By Reed Couch, Columnist
I thought I knew what gender equity means. After hearing from some influential women on campus, I have a much better understanding, and for that I’m grateful.
Dr. Angel Mason, Berry’s athletic director, and Caitlyn Moriarty, Berry’s head volleyball coach, visited our class, Sports Communication, to help us better understand what authentic gender equality might look like right here at Berry.
They brought their experiences facing gender equity and, as our class conversation developed, I began to understand the magnitude of the topic, or just how numerous and long are the tentacles of gender discrimination. The women in the class shared their experiences, and they all agreed on at least one thing: We need change, and we need it now.
I needed to hear these testimonies, because I know I have yet to experience adversity of the kind female athletes have to tolerate each and every day, from microaggressions to discrimination with respect to pay, benefits and even basic human decency.
A big reason why Dr. Mason and Coach Moriarty proved so persuasive had to do with the personal stories they shared, which confidentiality prevents me from sharing here. Of course they had stories from their endeavors in sports, but from their everyday lives, as well.
I decided then and there that no matter the scenario, field or industry, achieving gender fairness should be a priority, for all of us. Men included.
Is it hard to talk about? You’ll hear crickets if you try bringing up this topic in the wrong crowd, or worse, dismissed as a radical or troublemaker. This aversion to an issue that strikes at the heart of who we claim to be as a society, democracy and people is one of the things that to change.
Our context in the class was something we call “mediasport,” or the convergence of two interdependent industries: professional sports and sports broadcasting and media. Mediasport has done little to help women achieve gender equity.
Quite the contrary.
Less than 4% of ESPN’s SportsCenter airtime is dedicated to women’s sports. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, we see Simon Biles and Naomi Osaka torched for taking time off to care for themselves from a mental health perspective.
If it weren’t for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and, in particular, Megan Rapinoe, female athletes would have an even higher mountain to climb. The USWNT used their remarkable, sustained success on the field to legitimize a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, a lawsuit the USSF settled to the tune of $24 million. One settlement doesn’t fix the problem, but it’s a start.
I don’t think I’m unusual in wondering why on Earth society has erected such barriers to gender equity. There seems to be no sensible answer beyond the fact that men fear losing status, power and money, as if it were a zero-sum game. Men are scared of how different things might look if women were treated as being of equal value.
No matter how strong these fears may seem, and even though it seems things have always been this way, none of this means they have to stay this way. Superstar athletes can speak out, and they are. Teams like the USWNST and the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team are speaking out and even litigating their way toward greater equity. All of this is important, but ultimately little will change until a lot more men see gender equity as a men’s issue and as a civil rights issue as much as a women’s issue.
Whether it is paying fairly, giving women equal voice or simply recognizing women as being in every way as valuable as men, only together we can move the needle on this issue.
I dream of a world where my female friends are recognized as being of equal value and where their worth is not dependent on someone else’s desires or preferences. Men and women are different, but not in terms of their value. Equality doesn’t have to mean “sameness.”
I dream of a world where Moms across the world never have to experience hardship raising a child and competing or coaching in athletics.
I dream of a world where if I were to have a daughter, she would find the same opportunities in both number and quality as anyone’s son, no matter the time, place or event.
The answer, it seems to me, is always love. It always has been, and it always will be.
I thought I knew what gender equity means. I’m thankful to Dr. Mason and Coach Moriarty for showing me what it really means, and for inspiring me to love well by better seeing the value in my female friends and female student-athletes, value they’ve had all along.