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.

Advertisements




Advice to Females Seeking Careers in Sports

29 04 2010

Yesterday I was invited to be part of a panel for the inaugural Minnesota Lynx Girls and Women in Sport Career Day (kudos to Carly Knox and her Lynx colleagues for putting on this event!)

Myself and 5 other women in the Twin Cities area spoke about our experiences, career pathway, advice for being successful in a male dominated profession and  “a-ha!” moments in our careers. On the panel with me: Cheryl Reeve, Head coach MN Lynx; Laura Day; VP of Business Development for the Twins; Britt Carlson, Director of Premium Seating at Minnesota Timberwolves & Target Center; Rachel Blount, StarTribune Sports Columnist; and rookie Lynx player Monica Wright.

I didn’t know what to expect but I learned a great deal from these accomplished women! There were many common themes, which I found fascinating because we wrote our comments independently. Here are some take homes and some reflections I’ve had since last night:

1. NETWORK!!! Get your foot in the door any way you can, and when you get the opportunity make the most of it. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so be ready and remember you are always interviewing for a job. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Seek out mentors and surround yourself with good people. I loved when Monica Wright told the audience, “Be loud and confident, and project yourself well”…which she was modeling!

2. Follow your passion. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of your passion and goals. One young woman in the audience asked Coach Reeve if she thought more women would begin to coach men. I wanted to tell this young woman that statistically speaking her chances were very low, but on second thought…good for her! We need more females thinking coaching males is a viable career pathway and to strive to make inroads. If a young man had asked about coaching women, no one would of batted an eyelash. You Go Girl!….coach those males, and pursue your passion. Rachel Blount told a story about how a college football coach once told her to “go back to baking biscuits” rather than try to interview one of his players. She told me that not once in her 25 years as a sport reporter did she think of not doing what she loved, “I was born to do this!” she claimed emphatically….and I agree!

What was really interesting to me is that we were all asked to talk about our experiences in a male dominated profession. Only myself and Rachel Blount talked explicitly about sexism and how females are statistically the token minority in all sports careers. The other women said they’d never experienced sexism or any male-created obstacles–or perhaps didn’t want to talk about it if they had. I was really surprised by their admissions especially because I had I just ordered two books I cannot wait to read on this subject–Sexism in America: Alive, Well and Ruining Our Future (Berg, 2009), and Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done (Douglas, 2010). I think both books will help me reflect on these women’s claims of a lack of experienced sexism. I came upon these books when I found a new blog this week titled Equality Myth: Young Women, Sexism, and the Workplace which got me thinking about how these concepts apply to my work with female coaches.

One young woman asked the panel why none of us mentioned children and how having kids influenced our careers. All of us looked at each other and a silent awkward pause ensued….none of us had children! Was it coincidental that all 5 women (I’ll exclude Monica Wright, because she isn’t in the same place in her career as the rest of us) were successful yet had no children? I immediately had a sick feeling. What did this mean? What message did it send to the young women in the audience who wanted both a career and children?

I quickly thought of Arlie Hochschild’s work on “the second shift”, which still unfortunately still holds true for a majority of women. The second shift for working women, is the idea a “second shift” or job starts when she comes home and is largely responsible for domestic and child-rearing duties. From the work I’ve done with female coaches, many of them discuss how coaching is only possible for them because their husbands also coach and that is “just what our family does”. My message to the audience was–if you want to have a family and career (which is possible!), be sure to choose a partner that will be supportive of your passion  and is willing to be equally involved in child care and domestic duties. One problem in this model is that on average women still make 77 cents to every $1 made by men, so having 2 working parents isn’t always the best financial choice if the cost of child care, outweighs the second income (here is fact sheet written by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the gender pay gap). So which income goes? The one who earns the least…which is usually the female (if the couple is male-female).

I have a lot more thinking to do about these topics and what it means for my career, my research and teaching, and for the next generation of young women. The event was very empowering and energizing, but the reflections I’ve had since the event have been admittedly depressing. I like action items that lead to social change, but when the actions required are tackling gender stereotypes, male power, and work/family gender roles…it seems daunting! But I will take my own advice and not let anything get in the way of pursuing my passion, which is trying to make a difference in the lives of females in and through sport.

What are your thoughts?





New Short Videos of My Research Talks on Girls & Women in Sport

30 03 2010

Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi

I just posted new videos of two research talks I gave in the last week on girls and women in sport.

The first talk was a Tucker Table on “Coaching Youth Soccer as a Token Female” and the other was “Current Research of The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport” for the St. Paul AAUW.

To see some short clips go to The Tucker Center’s YouTube Channel.





Critique of 2010 March Madness Sports Illustrated Cover

28 03 2010

Sports Illustrated 2010 March Madness Cover

I love March Madness. Every year I wait for the March Madness cover of Sports Illustrated. Every year I do a critique of the cover. Now that I have a blog, I can post the critique for the first time as I started this blog post March Madness in 2009 (April 5, 2009 to be exact). Here are the results of this year’s cover(s) [there are 4 versions of the March Madness cover this year]. The major point in this critique is to demonstrate that male power and dominance in sport is reproduced by the images portrayed and selected on this one cover. An equally important point is that women’s basketball, female coaches, female referees, and female sport fans are literally erased, marginalized and portrayed as secondary to team mascots.


RESULTS:

  • 1 giant male basketball player dunking a basketball (all 4 covers are of males dunking, despite the fact that Baylor’s Brittney Griner is well known for the fact she can dunk, thus it would of been feasible to feature a well known regional FEMALE player dunking)
  • 2 male referees
  • 3 cheerleaders (2 of which are discernibly female)
  • 4 fans (3 of which are male, the 4th is not discernible)
  • 5 coaches–ALL of whom are male, and I think they are all coaches of men’s teams. This is despite the fact UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s team is on a very long winning streak (74 and counting as of 3/28/10) and is been touted as the BEST women’s basketball team ever.
  • ~9 female basketball players (2 of which are almost not discernible as one positioned under the giant dunking male’s player right foot who I think is UConn’s Maya Moore and one player from Texas(?) is under his gluteus maximus, otherwise known as one’s buttocks)
  • 16 Mascots
  • A LOT of male basketball player (roughly I counted ~77…~8 times the number of female athletes portrayed. I’m pretty sure the ratio of male to female basketball players in the NCAA is not 1:8. In fact, according to NCAA research the 2007-08 numbers are 15,307 women and 17,081 male basketball players)




Latest “Women in Intercollegiate Sport” Report Now Available

23 03 2010

The most recent version of Acosta & Carpenter’s longitudinal (33 years!) research on Women in Intercollegiate Sport is now available on their website. Some good news highlights:

  • 42.6% of women’s teams are coached by a female head coach, a number that has remained stable over the last four years
  • HIGHEST EVER number of paid assistant coaches of women’s teams, 57.6% which are female
  • HIGHEST EVER number (n= 12,702) of females employed in intercollegiate athletics

Given that basketball is the most popular collegiate sport acording to Acosta & Carpenter, and it is March Madness, you can also download the most recent Academic Progress/Graduation Success Rate Study of Division I NCAA Women’s and Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams

Director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), Richard Lapchick states in the report, “Nineteen women’s tournament teams had a 100 percent graduation rate for their teams. Women do much better academically than men. Furthermore, the academic success gap between African‐American and white women’s basketball student‐athletes is smaller, although still significant, than between African‐American and white men’s basketball student‐athletes.”

Keeping it real with some data during March Madness…





(Women’s) ESPN Basketball Bracket Shows

15 03 2010

It’s time for March Madness! I love this time of year! I just watched the ESPN selection and the ESPN-U follow up show for the women. Here is the bracket in case you want to download it. I have some cheers and jeers.

Cheers!

  • I was excited the online ESPN bracket didn’t have the qualifying “Women’s” in front of  NCAA Tournament Bracket 2010.
  • ESPN did a great feature on Baylor’s Brittney Griner, that focused primarily on her SKILLS, numerous ways she can dunk, and how her ability and talent are setting a new standards of excellence for women’s basketball.
  • I loved the fact there were four very qualified women–Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, and Carolyn Peck--hosting the shows, along with Trey Wingo.

Jeers!

  • The .pdf version of the ESPN bracket however, was labeled as the “Women’s”. I will bet my 2010-11 pay cut that when the men’s bracket is complete, there will be no “Men’s” label on any bracket. Why? Because the men’s bracket is the real bracket, and the women’s bracket must be defined and qualified as the lesser bracket by labeling it the “women’s”. This is a common pattern of marginalizing women’s sports documented over time by sport media scholars. Another example is the NBA and WNBA.
  • The presence of the female sport commentators was undermined both at the very beginning and end of the ESPN-U show by the following comments:

a. At the opening of the follow-up show on ESPN U, after Trey Wingo (seated in the middle, with 2 women on each side) introduced each of his four co-hosts, Carolyn Peck made a comment that the ensemble was like Charlie’s Angels. To that end Wingo asked if that made him “Charlie”, and the banter went on for another 20 seconds with the women confirming that his wan indeed Charlie and they were the Angels.

b. At the end of the follow-up show on ESPN U, as Trey Wingo was signing off and repeated all the names of his female co-hosts, his very last comment was “Look at Doris’ shoes, she went shopping!” and then the camera cut out.

Why is this problematic? Because both comments undermine the credibility of highly qualified and experienced female sport media journalists by focusing on highly feminine roles and symbols of femininity.  Given these four women are clear statistical minorities in their field, they are under a constant barrage of scrutiny their male colleagues do not have to endure. They also have to look feminine enough so they do not feed the flame of enduring homophobia in women’s basketball.

Stay tuned for more March Madness!





On Champagne, Cigars, Celebrating, and Chicks (i.e., female athletes)

27 02 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Canadian women’s hockey team post gold medal controversial celebrations in the last 24 hrs.

My initial reaction was “What?, this is not good for women’s sports“. I have some new thoughts after taking a step back.

1. I realize my reaction was very US-centric and most Canadians feel this is not newsworthy (as Michelle posted in my previous blog) or a big deal. Is my reaction, and of those who share this viewpoint a result that Canada won the game and put a dent in American chauvinism?


2. This issue has definitely brought to light the double standards for behavior that exist for men and women, and athletes are no exception. On one hand I thought, “Why not? Celebrate, you won the gold medal!…the men do it all the time!” But on the other hand, is following the men’s lead or reproducing male celebratory traditions a good thing?  I keep thinking back to the 1999 World Cup when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt to expose her Nike sports bra after the USA secured the win in penalty kicks. Chastain’s behavior was both roundly criticized (that isn’t appropriate for women to do! She is sexualizing herself!) and applauded (finally we get to see a strong, athletic female body!). In an attempt to justify the post-bra incident, Chastain and others stated “the guys do this all the time”. Why is it that women have to justify their (inappropriate) celebratory actions following amazing athletic achievements with the disclaimer “the men do it!”?  This complicates the issue because it at once normalizes the behavior (see the men do it, so we can too) but makes it seem unladylike precisely because the men do it.

3. Many people I talked and listened to stated, “I’d have the same reaction if the men’s team did the same thing”. I’m not sure this is entirely true. What this statement does is erase the gendered component inherent in this event. Sports are not gender neutral or gender blind activities, so the reaction is inextricably linked to the fact the athletes were female and we have expectations for how men and women are supposed to behave.

4. I think one of the issues at play here is we just don’t get to SEE strong, powerful, female athletes celebrating in such a public way because women’s sports are so rarely covered in sport media. This type of celebration might be commonplace, but we don’t see it. When the Yankees win the World Series or the Lakers win the NBA Championships we see their celebrations–in fact an extra half hour is usually devoted to covering the celebrations both on the field and in the locker room.

I might have more thoughts about this, but for now…what do you think?

update 2/28/10: a Canadian colleague passed this article from The Winnipeg Free Press, that has an interesting and new point…happy athletes…oh my!