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.

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