Predictions on media coverage about UConn Women’s Basketball winning streak

16 12 2010

UConn player Maya Moore

I have a couple predictions about how the media will talk about the UConn women’s basketball team as they (hopefully) tie and break UCLA’s record of the most wins in a row in college D-I basketball. Given the scarce coverage of this exciting and historic event which Christine Brennan wrote about in USA Today, it will be interesting to see if my predictions come true. Read Geno Auriemma’s comments about the streak here, including this quote, “The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.”

If UConn breaks the UCLA record…

Prediction 1: The lack of parity in women’s basketball will be highlighted. UConn’s domination will be attributed to a lack of talent among the other teams. I wasn’t around for the UCLA streak, but I’m guessing no one said Wooden’s teams amassed their streak due to a weak field of opponents. The sanctity of the UCLA streak will remain intact.

Prediction 2: The women’s game will be constantly compared to the men’s game, in which the men’s game will be constructed as a better, faster, more exciting form of basketball….”real basketball”

Prediction 3: Some will argue that UConn Coach Geno Auriemma is “so good” that he should go and coach men’s basketball, because he is wasting his talent coaching females

Prediction 4: The UConn players will be called ruthless, robotron competitors who play unapologetically to win…and this will be constructed as not feminine or unladylike. In fact, some will say the UConn women play like men.

Prediction 5: The lack of interest in UConn’s streak will be blamed on women. It will go something like, “if women themselves don’t support women’s sport, than who will?”  The flaw in this argument is that the success of and support for men’s professional sport is attributed to only males. The fact is, nearly 40% of all fans of professional men’s sports are women. Therefore the lack of interest and coverage of UConn should be equally attributed to males and females, maybe even more so to males because they hold over 90% of all sport media positions and thus make the decisions about what is covered and what isn’t.

Prediction 6: More emphasis will be placed on the fact the streak is a women’s basketball streak, rather than the longest winning streak of any team regardless of the sex of the athlete.

Prediction 7: Some will say women’s basketball is lucky to get any coverage, streak or no streak.

I may think of a few more in the next couple days. Do you have some predictions to add?

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Developing Physically Active Girls: A Pecha Kucha

13 12 2010

I’ve put together a Pecha Kucha video presentation on “Developing Physically Active Girls”.

If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha, it is a 20 slides x 20 seconds (6:40 mn) presentation format in which the slides advance automatically while you talk. To learn more about Pecha Kucha, the Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit chat”)  click here.

The full report and executive summary of Developing Physically Active Girls: An Evidence-based Multidisciplinary Approach, which I co-authored, can be downloaded for free here. The video contains key points from this report.





Explaining the scarcity of female coaches: Homophobia still pervasive

9 12 2010

This week I read two separate stories about female collegiate coaches who are no longer coaching due to homophobia. Scholars have been writing about the effects of homophobia on women’s sports for decades, yet it persists.

The first story is about University of Minnesota Associate Women’s Golf Coach Katie Brenny. All the facts are not in yet, but allegedly Brenny was relieved of many of her coaching duties when the Director of Golf, John Harris, learned that Brenny was a lesbian. You can read about this story in the MN Daily, here and here. It was announced this week that Brenny plans on suing the University of Minnesota for  “a violation of several Minnesota statutes, which would include discrimination based upon creating a hostile work environment; discrimination, retaliation and harassment; and discrimination concerning sexual preference.” Note: 12/10/10 Star Tribune story on Brenny.

The second story involves Lisa Howe, Belmont University’s Head Women’s Soccer Coach, “who resigned last week after she told school officials that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.” Howe felt she should resign in the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” climate at Belmont rather than be fired “due to her poor choices.”  To read more about this story click here and here and Pat Griffin has also written a number of blogs about Howe.

There are many troubling issues about these two stories, but in light of my research on the scarcity of female coaches, I find them particularly interesting. Females coaches are in the minority at all levelsyouth, high school and college (if you want to see the statistics, click on these links). The barriers and factors which influence this phenomenon are complex, but in these cases, I think it is safe to say homophobia and a climate of intolerance are contributing factors as to why we now have 2 fewer female college coaches.

Austin Calhoun, a graduate student, and I completed research on how gay and lesbian coaches are erased from online sport media. When we heard of Howe and Brenny, we looked at their online coaching biographies and were not shocked to learn neither mentioned their same-sex partners.

While Brenny seemed to be released from her duties because she was gay, Howe quit because she couldn’t stay in the closet (and resumably didn’t want to) once she and her same-sex partner were going to have a baby.  Interestingly,  having children dramatically affects both heterosexual and homosexual female coaches, in some similar, but also in some very different ways.

For gay women, having a child makes it harder to stay in the closet, and once you have a child with someone you love, one presumably would prefer to openly and freely share that love and joy with the world–including one’s team and colleagues. However, gay coaches are then faced with a dilemma: Come out and risk their career, or stay in the closet and alienate and erase their newly expanded family. Young gay female coaches in the early stages of their careers and families, may have very different thoughts and values about being openly gay in the workplace than their older generational counterparts.  Therefore, it is likely that the attrition rate of young gay female coaches may increase as they want to live openly, but bump up against institutional and societal homophobia. This group of young women may also choose not to enter the coaching profession to begin with (stay tuned for cutting edge research on this topic and more from my graduate student Alyssa Norris).

For heterosexual women, having a child makes it harder to balance the work-mother roles unless a supportive male partner is willing to take on some of the domestic labor in the home (I realize that same-sex couples have to also balance domestic labor issues). For this group of women, having a child does not directly threaten your job. In fact, it is celebrated (as it should be!). Researchers have documented that despite gains made by women in the workplace, women are still responsible for a majority of the domestic labor in the home. For many women (gay and straight alike), balancing the coach-mother roles proves to be too stressful and often results in quitting the coaching profession.  What may compound this issue for females coaches with male partners is that a gender pay gap still exists where females make on average .77 cents for every dollar a male earns. Thus, if a heterosexual couple is deciding who is going to stay home (if that is even an option) or how to lessen the workload, it often makes better financial sense for the male to remain in his career/job.

Of note, when a male coach and his female partner have a child it rarely affects the male coach’s career trajectory or job security. One key take home: in order to have a successful coaching career, a female must have a supportive and equal partner. Another key take home is that gay female coaches likely face more barriers than their heterosexual counterparts which makes staying or getting into coaching challenging.

I have more thinking to do about this complex issue, but these two stories illustrate a few key contributing factors in the ongoing scarcity of female coaches. I realize my logic on this is not fully developed, and I would love to hear your constructive thoughts.

Addition 12/10/10: A NYT piece about a wife-husband co-head coaching duo for Mizzou Volleyball is an example of how heterosexual coaches can be visible and celebrated, whereas I doubt you would ever see a similar story on same-sex co-head coaches. This story is also an example of how if a mother-coach is going to succeed she needs a supportive and equal partner.

Addition 12/17/10: A NYT piece on Howe and the reaction of her athletes and the community.





What I “Won” From Playing Sports

8 12 2010

My first tennis trophy

As part of the National Women’s Law Center’s Blog to Rally for Girls’ Sports Day, I was asked to answer the question, “What did you win by playing sports?”

I would not be writing this blog if it weren’t for sports. I have “won” in nearly every way possible because of sports, I have:

1) a career in the study of sport/physical activity (referred to in academia as Kinesiology), which started with coaching women’s tennis at the NCAA D-III level.

2) a healthy body in which I can still be physically active (knock on wood!).

3) lifelong friends, amazing students and athletes, and influential mentors.

4) developed psychological, physical, social, and emotional skills which have helped me successfully navigate life (so far!).

5) expanded my personal and professional identity in ways that (on most days) I can be proud.

My most memorable tennis trophy

6) cultivated my voice in hopes of making a difference in the lives of others in and through sport.

There is not one part of my life that has not been shaped by sports.

I am in a unique group of women sandwiched between the generation older than me (grateful women who were the first to benefit from the passage of Title IX and knew of the days where opportunities to play sports were to be relished and enjoyed) and the generations younger than me (which includes some entitled girls who have taken those opportunities for granted and never knew how bad it used to be).

In my current role as Associate Director for the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, I am keenly aware of the many positive outcomes of Title IX. Yet, this landmark federal legislation remains fragile and under attack.

Many argue that “we no longer need Title IX” due to the tremendous gains for girls and women in sport (and other) contexts. This simply is not true. In the briefing paper produced by the NWLC it states,

Since Title IX was enacted in 1972, girls have made great strides in athletics.1 But
even today, the law’s work is not done. Girls make up half of all high school students
nationwide but only 41 percent of all high school athletes, which means that schools
provide girls with 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports as compared to boys…even for those opportunities the schools do provide, girls’ teams often do not receive equal benefits and services. For example, female athletes are frequently assigned to inferior facilities and disadvantageous times to play. Although national data on the treatment of girls’ sports are not available at the high school level (unlike for colleges, which are required by federal law to report gender equity in athletics data every year), the available data and reports demonstrate the pervasiveness of discrimination against girls in high school sports programs
.

While I have won in so many ways playing sports (trophies included), I now have a responsibility to ensure that girls and women into the future will continue to win.






“A Women’s Pro Sport That is Growing”

3 12 2010

A Bloomberg Business Week piece posted Nov. 24, 2010, outlined the Lingerie Football League (LFL)  is a women’s pro sport that is actually growing. I originally blogged about the LFL a while back.

If I had to write a quote that exemplifies all that is wrong with the LFL and why its popularity is troublesome to those of us who advocate, study, play, teach and research women’s sport, I couldn’t do it.   Wachter write,  “While playing in the NFL takes a rare combination of strength, speed, and coordination, in the Lingerie Football League, says its founder, Mitchell Mortaza, “You have to be athletic, confident, and beautiful. I would argue that beautiful is the most important and valued attribute of the LFL  and LFL players reflect what society has constructed as the beauty norm for women. I have no doubt some of the LFL players are great athletes who love to play football. It is unfortunate that to play a sport they love, it is necessary to do so in what is barely a uniform–a uniform which accentuates and sexualizes the female body. There are other options (see below). I doubt NFL players, 1) have contract stipulations that reads  “players must cope with the possibility of “accidental” nudity” or 2) gets fined $500 if he wears any “additional garments” underneath his uniform.


Portryal of LFL athlete on LFL website

I agree with my sport sociology colleagues Mike Messner and Mary Jo Kane who are quoted in the Bloomberg piece, that the LFL is not selling sport or promoting female athleticism, the LFL is selling sex.

Portrayal of WFA on WFA website

It is well documented that sex sells just about anything, and unfortunately when women’s sport is packaged as sex, it appears to do well. Mortanza states, “We’re 260 percent more profitable so far this season than at the same point last year.” The dangerous down side of the LFL’s success is that it reinforces what many already believe: To sell women’s sport and female athletes successfully sex and sexualizing the female body must be primary. However the distinction is the LFL is selling sex, NOT sport. The LFL claims to be a “women’s pro sport” but it is little more than athletic Playboy bunnies running around for the benefit of male consumption.

Conversely, the The Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) is about the sport of football. Founded in 2000 by a group of women, IWFL currently has over 1600 women playing for 51 teams. The Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), founded in 2009, grew to 32 teams in the first year earning the distinction of becoming the “fastest growing league in the history of the sport.

To see a number of additional, interesting and controversial comments made on this blog which is also posted at the Women Talk Sports Network, click here.





Another Example of Constructing Gender

23 11 2010

As a scholar who examines gender in the context of sport I’m always interested in the ways the media arbitrarily construct gender–meaning the images we see in the media tell “us” what it means to be a girl or boy, and what is appropriately feminine and masculine.

I have a long disdain for the “pink-ifying” of girls and the non-stop Princess narrative which bombards girls from the youngest ages. I’ve followed the blog PinkStinks for awhile and love their content. PinkStinks is a campaign and social enterprise that challenges the ‘culture of pink’ which invades every area of girls’ lives. A friend and colleague recently sent me this picture which depicts the dichotomous nature of how gender is constructed in the media. Her rhetorical question to me was: Why does it have to be “versus’ and not ‘and’? Can’t a girl be both a princess AND and tomboy?

According to Star, Girl Princesses wear bling and like to be pampered, while it is unladylike to be violent, wear clothes associated with boys, and have an interest in dead things. My point here is: Who got to decide these behaviors are appropriate or not for girls? Is this really newsworthy? (I suppose you could argue Star really isn’t news)

What message does this send young girls? We need more Princess Free Zones (PFZ) that allow girls the freedom to express all parts of who they are and want to be without sanction from society, peers, and parents. I would also argue the behaviors for what is means to be a boy should be more inclusive and broadened. Here is a Anti-Princess Reading List.

I would argue sport has the potential to be a great PFZ, but only if coaches and parents allow free expressions of gender and resist using stereotyping language that reinforces outdated gender dichotomies.





Oh ESPN The Magazine…You Never Cease to Amaze Me.

19 11 2010

I’ve written previously about portrayals of female athletes  in sport media (here & here) and particularly on the pattern of female athletes on the covers of ESPN The Magazine. and Sports Illustrated.

Yesterday a colleague forwarded me the new cover of ESPN The Magazine “the movie issue” as she thought I’d like to see it. On the cover appeared to be a Sharon Stone look alike from the famous interview scene in Basic Instinct. I thought it strange ESPN would have a movie issue, and didn’t really realize it was Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn until today! At the risk of asking for more criticism and being hung out to dry by those who will disagree when I write about Lindsey Vonn, I have to address (again) why this cover is just plain problematic. To see video of Vonn’s shoot and why she decided to do the piece, click here.

Reason 1: Females athletes are under represented in the media. Less than 5% of all sport media is dedicated to female athletes. A new report states that number is generous as coverage of females athletes on major networks has declined to an all time low of 1.6%!!!

Reason 2: When female athletes are given media coverage it is usually in ways that highlight their sexuality, rather than athletic competence. (latest ESPN cover as Exhibit A, B, C, D,…..). ESPN The Magazine is the worst culprit of this pattern. In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.

I joke in class with my students that whenever female athletes are on the cover of ESPN they are in white (except for Danica Patrick because she is usually always in black for some reason as part of the media’s construction of her as a badass, sexy vixen…even when she’s “refueling” and promoting Got Milk?). White in U.S. culture connotes purity, chastity, cleanliness, and innocence but when coupled with sexy images of female athletes it has a much different meaning I’m still trying to figure out. This pattern is not coincidental and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Reason 3: When female athletes are consistently portrayed like sexy vixens it become increasingly difficult for most everyone to take them seriously AS ATHLETES. This does little to promote women’s sports.

Reason 4: It sends the wrong message to girls and young women, and heck any female!, that it is more important what your body looks like and how it can be used and gazed upon as a sexual object, than what your body can do athletically. An entire body of literature provides many reasons why the continual sexualization of females is harmful to girls.

This ESPN cover and the countless other images are not proof of female enlightenment, it is as Susan J. Douglas argues in her book it is unfortunately an example of how far we have to go until females are free of sexist practices packaged as post feminist empowerment that undermines female achievement and serves to keep women a sexualized objects, rather than promote them as equal members of society.