Like many of you, I have been sick for the past few weeks. Sick with March Madness, that is. After tirelessly pouring over Bleacher Report articles and carefully filling out my bracket, I tuned in for days on end to watch said bracket – which I had been sure was flawless – fall apart. I punched a wall when my bracket was busted, opened a consolatory beer when Purdue (the school where I will be plying my trade come the fall) went out in the third round, and celebrated when Duke lost in the Sweet Sixteen (because really, who doesn’t hate Duke?). Filling out brackets and obsessing over results is essentially what the month of March is about – 5.9 million brackets were filled out for the ESPN Bracket Challenge alone, and personally, I worry that I have lost a few friends for failing to let ten minutes go by without mention of “my bracket.”
Of course I’m talking about the men’s NCAA basketball championships. But that goes without saying – watching the women’s tournament is hardly a ritual for most sports fans. For the majority, it barely registers that the tournament is even going on. Even I have to confess that I haven’t been following the tournament as much as I should, considering I write a column where I almost exclusively complain about sexism in sports.
But, for all intents and purposes, no one really needs to justify why they’re watching the men but not the women; the answer is way too obvious: everyone “knows” that men are just better at sports. It has always been that way, it will always be that way, and there’s nothing that women can do to change it because women will always be physically inferior. We all “know” that men are bigger, faster, and stronger, making them better athletes, and therefore more interesting to watch. Women’s basketball sucks. It’s science, people.
Take, for example, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. They were indisputably the favourites going into the tournament, and with good reason: this past December, they recorded their 88th consecutive win, breaking the record for most consecutive wins for an NCAA Division I basketball team. The record was previously held by the early 1970s UCLA men’s basketball teams coached by John Wooden. Of UConn’s 88 wins, 86 of them were by double digits.
But apparently, because UConn’s women’s team broke the record, it isn’t viewed as much of an achievement. Several media outlets suggested that, because the 1970s UCLA men’s team could obviously beat the UConn women’s team, they would not consider the record to really be broken.
As David Whitley wrote in the AOL News story “UConn Victims of Realism, Not Sexism”, “The accomplishments of UConn and UCLA should not be compared in any way… and not because I’m a miserable bastard. I’m happy for the Huskies. It’d be fine by me if they won 8,800 straight games. Given the depth of women’s college basketball, they just might. That’s a big reason why their streak should not simply be called ‘The longest in college basketball history.’ It is the longest women’s Division I streak.” In responding to the assertions that he’s anti-woman because he doesn’t like women’s basketball, he replied: “I’m not anti-woman. I’m anti-boredom. There are too many set shots, bounce passes, missed layups, and below-the-net rebounds to keep me interested for 190 minutes, or however long a game lasts. I’d feel that way if five Martian eunuchs were playing.”
It’s true. The men’s and women’s games can be incredibly different. There are essentially no slam dunks – the NCAA record for most dunks by a single person in a women’s game is two, and it is held by current WNBA star Candace Parker and Baylor’s Brittney Griner (although you probably know her better for punching someone in the face during a game last March). Women tend not to be as physical around the basket, and don’t jump as high on the rebounds. The ball is smaller, the three-point line is closer, and in college ball, the shot clock is five seconds shorter than in the men’s game. But can you say that the men’s game is inherently better?
A lot of people would say yes, as if some sort of objective criteria exists that could be used to evaluate such a thing. But sports are socially constructed; what we think of as a great and entertaining, or who we think of as the ideal athlete, are all ideas. There is nothing objective about it. Not surprisingly, men established what is considered to be a “good sport,” which is why strength, speed, and height are all requirements in most of the popular sports we see today. When it was men that wrote the rules, is it any surprise that they are the ones that can perform them best?
There are many different aspects of sport that can be appreciated, not only the more “masculine” characteristics. Take women’s hockey, for example. Cathy Chartrand, captain of the McGill Martlets hockey team, explained the differences between men’s and women’s hockey when I interviewed her last fall: “With girls it’s always nice plays, it’s a very strategic game, and a lot of technique is involved compared to boys.” The men’s and women’s games may be different, but you can’t objectively say that one way to play is better than another. Yes, we have personal preferences, but those are strongly dictated by what has been ingrained in our culture as to how sports should be played. Almost every time, it’s the women that are slighted in the athletic arena.
I’m not arguing that women can’t be fast or strong or tall. I’m sure that Maya Moore, UConn’s star player, would probably make the men’s team at a number of good Division I schools. Women can be fantastic athletes; just because an athlete is a woman does not make her automatically inferior. What I’m trying to say is that men’s and women’s sports both have their merits, even if, perhaps, the UConn women’s basketball team couldn’t beat the UConn men’s team. Would they have to, in order to prove that they are worth watching? Does it really take anything away from men’s sports to admit that women can be great athletes who are also worthy of our attention?
People say that they don’t watch women’s sports because they want to watch “the best,” and it’s understood that women obviously aren’t. But the UConn women’s basketball team is the best in the women’s game, and this year they are well on their way to winning the NCAA March Madness tournament for the third year in a row (Note: this article went to print before UConn’s Final Four game on Sunday). When the competition is evenly matched, particularly at an elite level, how could it not be competitive and entertaining?
I’m not saying that women’s sports are better than men’s sports, nor am I suggesting that there should not be separate leagues for men and women. And I am definitely not saying that if you don’t watch women’s sports, it’s because you’re “anti-woman.” All I want to suggest is that women’s sports don’t inherently suck. It’s pretty demoralizing to be a woman athlete and for it to be “common knowledge” that in spite of your accomplishments, men will always be better. I’m tired of the battle of the sexes in sports; there’s room at the top for both men and women.