Sexism in sports must be addressed -
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 8th, 2002, 10:00 PM Thread Starter
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Unhappy Sexism in sports must be addressed

Last night, while the Williams sisters were playing their fourth grand slam final on primetime, I had three interesting conversations with friends of mine about the dominance of the sisters in the women's game.

"Venus and Serena are like robots." Impressive Robots." said the first friend, a white male.

"Venus and Serena are great," said my female Persian friend, "but I wish they were more feminine like Anna Kournikova."

The most telling conversation?

"Venus/Serena are boring." said a male, African American friend, "Tiger Woods is great." When I pointed out that Tiger was also dominating his sport, my friend stated, "Well, Tiger is a champion."

No, Tiger is a man, and there is the rub, ladies and gentleman. Venus and Serena may face discrimination because their gender may be an even greater issue. Two strong black women dominating their sport may either erase or provoke the color barrier, but it also questions society's perception of ambitious women who succeed in their given profession. Tiger's dominance is thought to be good for the golf because it brings so much attention to a white only sport. Venus and Serena's dominance is viewed as boring and detrimental to the game when in fact they are elevating the game as much as Tiger is taking golf to a new leve. So what is the difference? Gender provides a key to the answer.

Society views ambition as still a predominantly male trait. When a woman goes after something she truly wants, she is either labelled as a golddigger, frigid, cold or machinelike. The old societal standard that women have to be ambitious and driven while remaining dainty and feminine still holds true today. To many, Venus and Serena; however feminine they may be, do not hold true to this model. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, is a labelled by society as the role model for men: masculine, a champion, a go getter, etc. Although the feminist movement has ensured that women have a chance to get equal rights, those views have been distorted to the point that women associate nudity/partial nudity with empowerment. These women may feel empowered, but they are often most remembered for showing their skin rather than any accomplishment they may possess. The WTA tour, along with many players on the tour, have fallen into this trap and the lack of committed tour sponsorship demonstrates how corporations view the WTA tour and women's athletics as a whole.

Venus and Serena are caught in the middle. While neither lady has any problem modeling their style of femininity, their dominance on the tennis court overrides their beauty and the result is that people think of them as cold and machine like. They are not the first champions to be thought of in this manner. All past dominating champions have been accused of acting in a less than feminine manner and only found redemption after tragedy struck, or they left the tour.

Martina Navratilova- Formerly thought of as a manlike lesbian whose strength overpowered dainty feminine players, Navratilova is thought of as a role model for other players with her "age ain't nothing but a number" creed.

Steffi Graf- Formerly thought of as a German tennis machine who was only concerned with championships and paychecks, Graf has found redemption in her role as a wife and mother. (I was surprised to read that many people thought Steffi would be a cold mother based on her tennis attitude.)

Monica Seles- Formerly accused of acting like a brat, now Seles is thought of as a sentimental favorite due to the horrific stabbing in 1993.

Martina Hingis- Formerly known on the tour as the Bride of Chucky due to her attitude, Hingis is now thought of with sympathy due to her two ankle surgeries.

As this list demonstrates, race is not as much of a problem as the centuries long sexual codes that deem an ambitious woman is not a real woman in the eyes of society. It is only when the player has left the sport or has suffered some tragedy does the press and the fans view them with sympathy. Why? These women are no longer superwomen. They are vulnerable and that makes them more accessible to fans than a woman (or in this case two women) who wins everything in sight. Case in point, on the board, a fan wondered whether Anna would lose her femininity if she starting winning championships. This is a ridiculous notion of course and majority of Anna fans don't share it. However, it does demonstrate how female athletes are viewed by the general public.

I would never argue that race does not play a role in how Venus and Serena are viewed, but I will say that there are other factors that should be considered as well and sexism is one of them.

Last edited by apoet29; Sep 9th, 2002 at 02:17 AM.
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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 12:39 AM
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Great thread apoet! And it's a damn shame the Williams sisters have to put up with remarks such as these! But I guess they can handle it.

You put together a fine list, too! And Martina Navratilova would even be that big on todays WTA Tour!

And apoet, you are very perceptive! Everything on your list about the players was true.

But how can you get people to change their perceptions? Education? Keeping an open mind?

Happiness is like a cat. If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you. It will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you'll find it rubbing up against your legs and jumping into your lap. - William Bennett

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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 01:22 AM
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Going by their fashion sense, IMHO Venus and Serena are feminine, they dress like girly girls, not Tomboys.

What tomboy would wear hair clips, pink clothes and big hoop earing oops don't forget their Tiara.

Personally I think because they look more athletic people think there not Feminine, which is a load of crap.
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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 01:42 AM
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With most men, any woman that could beat them at an athletic endeavor scares them. To be honest, it scares a lot of women too, You can tell. The ones who equate 'feminine' with 'weak', and 'masculine' with 'strong'. THe ones who call themselves professional athletes, but who would rather be physically weak, and lose, rather than increase muscular strength to win.

You wanna know why so many people don't take women's sports seriously? How seriously can you take an athlete who's afraid of getting muscles? We're talking about ATHLETICS. Would Jackie Joyner Kersee have win Olympic medals if she was afraid of getting muscles? Imagine speed skater Bonnie Blair waking up and saying 'Oops, my leg muscles are getting too big. Never mind that Olympic Gold medal, muscles aren't feminine.'

Every woman who ever said, 'I don't want to get big muscles because they aren't feminine' justifies sexism. They are agreeing with the idea that there's a prescribed place for women in the world, and somethings wrong with you if you want to kick over the traces and live your own life. Why not just say, 'I'm a weak, helpless female and I need a man to do things for me.'? It's basically the same thing.

Women don't need men to perpetuate much of the sexism in the world today. Other women do the job all too well.

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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 02:02 AM
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Wonderful thread/post apoet, I could not agree with you more

It is upsetting to see that this attitude is still so prominent in our society.

I hear freinds of mine make comments like that too Referring to Serena's muscular body, "she's a man" It also doesn't help when some of the WTA players themsevles make comments like "she hits like a man" about a strong player (Amelie Mauresmo).

But old sterotypes die hard, and gender sterotypes are no exception. Especially in a world where in many societies women are still seen to be below men.
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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 02:05 AM
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Women don't need men to perpetuate much of the sexism in the world today. Other women do the job all too well.
A great, but sad point.

If I only had a dime for everytime a women said " I need a man", or made comments that expressed gender sterotypes....
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 02:24 AM Thread Starter
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Great posts Rebecca and Volcana.

To add to your post Volcana, I think self-acceptance plays a big role in how women perceive themselves. If a woman is strong and secure within herself, she will not fear society's judgment and live her life according to her own rules. Unfortunately, most women do not have this self-possession and often act according to whatever role that society has assigned them. For example, a beautiful girl will often act like a ditz because she thinks that is how she is suppose to act. As a college instructor, I see this all the time. Sadly, these girls often do not understand that they can have achievements and still find respect.
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 09:40 AM
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Sarah Michelle Gellar Kicks Ass, I love girls who can kick ass and is not all talk.

Venus and Serena are women, not sexy IMO, but they are women and although i do not support them, respect their achievements.

I live for equality in everything (And i mean equal, not women or man taking over)

Unfortunately women get all the rights when it comes to children, or i would still have my daughter.

I think it evens itself out, my bosses at work are all female, however they hate it when i stand up to them, so they feel inferior, not me feeling superior, so it's a two way thing, in life and sport.

Look at Soccer, amongst the majority of female fans (not all, the majority) David Beckham and Michael Owen are more know for their looks and off the field lives than there football, so it works both ways.

I've seen many a thread on here saying 'this guy is the sexiest on ATP tour', and 'This guy is so hot' etc etc, so it works both ways.

Maybe it does affect women more. Anna Kournikova is a poor example, she wants to be known for her looks, in fact does she really want to be known for her tennis? I don't think so.

It works both ways, I had to sit through the soccer World Cup, with females talking about David Beckham, yet they knew nothing about his football.

The problem also is within the women themselves. I do not know of ANY woman personally, that talks about FEMALE sport.

They all talk about Male Athletics, Male Tennis, etc etc, so women are not so recognised as men even by WOMEN.

It's a 2 way thing, if a bloke's serve is weak, people say 'He serves like a girl'

It's just society, i wish all things were equal, but some you win, some you lose, as i have found out big time
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old Sep 9th, 2002, 11:07 PM
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We see several manifestations of sexism with regard to women's tennis. Networks won't televise a package of women's matches, but they'll line up to televise stuff like the XFL and Slamball. Even though other sports can only hope to get the type of ratings women's tennis has proven to draw. Likewise, many sponsors who won't support women's sports will align themselves with "trash sports". (Media term, not mine.) I watched an episode of SportsCenter the other week, and saw a segment on the scowls and stares various pitchers use while on the mound. But not one single women's tennis score.

The solution to the problem is us. We can make a difference. It's all well and good to commiserate with each other and agree "that sucks", but it won't get anything done. We've got to tell them that we don't like it; not only with our words, but with our wallets.

Years ago, I got pissed off at NBC for shortchanging women's tennis. I wrote them expressing my displeasure. (This was pre-internet.) I vowed I would never again watch an NBC program, and I haven't since. I made a similar promise to USA Network, and held to it. Other than the tennis, my remote will not stop on those channels.

The place to really hit them is in the pocketbook. The sponsors. Tell them we won't buy their products/services if they support these activities. A couple of them try the old song and dance "but we just advertise there, we have no influence over their policies". Horsecrap. If the sponsors get enough pressure, and they say to change things or we withdraw our financial support, it will change.

I'll give an example: remember last year's French Open? It was the last time USA Network televised the event. Remember that Scott's Miracle Gro commercial with James Whitmore? The one where he picks up a handful of the stuff and compares it to the competitor by asking "what's the difference? results". Well Scott's is one of the companies I wrote to complaining about USA's telecasts. I pointed out to them the bottom line: TV ratings. They are paying the network to reach the maximum amount of viewers possible. By not showing women's matches, USA was keeping the ratings lower than they could be. In essence, they were ripping off their advertisers. Scott's seemed none too pleased. Their reply to me stated that "we expect to get what we pay for". They checked into the ratings numbers. When they discovered I was right, they pulled their advertising. I took great care to observe the ads for USA's subsequent US Open coverage last year. No Scott's.

We can do that with all of these entities. Tell the sponsors for SportsCenter and Sports Illustrated, etc., that we won't buy their products. Ask some of them to explain why they won't sponsor women's sports, and let them know if we don't like the answer, there will be repercussions.

It won't do us any good to keep whining in here. To quote my fave, "Talk is just that; talk."
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