Over the last few weeks the topic of discussion in the course has been about sexism. We read the book Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports which discussed the legacy of Billy Jean King and the role she played in sparking a gender revolution in sports, and society as a whole. We concluded the discussion with the weekly debate on the question of whether sexism remains prevalent in sports today. Those in opposition to the notion mentioned talking points about “opportunity”, “lower TV ratings”, and “lack of excitement” but none of these eradicate the act of being sexist. While progress has certainly been made since Billie Jean King’s days, it would be a farce to ignore the underlying fact that although sexism may not be widely visible it does not mean it does not exist. We need not look further than the history of racism to apply that concept. The Little Rock Nine, Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, and others had the “opportunity” to attend white schools, yet they were still met with severe acts of racism at both a personal and societal level.
In order to identify sexism, we must first define it. If we agree that it is defined as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, on the basis of sex” then we can work to dissect it for further discussion. When a male argues that females possess a lack of strength compared to men and can therefore not partake in masculine activities at the same level, is that not discrimination? I bet this woman, and these women would disagree. If you say female athletes are just not as exciting, is that based on fact or a preconceived opinion? If the latter applies, that is the definition of prejudice. Discrimination and prejudice…check! It becomes easy to see that identifying the existence of sexism is not so difficult after all even despite “opportunities” and gender roles evolving. It is important that we also do not confuse the sexist with the misogynist. A misogynist has a deeply ingrained dislike or contempt for women. A misogynist would argue that a women has no business on the playing field, while a sexist would argue that she deserves the “opportunity” to play, but is inferior to her male counterparts. This piece is about sexists, not an episode of Mad Men.
This past week brought about another shining example that sexism is still alive and well in sports when Raymond Moore, the director of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, made comments relating to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) stating that:
“In my life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
Novak Djokovic took the comments from Moore and used them as a platform to speak about pay discrimination:
“I applaud them [women] for that, I honestly do. They fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.”
Just days ago Jimmy Connors, one of the greatest male tennis players to ever play, rushed to the defense of his friend Raymond Moore and said:
“Some guys make a loose statement, let it go, look at the positive things he’s done and move on.”
Tennis is the leader in professional athletics when it comes to women’s equality. Contrary to Djokovic’s comments, women actually do better than men with ratings. The women’s finals have scored higher TV ratings than the men’s finals in the last two U.S. Opens.
Today five members of the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) filed a complaint against U.S. Soccer on the basis of wage discrimination. The Women’s team has played exceptionally well winning 3 World Cups, Olympic medals, and league Championship. The male team? They have been to the World Cup ten times and have finished no better than 3rd place. It is reported that men receive $5,000 even for a loss, and $17,625 for a win against a top team. As for the women, they receive $1,350 only if the U.S. wins, and nothing if they lose. Since the debate of pay usually involves revenue through ratings, we should examine how they compare. The 2014 Men’s World Cup match between the U.S. and Portugal saw TV ratings at around 18.2 million. In comparison the 1999 Women’s World Cup had just shy of 18 million viewers (fifteen years prior in a country that has been reluctant to accept soccer. The 2015 Women’s ratings shattered them both with 25.4 million, and peaking at over 30 million. The USWNT averaged better than every game of the NBA Finals and even every Sunday Night Football game that season. Yet the pay gap remains the same.
These are just two examples of where sexism remains existent in sports today. Certainly this is open to criticism from opponents who believe sexism is not prevalent, simply because I only cited two examples. They are the same opponents who only list a couple of sports in which women have opportunities to begin with. Their arguments do nothing more than to reflect a false sense of equality supported by slowly evolving gender roles. Sexism, much like racism, does not just become stagnate with change, it simply becomes more elaborate.