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You don’t need to look far or drill down very deep in a Google Search on ‘female coaches’ to find out two facts.
1. Female coaches at all competitive levels have declined since Title IX passed in 1972
2. Female coaches are the minority in almost every workplace
Many are familiar with the longitudinal work of Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter, who have tracked the number of females in positions of power in intercollegiate athletics for the past 35 years. Based on their data we know that in 1972 over 90% of female college athletes were coached by women, and in 2012 that number is near an all time low at 42.9%. To date a similar nationwide analysis for high school sports did not exist.Colleague Cindra Kamphoff, PhD and I decided to change that by analyzing a 2010 national data set of high school coaches we obtained from a reputable coaching directory. Some interesting, but not surprising, patterns emerged. Here are three key findings:
3. In basketball, the most popular** high school sport (and therefore the most visible, prestigious, important, valued, and known) females coached girls’ (28.1%) teams more often than boys’ (0.2%) teams.
Based on the data, female head coaches are often statistical tokens (<15% of a workforce) and marginalized (i.e., assigned to coach the less important and visible teams) in high school athletics. Tokens often experience or are subjected to scrutiny, pressure to over-perform to gain credibility, discrimination, harassment, and a host of negative workplace outcomes, and this is supported in the vast literature on barriers and support for female coaches which I’ve previously written about on this blog.
**most popular as indicated by the National Federation of High Schools
NOTE: Complete and refined analysis will continue. Please note these numbers represent a 3-5% variance, are not exact, but provide an initial picture into power, leadership, and high school sports.
Read my monthly blog post “Supports for Female Coaches II: Stay in the Game Early” for the Women in Coaching blog by clicking here.
If you missed “Supports for Female Coaches Part I” click here.
Over 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.
I’m re-posting a poster on Economic Inequality & Female Coaches in honor of Equal Pay Day 2013. #EqualPayDay
I just read another great column by espnW writer Kate Fagan regarding discussion about Brittney Griner’s possible tryout for the NBA. In her column, Fagan argues that Griner, or any other female BB player, could not compete in the NBA and gives her rationale by pointing out that, “…now everyone is once again measuring female ballers in relation to their male counterpart. These constant comparisons do little more than reinforce the notion that the women are somehow second-class players, instead of world-class in their own right.”
However, I want to enter a few friendly counterarguments to Fagan’s column. I say ‘friendly’ because I want to state that Fagan is one of the very few sport journalists that write about women’s sport thoughtfully and from a critical perspective. I greatly welcome, appreciate and admire her perspectives and in a space greatly in need of diverse voices.
Fagan makes the point that the best female BB players cannot compete with the best male BB players. This statement however serves to reinforce the viewpoint of gender as two distinct and opposite binaries, and that the only (or certainly the most important) comparison that matters is between elite athletes as the highest levels. Highlighting this comparison further reinforces female athletes as second class citizens–the very notion that Fagan is trying to argue against! It sets up the idea that the NBA is the norm by which female athletes are compared against.
What is not articulated in Fagan’s piece or elsewhere, is that MANY females routinely outperform many male athletes in basketball and other sports. I’m sure there are many college male BB players that have not dunked 12 times during a game in their careers, as did Griner. There are also many males who have not dunked as many times (if any) as the male dunk leader (For the NBA, Blake Griffin is the dunk leader. I couldn’t find stats for most college dunks). The key point here is range of difference in performance is far greater between males, than between males and females. But we never hear about these comparisons. If we discussed performance as a continuum (See Kane, 1995), rather than a binary, it may help resist against constructing female athletes as inferior.
Fagan also states, “Game recognizes game, and the best players know that the main difference between the men and the women is something completely out of their control: a threshold for athleticism bestowed upon them at birth.”
Unfortunately when a “biology is destiny’ argument is used, it is used against women as difference = less than, and again reinforces female inferiority.
What Fagan does say and is ultimately the MOST important point to highlight is that women’s basketball and female ballers should be appreciated for their athleticism….period. No comparison needed!!
College basketball players are arguably the most visible and popular female athletes in college sport, and thus have great potential to change the way society views female athleticism. Celebrate and enjoy, rather than compare, women’s basketball.
Also read Jemele Hill’s espnW piece “The false promise of the NBA” on this topic, also good!
March Madness 2013 is now in full swing. As we approach our brackets, be aware of how women’s basketball and female athletes are covered and discussed in the media, compared to men’s basketball and male athletes. If you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s piece on espnW titled “What Brittney Griner says about us?”…you should. Fagan outlines why some people negatively react to Griner and why it matters. After I read her piece, I thought it may be worth sharing here an OpEd I wrote that was published in the Boston Herald in 2006, a few days before the Women’s Final Four began in Beantown.
After you read the OpEd, I’d like to know if you think the argument has changed? If you insert ‘Griner’ for “Parker’ would it still ring true? I contend it has, and in fact the negative comments and critique of Griner has been far more egregious than what Candace Parker endured. This is precisely what Fagan discusses…and it is important to bring attention to the fact female athletes still face discrimination, marginalization and other barriers than preclude them from being seen as equally athletic to their male counterparts.
To dunk or not to dunk in women’s collegiate basketball? (originally published in the Boston Herald, April 1, 2006)
Candace Parker is changing girls’ and women’s basketball. In 2004 Parker won the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest over the best boys in the country. Last week, 6’4” Parker made history by completing two dunks in a first-round NCAA Tournament game. While many applaud past and current dunks as advancing the sport and female athletic potential, others are quick to criticize Parker’s dunks as the demise of the women’s game citing various reasons such as; (1) The dunk is seen as undermining the quality of the men’s game. Thus, dunks are an unworthy pursuit for women; (2) Focusing on the dunk takes away from the array of women’s basketball skills (dribbling, passing, shooting); (3) No one wants to see women dunking, that is — acting like men.
What is missing from the conversation is how women’s dunks, and the commentary around them, simultaneously positively promote, change, and oppress women’s basketball.
A double standard exists for dunking women. On one hand, if a woman dunks, she may be criticized for showboating, and for trying to be “like a man.” Similarly, her dunk is dismissed and compared to men’s dunks as “not a real dunk,” “less than,” or lacking proper elevation above the rim. On the other hand, the lack of female dunking in games is often used as a reason why some people lack interest in the women’s game and as evidence the women’s game is a “lesser” version of basketball. Dunking women are damned if they dunk, and dunked if they do.
The frequency and magnitude of the media’s coverage in recognizing Parker’s achievement can create change in and of itself. The public rarely gets to see or hear about women’s exhibition of skills that are considered male — especially in a sport that is as highly valued and close to the cultural center of male sport — such as basketball. Underlying the hype around Parker’s dunks, however, is an unspoken fear. The dunk has long provided irrefutable, natural (i.e. biological) evidence of male sport superiority. Dunking females threaten male sport superiority by challenging the separation of “men’s sports” and “women’s sports.” Dunking females provide evidence of a continuum of sports performance, where many women routinely outperform many men (e.g., many 6’4” male basketball players have never dunked in a game) and possess strength, ability and speed in equal and greater capacities than men. The dunk confirms female athleticism and potential when equal access, opportunity, and quality training and coaching are provided for girls.
Dunking is a worthy pursuit for girls and women. Dunking is not a proven gateway of demise for basketball. Even if one believes it has contributed to a decrease in the quality of the men’s game, a similar fate in the women’s game is not a given. Dunking adds to the skill array of women’s basketball. People do want to see women dunk. Dribbling skillfully through defenders does not make ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top Plays of the Week.” Unquestionably, women’s dunks provide increased exposure and coverage of women’s basketball. The dunk is constantly promoted by the media as the dynamic standard of performance and skill, which communicates its societal importance and value in basketball. Why should the standard be different for women? Because discouraging women from the pursuit of dunking under the paternal guise of what is best for the women’s game, will keep women’s basketball subordinate to men’s basketball.
The dunk at its worst can be used as a means to maintain women’s sports as “less than,” thereby reinforcing notions of a gender binary of “women’s sports” and “men’s sports,” while also perpetuating traditional stereotypes of femininity and masculinity. The dunk at its best can be a change mechanism for people’s perceptions about, and interest in, women’s basketball, and girls’ and women’s sport in general. To that end, girls and women go forth– be strong, fast and powerful and dunk, dunk, dunk!
If 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.
To see my monthly blog post for the Women in Coaching blog pertaining to the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport Fall Distinguished Lecture click here.