Thursday, April 26, 2012

Enjoying Women's Sports

A few weeks ago I shared the not-so-shocking revelation that the Unguy enjoys watching sports. Now I must make another confession: I actually enjoy watching women's sports. In fact, I often prefer women's sports to men's. I am an avid fan of women's soccer and faithfully follow the US Women's National Team. I also really enjoy women's professional tennis, much more so than men's tennis, which I hardly watch at all.

When I talk with others about my interest in women's sports, I generally receive one (or both) of two responses. Many people cannot imagine that women's sports can be very interesting or that women could play well. Therefore they are either unaware of the existence of women's sports or they have no interest in them. Alternatively, some people find it very strange for a man to have interest in an activity pursued by women. Let me consider both of these responses more closely.

The first response demonstrates an inherent and unacceptable bias regarding women's athletic ability. It assumes that women are physically less talented, strong or proficient than men and therefore in any sport in which both men and women compete, the women's branch must naturally be less interesting to watch. This bias affects the whole world of women's sports. Because of it, fewer people watch women's sports events. Because few people watch, it is harder to attract sponsors and advertisers, so fewer women's events are broadcast, thereby keeping awareness of women's sports low. Because awareness remains low, people do not see what women are capable of, so they retain their bias. It's a self-propagating cycle. In addition, many young women may remain unaware of the potential they have as female athletes. As seeks to demonstrate in multiple areas, young women cannot be what they cannot see. If they do not see professional women athletes, they may be less inclined to pursue athletics themselves. Thankfully many young women overcome this, at least at the entry and junior levels of sports, but lacking viable professional venues for their activities, only the most devoted will continue to engage in athletics as they get older.

As an example, consider that there is currently no active women's professional football (soccer) league in the United States, although we have the world's number one ranked women's football team. If you haven't seen them play, you really should. Although this team ranks number one, many of their matches still receive no television coverage. Often they are not available even as free streaming broadcasts on the internet. By comparison, men's football, even in the US, gets regular broadcast time on cable and broadcast television and on the internet, most often for a fee. A petition at was launched to redress this imbalance, but it remains to be seen whether it will have any effect. As another example, tournaments of the WTA (Women's Tennis Association, the body governing women's professional tennis) are often not broadcast except on a pay-per-view website, while men's events are more often featured on cable and broadcast sports channels. The Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) are exceptions to this, but they are the premier events and are combined men's and women's tournaments.

The second response frustrates me because it demonstrates a lingering gender bias in society. Why should it be strange for a man to enjoy women's athletics, when few if any people find it strange for women to support men's athletics? Why should it be considered abnormal or weird for me to wear a jersey with the name and number of Alex Morgan or Hope Solo (two of the top players on the US Women's NationalSoccer team), while a woman could wear a jersey with Tim Tebow's name and number without anyone thinking twice about it? I find that many people assume that nothing related to women could (or should!) be appealing to men. But I disagree. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate about men being interested in many – even most – things that are traditionally of interest to women. I think the bias against women having interest in traditionally “male” activities has significantly declined, but the bias in the other direction remains quite strong.

I think that men and women should feel free to pursue their interests without regard to traditional gender divisions. Although I am a supporter of mixed-gender teams, I am not arguing that we should eliminate the distinction between men's and women's sports. I am arguing that men should not be made to feel that they are abnormal for supporting women's sports, or other hobbies and interests traditionally considered feminine. I consider this to be part of being an unguy and I will continue my own campaign by actively watching and supporting women's athletics.

Do you consider it unusual or abnormal for men to have interest in women's activities?

No comments:

Post a Comment