Tag Archives: gender: sports

Athletics and the Political Ambitions of Young Adults

In a comprehensive analysis of young men’s and women’s aspirations to public office, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox discover that part of the reason we see so few female politicians is because women just aren’t interested in running.  There are lots of reasons for this.  A absence of role models, a lack of encouragement from their parents, and the intimidating role that sexist attacks play in media coverage of campaigns.

But Lawless and Fox discovered another interesting correlation, one between political aspiration and sports.  More men than women – 74% compared to 41% — played on a college or intramural team and, for both, playing sports was correlated with political aspirations.  The figure shows that running for office had “crossed the minds: of 44% of women who played sports and 35% who hadn’t.  The numbers for men were 63% and 55% respectively.

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The authors suggest that the mediating factor is “an opportunity to develop… a competitive spirit.”  Sports, they argue, may build or reinforce the tendency to find pleasure in competition, which may make politics more appealing.

While sports increased both men’s and women’s interest in politics, it had a greater effect for women, shrinking the gender gap in political ambition by half.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender-Swapping Christmas

Gendered nonsense wasn’t on the Pew Research Center survey about what people don’t like about Christmas, but it’s in my top five!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s “Man Card”

On October 28th, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the National Football League citing emotional distress as a result of abuse at the hands of his teammate Richie Incognito.  Incognito admits to having sent Martin racist, homophobic, and threatening text messages and voicemails but argues that rather than hazing or bullying, this was merely an instance of miscommunication between the two men.

While a great deal of media attention has questioned the behavior of Richie Incognito, a disproportionate amount of attention has also been given to Martin’s choice to report the abuse.  Why has Martin’s choice to report the abuse received so much attention?  What has been the main theme of those critiquing Martin’s choice?  And, what does this discussion mean for our national discourse on bullying and hazing?  The answers to these questions, I argue, are all linked to masculinity.

The media talks about Martin’s choice to report because his decision violated accepted cultural norms of masculinity.  Some may call these norms, more colloquially, the “bro code,” “guy code,” or “man code.”  Whatever we choose to call it, there are accepted ways in which men and boys are expected to conduct ourselves and our relationships to other men.  Martin stands accused, especially within the athletic community, of having broken the code.

In a very telling interview, Channing Crowder, a former teammate of Incognito, made it clear that this conversation is really about masculinity.  According to Crowder, Incognito tests his teammates.  He “tests you to see if you have enough manhood or enough testosterone” (even though this type of bullying is just as much about the perpetrator’s masculinity as it is the victim’s).

In this case Martin’s masculinity is under attack on two fronts.  First, it is under attack because he failed Incognito’s “test” of his manhood.  Second, he is under attack because his solution to Incognito’s bullying violated guy code.  According to the code, real men solve their problems with one another through violence.

Sports Illustrated reported that many NFL personnel consider Martin to be a coward or a wimp for reporting the abuse.  One NFL informant was even quoted saying “I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person.  If Incognito did offend him racially, that’s something you have to handle as a man.”  Others said it would have been preferable for Martin to “go down swinging” or to “fight.”  Even NPR ran a piece in which a regular guest argued:

Martin should have taken that dude outside and put his lights out.  I do not – I absolutely do not believe in a society where we run to the principal’s office every time these petty tyrants make a threat… Only power dispatches bullies… Jonathan Martin is a grown man and you can’t bully a grown man.

To be fair, in that same NPR piece, another interviewee stated that “not everybody resorts to violence in response to bullying and I applaud him for that.”

Nevertheless, by reporting the abuse rather than physically confronting Incognito, Jonathan Martin has been publicly stripped of his “man card.”

But, so what?  Why should we care about how grown men address bullying?  We should care because just as Jonathan Martin is being told to “man up,” so are young boys all over the country when they are bullied.  Boys are told that when they cannot physically confront a bully they are inadequate and unworthy.  They are taught to remain silent in the face of insurmountable violence because speaking out is a sign of weakness, or worse, femininity.  Too many boys are left with nowhere to turn when bullying makes trauma a daily experience.  In this sort of environment can we really be surprised that boys are committing suicide, developing depression, and lashing out violently at incredibly high rates?

Incognito on film:

Cliff Leek is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University.  He is a News Editor for Sociology Lens, co-founder of Masculinities 101, a Program Director for the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and a Research Assistant to TrueChild.  

Cross-posted at Sociology Lens and The Good Men Project.

The Gender of Trophies: Coaches and Team Moms

Ann K. noticed something funny about the products sold at Novelty Trophies.  The ones available for the adults involved were split into two categories: Coach and Team Mom.

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To be fair, they had a female coach option, but there was nothing for Team Dads.  This is consistent with the norm in society that women are allowed to be masculine (be knowledgeable about sports), but men are not allowed to be feminine (caretake a team). Notice also the artificial gender dimorphism: her tiny body compared to his.

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Just another everyday, mundane, rather boring example of the constant reminders of who men and women are supposed to be.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Male Friendship in the New Guinness Ad: A Thumbs Up

A recent Guinness ad has been getting a lot of kudos and I want to join in the praise.  It involves a set of guys who get together to play a pick-up game of wheelchair basketball and then join each other at a bar to celebrate the game.  Lots of people have mentioned that it’s nice to see (1) a lack of objectification of women as a form of male bonding  and (2) a nice representation of people with disabilities.  Both of those things are great in my book.

But here’s another thing I really liked: their retreat to the bar and their formation once they got there.  They sat in a circle.

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Why is this neat?  Because scholars have found that male and female friendships tend to be different.  Male friendships tend to be more “shoulder-to-shoulder” than “face-to-face.”  Men are more likely to get together and do stuff: they watch football together, go out and play pool, have poker nights, etc.  Women are more likely to spend time just talking, confessing, disclosing, and being supportive of each other’s feelings.

The benefits of friendship are strongly related to self-disclosure.  And so men’s friendships — if they don’t involve actual intimacy — often don’t offer the same boost to physical and well-being as women’s friendships.  The fact that these guys sit down together at a bar, in a circle, in order to engage in some face-to-face time after their shoulder-to-shoulder time… well, that’s really nice to me.

Thanks to Rebecca H. for submitting the commercial!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Men Throwing “Like a Girl”: Separating Nature from Nurture

Screenshot_5One of the few genuinely large observed differences between men and women involves throwing ability.  Men, on average, are much stronger throwers than women.  Hence the phrase “throws like a girl.”

That we observe a difference, however, tells us nothing about where that difference comes from.  Figuring that out is much more difficult than simply measuring difference and sameness.  We know that the difference emerges at puberty, suggesting that sheer size might have something to do with it.  But the fact that boys and men, on average, get much more practice throwing than women might also play a role.  How to test this?

Well, here’s one way: compare men and women throwing with their non-dominant hand.  Muscle memory doesn’t transfer from one side of the body to the other.  Accordingly, since most people have a lot of practice throwing only with one hand, comparing the throws of men and women using their non-dominant hand might tell us something interesting.

I don’t know that that study has been done, but an enterprising videographer has captured video of a set of men throwing with the “wrong” hand. What I like most about the video is the men’s facial expressions.  You can see them laughing at themselves, suddenly reduced to a beginner thrower.  Though we still don’t know how much of it is biological and how much social — though, this is the wrong question anyway – it reveals that, no matter what the answer, men’s throwing ability is strongly related to practice:

A big thanks to Reynaldo C. for sending in the video!

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

News Outlet Startled by Professional Athlete Wearing Pink

I know, I know. We can expect nothing more from the Daily Mail.  And yet I can’t help but point out this scintillating article on what tennis player Roger Federer wore at the Australian Open.  An article on what a man was wearing, you might ask?  Indeed.  What might prompt such an abnormality?  Well, you see, Federer was wearing just the slightest bit of pink.

This daring choice earned Federer 374 words in the Mail Online and six photographs highlighting his apparently newsworthy fashion choice.

Now this isn’t a big deal, but it is a particularly striking example of the little ways in which rules around gender are enforced.  Federer took a risk by wearing even a little bit of pink; the Daily Mail goes to great lengths to point this out.  He also gets away with it, in the sense that the article doesn’t castigate or attempt to humiliate him for doing so.

Federer, however, is near the top of a hierarchy of men. Research shows that men who otherwise embody high-status characteristics — which includes being light-skinned, ostensibly straight, attractive, athletic, and wealthy — can break gender rules with fewer consequences (see also, the fashion choices of Andre 3000 and Kanye).  A less high-status man might read this article and take note: Federer can get away with this, kinda, but I should steer clear…. and they’re probably right.

Thanks to Todd Schoepflin @CreateSociology for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Women and Exclusion from Long Distance Running

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.

I’ve recently been reading a lot about the sociology of sport and I found myself inspired by feminist resistance to exclusion from long distance running.  The first Olympic marathon was held in 1896.  It was open to men only and was won by a Greek named Spyridon Louis. Women weren’t to be counted out entirely, however. A woman named Melpomene snuck onto the marathon route. She finished an hour and a half behind Louis, but beat plenty of men who ran slower or dropped out.

Women snuck onto marathon courses from that point forward.  Resistance to their participation was strong and, I believe, reflects men’s often unconscious fear that women might in fact be their equals.  Why else would they so vociferously object to women’s participation?  If women are, indeed, so weak and inferior, what’s to fear from their running alongside men?

Illustrating what seems to be a degree of panic above and beyond an imperative to follow the rules, the two photos  below show the response to Syracuse University Katherine Switzer’s running the man-only Boston marathon in 1967 (Switzer registered for the marathon using her initials).  After two miles, race officials realized one of their runners was a girl.  Their response?  To physically remove her from the race. Luckily, some of her male Syracuse teammates body blocked their grab:

Why not let her run? The race was man-only, so her stats, whatever they may be, were invalid. Why take her out of the race by force?  For the same reason that women were excluded to begin with: their actual potential is not obviously inferior to men’s.  The only sex that is threatened by co-ed sports is the sex whose superiority is assumed.

Women were included in competitive marathoning from 1972 forward. The first Olympic women’s marathon was run in 1984.  Not so very long ago.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.