The producers of the Title IX documentary “In the Game” Tweeted a link to this ESPN story over the weekend about the paucity of women in action sports. The headline, “Gender Gap,” sums up so much of the wrong-headed approach to gauging the progress of women in sports, especially in the mainstream media. Says writer Matt Higgins:
“According to Marie Case, managing director of Board-Trac, an action sports market research company, in 2010 there were about 18 million participants in the U.S. across skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing, 25 percent of whom were women. Of approximately 2.6 million surfers, 31.8 percent were female; of 6.7 million snowboarders, 24.2 percent were female; and of 8 million skaters, only 12.6 percent were female.
And then there’s this:
“Title IX, a law dating to 1972 that bars discrimination among programs that receive federal funding, has meant more opportunities for girls to play sports in school. But with action sports typically outside the scope of public schools and universities, opportunities for females are largely governed by the rules of the marketplace.”
Of course I wish there were more women in sports, politics, technology and international finance, for much more than the sake of representation. Our games, laws, gadgets and economy would be a hell of a lot better, fairer, easier to use and more inclusive than they are now.
But we’re so busy counting up numbers and determining percentages even in relatively new sports involving a post-Title IX generation of women and where gender equity laws do not apply that we overlook another major factor that is mentioned nowhere in this story.
That’s always been an important word for establishment feminists when it comes to a woman’s right to control her own body, a concept with which I strongly agree. But they never seem to consider it when it comes to examining why women don’t do certain things in greater numbers.
They may not want to.
Consider the example of competitive cheerleading, which is producing a bit of a split among women’s sports advocates and that The New York Times examined earlier this week in its continuing “Gender Games” series. Says Nancy Hogshead-Makar of the Women’s Sports Foundation:
“As long as it’s actually operating as a sport, we welcome it into the women’s sports tent.”
Which sounds fair enough. Then there’s former college basketball player Barbara Osborne, whom were told now advises college athletic departments as an “expert” on gender equity:
“What we consider sports are things that men have traditionally played.”
To be fair, Osborne said she wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea of counting cheerleading as a legitimate sport, but there remains quite a bit of reluctance.
Both women are quite eager to declare themselves authorities on what other women ought to aspire to athletically. Both could be more tolerant toward the individual courses that women are choosing for their lives thanks to Title IX. It’s a good law that needs to be kept on the books.
But Hogshead-Makar’s organization has been a stingy gatekeeper of a “women’s sports tent” that isn’t as expansive as it might be.