Sexism, Misogyny, & Violence Toward Women: The Role of Sport

Recent events in sport and outside of sport (i.e., Elliot Rodger) have given visibility in clear and stomach turning ways to the fact that girls and women face sexism, misogyny and sexual and domestic violence at alarming rates. Lately blatant acts of derisiveness against women have been numerous, or perhaps they promoted more dramatically by the media. I hope these events and others provide a real and critical turning point in bringing awareness and dialogue about how to reduce all these offensive behaviors directed at and onto women….especially in and through sport.

  • Donald Sterling, (former, but contested) NBA owner of the clippers, was sanctioned by the league for racist comments but his long history of sexism and sexual harassment largely went without sanction.
  • UK Premiere League CEO Richard Scudamore so far has escaped sanction for his sexist commentary in a string of emails exposed by a former personal assistant.
  • NFL star Ray Rice was caught on hotel video cameras dragging his then fiance (now wife) from an elevator after he punched her unconscious. In an embarrassing press conference where he tried to save face, he never apologized TO his wife yet she acknowledged her role in contributing to the incident. The Ravens perpetuated and minimized the culture of violence against women by live tweeting from the Rice press conference that constructed a “feel good narrative of personal redemption”  without having to really address the problem with their star or their organizational complicity to victimizing the victim. Rice’s sanction is TBD, but I will predict it will be minimal.
  • Florida State QB Jameis Winston and the alleged case of rape against him in which he was acquitted sent a terrible and damaging message to young women who dare to accuse popular star athletes of sexual violence.
  • The rape case against high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio is also a not too distant occurrence.

Sexism is such a common part of women’s lives, many do not realize they experience it daily, and females who experience more egregious behaviors from men often take blame for their own victimization (just ask Janay Palmer). The incidents above and countless others that involve men in positions of power in sport and star athletes in the most popular and televised men’s sports, highlight the uphill battle that all girls and women face when battling sexism, misogyny and violence toward them and their sisters. Sport is one of the most powerful social institutions and when men in sport exhibit egregious behavior toward women and are not punished, it not only tells young men this is an expected part of being a male athlete, but it communicates to women and girls that being victimized, belittled, objectified and powerless is a normal part of womanhood.
What do all these men have in common?…..power.

Whether that power is personal, professional, social, economic, or expertise-based (or all of the above) when it is used and enacted in a “power-over” way, the result for women and girls is often negative. Public apologies for egregious, boorish and/or illegal behavior of men in sport toward women should not be sufficient, but is often used to erase collective memory and the “Restart” button is pushed. Violence toward women is not funny or something to be joked about (like it was in a recent Texas bar sign which read–“I like my beer like I like my violence. Domestic.”). Female fans, parents with daughters, men with wives or anyone that cares about the treatment of women should be appalled that such behaviors go unpunished as it creates a culture of violence and mistreatment toward ALL women and girls.

Many have argued that sexism is the last “ism” to be seriously confronted and conquered, and I would agree. However, until there are more women in positions of power in sport, men are held accountable in real ways for their damaging behavior, boys are taught that “being a real man” isn’t related to violence, domination and physicality on or off the field, society takes sexism and violence against women seriously (such as the recent White House campaign NotAlone.gov) and we stop hero worship of male athletes in “the Big 4” sports, this is unlikely to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

With the death of Maya Angelou who wrote:

“I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

If we lived in a world where all girls and women believed and embraced the sentiment of your poem and all males respected and treated women as equals, the world would be a better place.

3 “Must Reads” on Hot Topics in Sport

Gratuitous "hot dog" picture.
Gratuitous “hot dog” picture.

Here are 3 pieces everyone should read/watch/listen to, which reflect 3 areas of research I frequently write about and are currently HOT TOPICSsport parents,  women in sport coaching, and media portrayals of female athletes.

9217_458093160902533_113102254_n1. The Problem for Sports Parents: Overspending, a Wall Street Journal piece that outlines the more parents spend on a child’s “sport career”, the more pressure the child may feel. You can also listen to a radio show on this topic out of Boston. While you’re at it, read a Boston Globe article titled “How parents are ruining youth sports: Adults should remember what athletics are really about”

2.  Basketball’s Double Standard, by espnW writer Kate Fagan is about the barriers and 57673_nak_tns_tennis_tennis02_041413fdiscrimination that women coaches face in college basketball, and how women coaching men’s teams seems laughable to most ADs. You can see just how bad the numbers are pertaining to the percentage of women head coaches of women’s teams at “big time” institutions by clicking here.

April 2014 Golf Digest cover photo
April 2014 Golf Digest cover photo

3. Watch Dr. Caroline Heldman’s TED talk titled “The Sexy Lie” which is helps dispel the “sex sells” myth. In my research at the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, we are amassing evidence to help dispel and challenge the myth that “sex sells women’s sport.” You can watch our documentary on this topic “Media Coverage & Female Athletes” free online.

Basketball & Brackets Matter: The Case for a Perfect Women’s Bracket Challenge

The 2014 March Madness NCAA D-I basketball brackets for the men and women are now set. Teams are anxiously awaiting play. I love March Madness, but I am awaiting something different….word from Warren Buffett. I have tweeted Mr. Buffett (@WarrenBuffett) and Quicken (@quickenloans) to inquire if they were going to also offer a “perfect women’s bracket” contest, as they are offering a $$BILLION dollars$$ for a perfect men’s bracket. No reply.bb moneyball

It isn’t that I want two chances of winning a BILLION dollars (No one is going to win, the odds are 1 in 9 quintillion), it is the message being communicated by offering only a men’s bracket and who benefits from this “perfect bracket” challenge that is the problem.

Women’s sport and female athletes are continuously striving against minimal media coverage to be taken seriously and lauded for their athleticism (to go more in depth on this topic, watch a new documentary on “Media Coverage and Female Athletes”). By offering only a perfect men’s bracket challenge, Buffett & Co. are reinforcing the idea that men’s sport and male athletes are more talented, important, valued, and worthy.

Offering a perfect women’s bracket could of been a win-win and is a missed opportunity:

1. Quicken could have potentially garnered more new home loan clients (which is their goal!), and Buffett could of possibly made more profit (no one is sure exactly what his deal is with Quicken, but it isn’t $0!).

2. It would communicate in equal ways that women’s sport is and female athletes are worthy, valued, exciting and deserving.

3.It might have also inadvertently or directly increased interest in women’s basketball—especially in a demographic that is typically deemed “uninterested” (18-35 year old males).

Why does interest matter? “Lack of interest” by males, who are coveted by sport marketers and sport editors, is used as proof and proxy that “everyone” is uninterested in women’s sport–a statement that is completely false (not all young men are uninterested in women’s sport, and outside that demographic women’s sport fans abound!). Lack of interest is often used as a reason for not promoting or covering women’s sport. Many people are very interested in women’s sport, and particularly women’s college basketball as evidenced by increasing attendance, steady ESPN viewership, and expansion of women’s game coverage. Creating hype around the women’s bracket by offering $1B is a perfect way to bring in new fans, generate interest, and communicate the value inherent in women’s sport, some of which would likely be sustained because “they” (i.e., new fans) would watch, monitor brackets, and see that women’s teams are also exciting and talented!

People love March Madness and love to fill out brackets. College basketball and brackets matter. Placing more value (literally) on the men’s bracket, communicates what and who is valued and worthy, as well as who and what is not.

RELEASED: New Reports on Women College Coaches

Did you know that in the 40+ years after the passage of Title IX, female sport participation is at an all-time high but the percentage of women coaching women at the collegiate level has declined from 90+% in 1974 to near an all-time low today of 40%? While the number of collegiate coaching opportunities is also at a record high, only 20% of all college coaching positions for men’s and women’s teams are filled by women.

T2012-13_women-coaches-reportoday we (meaning the Tucker Center & the Alliance of Women Coaches) released a research series, 2 report cards and infographic on the status of women college coaches at 76 of the biggest NCAA D-I athletics programs. This work is the culmination of many people’s efforts. The purpose of this initiative is to increase the number of women in the coaching profession, generate awareness, and hold institutions accountable. I hope you will check out the reports and infographic and read the article Christine Brennan wrote in USA Today about the report.

Here are some key take-aways from the reports:

  • As the position became more visible and arguably powerful from graduate assistants, to assistant coaches, to head coaches, women occupied those positions less frequently.
  • In one academic year the percentage of women head coaches declined from 40.2% to 39.6%
  • Only ONE school, Cincinnati at 80%, was awarded an A for the percent of women head coacheswcr_2013-14_infographic
  • An equal number of schools got above average grades of A’s and B’s as got F’s (11 each). To see which schools passed and failed, or where your school stacked up, click on the infographic.
  • Two sports had 100% female head coaches (field hockey, synchronized swimming) while five sports had ZERO (0%) (water polo, bowling, skiing,, sailing, squash)
  • The B1G Ten (46.1%) conference had the most female head coaches of the 6 conferences we examined (ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, PAC 12), the SEC had the lowest (33.3%)wcr_2013-14_head-coaches
  • 66 of 886 head coach positions turned over from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Out of those 66 positions 74.2% of all coach vacancies were filled by men resulting in a net gain of five head male coaches, thus the decline in the percentage of women head coaches.
  • 7 schools increased the % of female head coaches in one academic year, while 13 decreased.

To read more about why this research matters, grading criteria, methodology and more specifics on processes go to the reports.

Bobby Knight’s Validation is not Needed or Wanted for Women’s Sport

This weekend I enjoyed watching many Regional games for the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) on ESPN and BTN. I love watching the array of talented female athletes getting prime time TV coverage, as it so rarely happens! Sport media coverage of the WCWS seems to be expanding and improving in production quality. One step forward!

However, why does ESPN air interviews of Bobby Knight discussing his appreciation of women’s sport during women’s sport broadcasts? One step back ↓  I saw his softball segment aired at least twice over the weekend, and he also appeared in ESPN segments during the 2013 Women’s NCAA Basketball March Madness and Final Four programming discussing Brittney Griner.

I thought it offensive during the basketball tournament, but when he appeared again during the WCWS it really made me pause…and then it made me outraged. Bobby Knight is no fan or advocate of women’s sport or women in general.  Why do I find this offensive?

1-forward-2-back1. in 1988 in an interview with Connie Chung, Knight stated, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it”  (NOTE: He was not sanctioned nor fired from his post as head men’s basketball coach at Indiana for his comment)

2. Despite his coaching record and reverence by some, he has a history of abusive behaviors toward athletes that are well documented. While he did not coach women, his abuse of male athletes should not be overlooked or forgotten. There are PLENTY of coaches, male or female, to interview that are real advocates of women’s sport and treat their athletes with care and respect. Why give a controversial coach a voice? Why give Knight any airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events that are broadcast on ESPN? (I’ll come back to this momentarily)

3. In early 1989 shortly after Knight’s rape comment, my college tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College ‘arranged’ (i.e., we stalked Knight in 2 hotel lobbies until midnight waiting for him to return post game, and then our coach pounced on him and convinced him to talk to his team) for our team to ‘meet’ Knight after Indiana played Minnesota here in Minneapolis. None of us wanted to meet Knight as we were well aware of his comment and one of our teammates had been raped the year prior. The thought of facing Knight was traumatic for her and angering to the rest of us. Knight reluctantly agreed and we were treated to a short ‘pep talk’ that included offensive comments like, “Girls shouldn’t play sports like basketball because they don’t look feminine – just sports like tennis where they run around in skirts and look cute” and “female athletes should look like females when they play and wear some make-up, like lipstick and nail polish.” If you knew my teammates, all amazing and strong women, it is unfathomable how Knight escaped that night unscathed. It remains to date one of our most memorable moments as a team. I know his offensive comments and dismissive behavior in part shaped who I am today, and what I do…trying to make a difference in the lives of girls and women through sport.

I am offended due to my personal experience with Knight in addition to his historical record of disregard for women. Here is what is bothering me today: Why would ESPN give Knight airtime during the two most important and premiere college women’s sport events shown on TV? Why does his voice matter in the landscape of women’s sport? What does it say that a major sport network continues to give Knight airtime and treat him with respect when he has a history of abusive behavior as a coach? (especially in light of the Mike Rice/Rutgers coach abuse scandal, where you could argue Rice’s behavior is an emulation of Knight) What does it say about ESPN and their value of and commitment to respectful coverage of women’s sport? Who decided Knight should be interviewed and what criteria did he use? ( I say ‘he” because a large majority of positions of power in sport media are held by men)

In short, giving Knight airtime during premiere college women’s sport events marginalizes female athletes and is offensive to those who are true fans. It sends the message that women’s sport needs a powerful and (arguably) successful male figure to validate its existence. Women’s sport and female athletes do not need, and I would argue by and large do not WANT, Bobby Knight’s validation or appreciation. The whole thing feels patriarchal and patronizing.

Sport and media are inextricably linked–what is communicated (and not) to audiences is important, and this is no exception. Knight appearing on ESPN when he did is about preserving and perpetuating male power and privilege in the world of sport. What better way to undermine amazingly talented female athletes who are the best in their respective sport, playing on ESPN in prime time, than to interview someone with a history of disrespect for female athletes and women in general.

Two steps back… ↓↓

 

 

Statues of Female Leaders?

 

Slide1Over the weekend while perusing news, I saw two images of giant statues of male leaders. The first was of the late former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (L). The second picture was a statue of late Pope John Paul II (R)– billed as the world’s tallest at 13.8-meter/45.3-foot.

Maybe it was the synchronicity of a short time span that made me think, but I wondered….Where are the giant statues of female leaders (dead or alive!)?

I thought back to all the statues I’ve seen live or virtually,  I couldn’t think of one giant statue of a living or former female leader (note: other than the Virgin Mary, who arguably is not a leader in the way I am discussing here). If you’ve seen one or know of one, please let me know. There have been numerous female leaders around the globe, so I am hoping you have knowledge that such statues of women exist.

Why does the lack of giant female leaders matter? First, a statue is a literal symbol of power…past, present and future power. Second, a statue is a visible representation of what is important, valued, and relevant. Third, it communicates who is most important in a society…and more importantly who is not important.  If boys and girls only see statues of men, it socializes youth to believe that only men are capable, competent and deserving of leadership positions. An absence of women in power becomes normal and expected. Fourth, it celebrates male leadership in a public space, communicating to the masses that the accomplishments of these men must be many and great, and are to be celebrated uncritically and problematically.  Fifth, size matters….the grand scale of these and other such statues signifies that men are bigger and therefore have more value, than women.

I have a feeling this trend is also replicated and true of sport statues. The sport statues I have seen are of male coaches and athletes…so if you know of any sport statues of female coaches and/or athletes let me know. Just as with seeing females in visible position of power and seeing female athletes ON TV, in print or digitally is important, statues of females represent an important aspect of power rarely considered.

 

Visible Example of Power in Sport

GoodellIf you want to see an obvious example of how gender, class, race, and power intersect in sport.…look no further than Sports Illustrated’s (SI.com) updated list (and accompanying pics) of the 50 most powerful people in sport. 

This set of “list” images serve reinforce stereotypes about gender and power that privilege white men and marginalize men of color, while simultaneously highlighting that women are primarily sexual objects (i.e. arm candy), or incompetent and weak leaders because they are not pictured alone. It wasn’t until #35 a male of color appeared, and #41 featured the first women in a position of power.

Of the 3 women featured in the list of 50, none of them were portrayed alone, in contrast to the men who were primarily featured as the sole and dominant image in their photos. #41 on the list featured Alison Lewis and Sharon Byers of Coca-Cola who were featured together, but their titles were not listed. #46 featured Cindy Davis, NIKE Golf President alongside client Rory McIlroy. When women in sport are portrayed in tandem, it communicates she may not be competent enough to stand on her own, and is therefore less competent than male leaders.

Images are powerful mechanisms by which cultural values and beliefs are transmitted, and therefore should not be consumed uncritically.