Friday, June 22, 2012

Should a Woman Be "More Like a Fan?"

Stories about Title IX’s anniversary have been popping up in the media throughout the year, but not nearly as overwhelmingly as this week. President Nixon signed the law on June 23rd in 1972. Forty years later, we are reflection on questions such as: What has Title IX done? Where are we going? Do we (or why do we) still need Title IX

The consensus seems to be that women’s opportunities in athletics have increased and attitudes towards female athletes in the American society have changed. The greater impact of Title IX outside of athletics is rarely mentioned, though you can find some information here.

But let’s go back to athletics. NPR’s Frank Deford, like many others, tackled the “what’s next” question. For a fairly short article, Deford brings up a vast array of issues, including the well-established myth that men’s sports such as tennis and wrestling “had to be dropped” because of Title IX. That myth is, perhaps, the most popular out there. No wonder it snuck into Deford’s article.

There was plenty of talk about that myth at the recent Title IX at 40 Conference hosted by the University of Michigan. You can read about that conversation in our earlier blog posts, or for a quick yet though analysis with some numbers and charts, take a look at the ESPN articleby Kate Fagan and Luke Cyphers.

The other important point that Deford addresses is fandom (or lack thereof). He writes, “even as women's participation in sport has soared, there's been no corresponding interest in women watching other women play sports.”

He closes the article by asking: “Why can’t a woman be more like a fan?”

Deford’s question seems to, really, be a statement that says: Look, we allowed women to play sports, but clearly they are not interested in sports because they don’t go to games of professional women’s teams.

The assumption behind this question is that men’s expression of fandom is norm – a norm that women aspire to and should meet. Women’s interest in sports, therefore, is evaluated based on the idea of consumption and spectatorship.

Of course, then, Deford concludes that women are more entertained by novels than sports.

Does fandom have to mean going to professional games, buying tickets and merchandize, watching games on TV, and so forth?

One person who commented on the article offers a different definition:

“Why can't a woman be more like a fan? Because they're done being cheerleaders, and out on the field. Why can't a man be more of a fan? More dads putting soccer cleats on their daughters, instead of ballet slippers, for a start. (Sons choosing between cleats and ballet shoes is a whole other story.) 
The transition started (or boosted) by Title IX is still ongoing.”

Moving beyond the idea of fandom, here is another question: If the benefit of Title IX is that women have had the chance to participate in sports in greater numbers, then why should we try, as Deford suggests, to turn women into spectators of sports? 

Isn't the “point” of Title IX’s outcome that more people (both women and men) are active in sports? And once they had the opportunity to play on an interscholastic level, wouldn’t it be logical that interest in sports is assessed based on continued participation in sports?

Another person who commented on the article seems to think along those lines. She writes:

“My answer to the last question is simple ... I would much rather spend my limited free time PLAYING a sport than watching someone else play.”

The complex answer to Deford’s question could include theories about gender and the purpose of sports placed in an economic, political and cultural context. But it also could be easy and short:

Is that necessary?

-- Dunja Antunovic

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