Tag Archives: gender

Gender & the Olympics: A Commentary

I wrote about three significant trends pertaining to females and the Olympics for Minnesota Public Radio. Namely I wrote 2012 has marked the 40th anniversary of title IX in the US, female Olympians outnumbers their male counterparts for the USOC, and women in predominately religiously conservative Muslim nations were allowed to compete for the first time in summer Olympic history. I also wrote about the lack of women in positions of power for the US Team (also see previous blog).

After I wrote that piece I’ve been thinking about other broken barriers, and in some cases have proven just how far girls and women in sport have yet to go. Other key occurrences include:

1. African American women winning gold in sports traditionally dominated by Whites–Serena Williams (tennis, becoming only the 2nd female to obtain the Golden Slam), Gabby Douglas (all-around gymnastics). However, both athletes competed in sports and trained in systems that are not under the jurisdiction of Title IX (i.e., private, non-school based). This is a key point because while Title IX as dramatically improved participation rates for females, girls and women of color have not benefited from this law to the same degree as their White peers.

2. On Friday, August 9, 2012, Shannon Eastin became the first female to referee an NFL game. This is key for many reasons–its provides proof females can be in other visible roles in football than cheering on the sidelines, it provides a role model for girls and young women to aspire to a career in refereeing at the highest level, and it provides evidence that women are capable of referring a sport that most don’t play (no one ever raises an eyebrow when men ump or coach softball!). Unfortunately due to enduring sexism and gender stereotypes about women in positions of power she will endure criticism that is not leveled at her male colleagues, and backlash in the blogosphere. However, her appearance is not without controversy due to the NFL ref picket line.

3. While US women have won 58% of the medals for Team USA (as of 8/10/12), female athletes in most all sports have been criticized and subject of derogatory remarks for not being feminine or attractive enough. There are a number a articles on this topic which details that “faces not feats” are predominately highlighted in Olympic coverage. I was encouraged by the fact some female athletes fought back and resisted those who tried to marginalize their amazing feats.

The reason why this matters is that just as many current Olympians (e.g., Alex Morgan, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) talked about how their aspirations for gold began as they watched 12, 8 or 4 years ago, today’s girls are doing the same. Girls need to see active, athletic female role models rather than be subject to commentary about how female athletes should look and conform to society’s notions of femininity and beauty. Athletes are beautiful…in all shapes, sizes, sport types, ages (equestrian Karen O’Connor is the oldest Olympian competing for the US at age 54; swimmer Katie Ledecky is the youngest at 15).

For some female athletes they self-promote by relying on looks, and for those who have them…can we blame them?. According to Jere Longman, a NYT writer, “Lolo Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” As Jones took 4th place in the 100m hurdles by a tenth of a second, I wondered if all the attention and hype distracted Jones’ attention and energy from optimal performance. What is even MORE interesting is that Longman’s critical column of Jones garnered considerable criticisms of its own (here, here, here, here).

…primarily from blogs that are rarely interested in covering women’s sport!

So is the lesson from “low blows on LoLo” that one should not be mean spirited and critical of the Olympic “It Girl”? (I’m reminded of my blog where I criticized the SI cover portrayal of 2010 Winter Olympic It Girl Lindsey Vonn). That female athletes should be left alone to market and promote themselves as they see fit? That it is OK if girls and young women internalize consistent messages of “it is more important what you look like than what you can do athletically” that can, according the to American Psychological Association, lead to a host mental and physical disorders?

If remaining gender barriers are to be broken, how female athletes are portrayed, portray themselves, and critiqued by the media must be examined and changed.

Athleticism and talent of ALL female athletes, not just the ones who meet society’s standards of femininity and attractiveness, (of all the hours of NBC coverage I did not see any of female weightlifters or boxers) should be sufficient for coverage.

And when they perform well and give it all they had in the tank, we should celebrate— not compare them to men, call them “manly” or other gendered slurs, subject them to sex testing, or wonder if performance enhancing drugs are involved (e.g., Ye Shiwen, Caster Semenya).

Advice to Females Seeking Careers in Sports

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?

More on Gender Difference and Coaching

I recently was called by a reporter who was writing a story on gender differences and coaching. I’m posting the link to his story here, as he did a nice job representing the current debate and ongoing discussion about coaching girls and coaching boys .

Stay tuned for more research-based information this topic coming soon!

Did You Know? Videos: Hot Topics in Coaching

I put together a few Did You Know? powerpoints and turned them into short videos (1:22-1:34 in length).

One is about the scarcity of female coaches in youth sport and the other is about gender differences & similarities in coaching.

I’d love your feedback as this is a bit a work in progress. Here is what I’d like feedback on:

  • Content
  • Length
  • How could these best be used?
  • What other topics would you like to see in a DYK?
  • Any other feedback you feel is relevant.

Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

(thanks to Austin Stair Calhoun for overlaying the cool music!)

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

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

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)

The NBA.com Dance Bracket?

When a student (nice find EH!) sent me this blog post “She Got Game Too: Is the NBA Dance Bracket’s Time Up?” by Sarah Tolcser (@ticktock6).  At first glance I thought the blog was about  “The Dance”…like as in, NCAA March Madness. I was mistaken.

This blog post is about the NBA.com Dance Bracket 2010, which I had no idea even existed…did you? If you click on a Dance Team logo, for example the Luvabulls (yes…roll eyes at the name) you will see pictures of the dancers so that you can appropriately vote. I couldn’t find any criteria for what I’m supposed to be voting for, so I’m guessing it is a vote for the best dancers?

Tolcser makes some GREAT points about the NBA’s confusion about how to market to female fans. She writes, “The answer is not more pink jerseys. Things like, as a member of a growing class of unmarried women ages 25-44,”family friendly” promotions and cute distractions on court during the game entice me no more than they entice male fans. Things like, some of the advertising spots from your own sponsors have sexist overtones that make me uncomfortable. Things like, when I go to your official website and see scantily-clad girls on the front page, I can’t help feeling that the NBA is not meant to be “for me.” WELL SAID!

Females comprise a growing, and predominately untapped, market of sport fans. In a previous blog about female sport fans, I summarized the statistics about the percentage of women that attend professional sport events.

I’m joining Tolcser (@ticktock6) in challenging the NBA and other professional sports to ask their female fans–what can we do for you?!  Who’s in?

3/25/10 addition: Tolscer just added another great blog on the “Body Shot” contest the Memphis Grizzlies are currently running pertaining to their dancers The Grizz Girls and their “preparation” for the NBA.com Dance Bracket. It just keeps getting better…it certainly is MARCH MADNESS!!

Latest "Women in Intercollegiate Sport" Report Now Available

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…

Are Female Athletes Becoming More Aggressive?

With the start of the March Madness and stories of “aggressive female athletes” making national headlines (i.e., Elizabeth Lambert, Brittney Griner), a question I have heard asked and debated a lot lately is–“Are females athletes becoming more aggressive?”

I don’t have the answer. The best I can say is a cautious–“maybe?” I don’t think there are any data to prove or disprove this question, but the fact the incidents are caught on video and replayed makes it seem like it is more frequent.  I am hesitant to say overly aggressive acts of female athletes is on the rise at the risk of reifying outdated gendered stereotypes and double standards. The New York Times journalist Jere Longman, wrote a balanced piece which contained perspectives of some of the best critical thinkers and brightest sport sociologists. The story titled “Pushing Back Stereotypes” featured a particular quote from colleague and director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota Mary Jo Kane, which I thought was spot on.  She stated,

“Only time will tell if this is an aberration, but what I think is a clear trend, as the stakes get higher in women’s sports, you see more pressure to win….This could be a natural progression to women entering into big-time college sports. You take the bad with the good; you take sold-out arenas with academic scandals. For us to think that women would enter the big time and have it be pristine and without controversy is naïve.”

What do you think about this issue? I wonder if the NCAA Women’s Tourney will conclude without any such incidents and ensuing media coverage.

Reebok on the Rebound?

So I’ve been offline for a few days and I come down off the slopes from boarding in the Tahoe area to an email from a blog fan (you know who you are!) with a few links to Reebok’s new ad campaign and product line. Please click on these links, but the short story on the marketing tag line for Reebok’s new EasyTone sneakers is “better legs and a better butt with every step”. What? 

According to Reebok, American sales rose 4 percent—its largest increase in four years—on the strength of that launch and the goal of the campaign was to get consumers to “reethink” their perceptions of sports “and remember why they play, sweat and cheer—because it’s fun.” I find this statistic a bit troubling.

My question is this—if Reebok’s target market is women who want to buy ‘performance gear’, how does this commerical appeal to women? With this ad, who are they really trying to get to “rethink their perceptions of [women’s] sports”?