By Braesen Parker, Columnist
We have a long way to go to achieve authentically lived gender equity.
In the United States, sports broadcasters devote far less time to women’s sports, unless it is the Olympics, which is to say, one summer every four years.
According to a study from 2019, less than 6 percent of broadcasting air time was devoted to the coverage of women’s sports, leaving a balance of 94 percent devoted to the men.
Men might be tempted to defend this by claiming that men’s sports are more intrinsically compelling to watch, but in a study of men’s and women’s sports, results show that women are, on average, more “technically and fundamentally sound.”
From my own experience as a spectator, I can say women play a better, more fundamentally sound brand of basketball, yet do not receive the attention they deserve. Attendance at women’s games is far lower, generally speaking, than for men’s basketball.
To return to the Olympics, the winter sport with the highest ratings is figure skating, in which the women excel. Relative to men, the women more elegant, controlled and graceful. Men simply are not able to contort their bodies and glide across the ice as effortlessly as the women. Millions of people from all over the world watch Olympic figure skating because there is something special about the way women dominate.
But this isn’t the whole story.
Women in figure skating are objectified through the “costuming.” Fake cleavage, short skirts and sequins demean and degrade these women, who are world-class athletes in every respect. And if the skaters fail to comply with the regulations, their scores are docked.
The dress code for tennis presents a similar problem. Skirts for the women and shorts for the men. Consider the criticism Serena Williams has endured over the years for her choice of tennis wear, criticism no male tennis player has faced.
The same women who are belittled and dehumanized often are also mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and granddaughters. Men should know better, in other words. Replace Serena Williams or Simon Biles with your mom or sister or daughter. How would you feel if their sport objectified them, or if broadcasters refused to air their competitions in favor of a cornhole tournament or spelling bee.
There are many sports out there that both men and women play: soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming, surfing, gymnastics. The men get far more coverage, publicity and accolades in all of them except perhaps for gymnastics. Women should have every opportunity that men get, including the endorsements, fame, attention and mindshare that simply being on TV bring the male athletes.
Women spend the time and energy perfecting their craft. They put in the same long days to get themselves in the best possible shape.
Another trap of illogic that men fall into is thinking that when a woman competes in the same sport as men and can hold her own, that she deserves to be compared to the men. No, treat her as being of equal value, because she is of equal value, but respect that she is unique. A level playing field does not mean treating men and women as if they are the same, but it does mean valuing them as equals.
Women don’t compete against men and they shouldn’t have to. We should acknowledge that women sports are wonderfully distinct from men’s endeavors. Women deserve their own recognition; they shouldn’t have to live in the shadows.
Looked at a different way, the women might actually be tougher than the men, because of the heckling, belittling, criticism and double standards they face. The trials women face just to be able to compete need to be removed.
Authentic, lived gender equality in sport is a very obtainable thing. As former president Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Who are you helping?