and we will see more and more girls playing football with the boys.

In general these stories imply a continued upward trajectory for women and sports.  But two other recent stories remind us that more work remains to be done.  The first is about coaching in women's sports.  Sports researchers have found that as rates of women participating in athletics increase there is often a decrease in the rates of women coaching.  Why? Because the compensation for coaching women increases, so then more men want to be involved. This means that many women's sports teams-- including those at the highest levels-- have male coaches.  Over time this is a problem that needs to be solved.

Additionally, even though we have made a lot of progress (and note in the DiMeglio article that her teammates routinely defend her to others and simply see her as part of the team), there is still a cultural bias against some aspects of women in sports.  A few weeks ago The Washington Post published an article entitled, "Throw like a girl? You can do better."  Many readers angrily responded to the piece, including Justine Siegal (previously featured on this blog-- in my first Shrinking and Pinking piece).  As she writes, "I have found that throwing “like a girl” is not biologically inherent but rather a result of coaching, expectations and opportunity. Gender is not the dominating factor in their throwing mechanics; experience is."

I also appreciated the end of the second letter, by Pat Rumbaugh: "I would love to see an article called “Look how flexible I am.” I bet girls generally win that one."  Until we start valuing (culturally and monetarily) those skills that may often favor women's abilities, female athletes (and coaches) will continue to play second- and third-string.  I know in the next 40 years we can do better.


Shrinking and Pinking

I've been thinking a lot about women's sports lately, so when Amazon delivered Mina Samuels' new book, Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, I started reading right away.  In no time I'd learned something new about women's athletics-- "shrinking and pinking." What does the term mean? It's how a lot of athletic clothing and gear were, and are, made for women. Companies simply shrink down the men's versions and dye them pink (Samuels discusses this on page 24).

It seems that shrinking and pinking is the state of affairs in some women's sports.  USA Today sportswriter Christine Brennan took quite a bit of flak last week for reminding people that the women's tourney is also part of March Madness.  She even dared to suggest that female NCAA basketball players not settle for shrunken media coverage and audience attendance in "the other tournament," and instead move their dates so they don't coincide with the men's tournament's dates.

But there are glimmers of hope, stories of women succeeding in sports-- and on their own terms. Four articles from the past week illustrate this point, and the first three are actually about basketball.

1. SI ran a story on women's basketball as part of their March madness preview; "The Cardinal Kin" is on Stanford standout sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.  The Stanford team, favored in the women's Division I tournament, are led by these accomplished women who distinguish themselves on the court, in the classroom, and in their dorms (I wonder if they ever had access to Stanford's alleged "easy class" list that I mentioned last week?).  It's a great read, though I must confess my favorite lines from the article had noting to do with the fact that these are female basketball players.  Their mother, Ify Ogwumike, an immigrant from Nigeria, was utterly perplexed by the competitive youth sports culture of travel teams that prevails in in the US: ""We never knew there was a world out there where people sat in gymnasiums all day long,' she says of her introduction to the AAU circuit. Upon learning from a coach that her girls' team would be playing in a tournament in Dallas, Ify said, 'Why do we have to go to Dallas; why can't we just do it here?'"

2. Check out Parade Magazine's inspiring piece on the women's basketball team at Gallaudet University.  Gallaudet, a university for the hearing impaired, made its first NCAA Division III tournament appearance in twelve years after winning the Landmark Conference championship for the first time.  The article describes how the players communicate with one another non-verbally on the court, and how they communicate with others off the court.  While Gallaudet was eliminated in the first round of the tournament, these women are clearly on the path to future success.

3. Also inspirational? Dawn Barger who became the first female coach to lead a male basketball team to a state championship in Tennessee. Not only did Lake County High School win their first ever championship, but Barger became the first woman in the history of the 90-year tournament to coach a team in the men's state tournament. It was her first year as basketball coach at Lake County... I'm guessing they'll renew her contract.

4. And, finally, two female aces made history in California last week when, reportedly for the first time, two girls were starting pitchers in a high school baseball game.  I don't agree with everything written in this article about the game (especially the somewhat disparaging tone used when describing women's basketball), but it's never bad to expand, rather than shrink, the media coverage of female athletes.

Amy Moritz put it beautifully in her fantastic piece on last week's US Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Nationals: women's athletics is sometimes full of contradictions.  But wearing pink glitter and being athletically strong aren't mutually exclusive. In other words, the pinking of women's sports can be okay sometimes, but pinking and shrinking isn't a good combination.

PS. Justine Siegal, who I wrote about last month, continues making history during baseball's spring training. She has now thrown batting practice to the Indians, A's, Rays, Cardinals, and Mets. Note, they didn't make her wear pink (no word if they had to shrink the uniform).

Bad*ss (Women) Athletes

After getting some feedback on my blog post on the Iowa State Wrestling Championships, I expanded it into a more complete discussion on Title IX, including a bit on boys playing on girls' field hockey teams. Check it out on The Huffington Post. Please leave comments and share by clicking through!

In related news, I am just so impressed by two female athletes getting a lot of press this week.

1) Justine Siegal- She became the first female to ever pitch batting practice in MLB this week (both for the Indians and also for the A's). Siegal has also coached all-men's baseball teams and played on them. Not only that, she chose to wear a patch to honor Christina Taylor Green, the wonderful child gunned down so horrifically in the Arizona shootings last month. And, on top of all this, Justine's daughter was there to watch her mom pitch in spring training. Like I said, bad*ss.

2) Ida Keeling- She is 95 and runs 60 meters in 29.86 seconds. I can't do that now. Like I said, bad*ss.

Do you know of any other bad*ss and stellar female athletes doing exceptional things?