Jewish Journal

Women in sports: Not an Olympic-size victory

by Maya Paley

July 31, 2012 | 12:30 pm

Source: www.other98.com

With the Olympics upon us and the message above going viral on Facebook, I figured it was high time I addressed the topic of women in sports. The Guardian posted an article a couple of weeks ago about how Saudi Arabia had finally agreed to allow women to compete at the Olympic games in London. Saudi Arabia was the last country of the final three that had not yet permitted women to compete in the Olympics.

Look How Far We’ve Come

The good news is that back in Atlanta in 1996, as many as 26 countries did not have women on their Olympic teams. Just 16 years later, we’ve dropped that number down to zero. World, let’s give ourselves a nice long pat on the back.

Honestly, what’s funny to me is how we’re celebrating this first as though it’s a gigantic accomplishment in world history. I’m sorry people, but it’s not. In my opinion, we need to stop getting so excited about these firsts or these symbolic accomplishments. One or two women competing on behalf of such oppressive countries should not make us so ecstatic. Most countries in the world still are grossly violating women’s rights.

There was an interesting article today in the Parents section of the Huffington Post about whether we should teach our daughters that they are special because of their character or because of their gender. Lisa Belkin, the author of the article, asked this question at the end: “What do you tell your children about the worth and importance of gender?” She told how she was trying to reconcile the two “contradictory goals” of teaching girls that being female should be celebrated and teaching them that their identities include so much more than just their gender.

I bring up this article because it serves as a reminder to women. We’re always going to have to reconcile these two contradictions. Of course I want to believe that if I were a man I would have the same character. It’s not true. Being a woman has played a huge role in shaping who I am. Yes, I know I might not be a great example because I work for a women’s empowerment non-profit and write a blog about women’s issues. But I also know that a lot of women who end up in stereotypically “male” career paths also have had infinite experiences that are different from their male counterparts because they are women. So we can’t just tell our young girls that they are special because of their character. We need to make sure they understand that the intersectionality of multiple identities is what makes them special and being girls is one of them. 

I didn’t need any help…so neither will you.

How many powerful, successful women are out there who refuse to self-identify as feminists?

In an article referenced in one of the comments on my last post, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, is quoted in an interview:

“I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that.”

Oy vey—Mayer sees feminists as militant! Again, I’m proud of her for moving up the professional ladder, but why is her perception of feminism so negative that she’s adamant about not being associated with that word? Does she not realize the insane amount of oppression women are still facing worldwide?

Similar to my feelings about Mayer, I am proud of all women firsts, including the Saudi women for being the first females from their country to compete in the Olympics. Yet, I cannot be too thrilled about it while knowing that women in Saudi Arabia have little to no rights.

My Country Tis of Thee Sweet Land of Liberty

It is a favorite pastime of mine to accuse other countries of sexism. However, we noble Americans sometimes forget the inequalities that exist in our own country—and there are plenty. Let’s look at women in sports in the United States. A 20-year study conducted by USC and Purdue Sociologists and released in 2009 found that while there are more women in sports than ever before (from 294,000 girls in high school sports in 1971 to 3.1 million in 2009), only 1.6% of media coverage on sports in 2009was on women’s sports.

Mike Messner, one of the sociologists who published the report, wrote that this “reinforces the historical stereotype that sports proves men are superior to women, that the women’s product isn’t the same quality or would not have mass appeal.” Along with their inferiority, women are not being paid nearly as much as men in pro sports. I’m shocked! The Women’s Sports Foundation gives a bunch of examples of this, but I’ll give you one—professional basketball. The minimum salary for an NBA player in 2004-2005 was $385,277 and the maximum salary was $15.355 million for one season. In the WNBA, the numbers were $31,200 and $89,000, respectively. Seriously? $31,000?

Moral of the story—let us raise our glasses to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei for finally allowing women to compete in the Olympic Games, but let’s also take a deep breath and not get ahead of ourselves with excitement. We still have a long way to go both abroad and at home.

Your comments are always welcome.

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Maya Paley is Director of Legislative and Community Engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles. The programs she works on include the annual Jewish...

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