Beating Stereotypes, Doing Sports

9 years ago

Katie, a BlogHer member who is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, brought to our attention a video from the Nike GameChangers series called Beat the BS. She said that " it really hits hard on a lot of the stereotypes we face as women (especially in sports) and how we can over come them." Naturally, I couldn't wait to check it out.

The video is a hilarious parody of old instructional films that were presented in science class. It ironically proclaims that women are weak and can't do math like men, which is why we need calculators. Due to the fact that we were built to have babies, we should be kept inside during our menstrual cycles (lest we attract bears), and should not exercise, ever, not even ride bikes. We should walk everywhere. Except alone. And except at night. At the end, viewers are implored to beat the stereotypes; beat the inequality; beat the unfair pair; beat the BS. It's pretty awesome. (Rob Mars at The Athletic Woman Blog agrees, pointing out, "Sometimes the best way to demonstrate the absurdity of a baseless viewpoint is to give it an unfiltered airing, a tactic used here to great advantage...")

Gretchen at Girls Can't WHAT? explains the GameChangers campaign, which she is helping to promote:

I was contacted by a Nike representative and also by a couple of Girls Can’t WHAT? readers about GameChangers. Nike and Ashoka have co-partnered to host a competition around sport for social change… specifically, their mission with regards to the Gamechangers: Change the Game for Women in Sport Competition is to search the global community for the best and brightest ideas/innovations that improve access to sports for all women and use sport to empower women and girls.

As happens on YouTube, watching a video clip leads to other, generally related video clips. I was curious about one called Women Win, so I figured I could spare one minute and 38 seconds to watch it before heading to work. Bad idea. Falling into the steretype of emotional basketcase, the clip, which is about a 10K race started in Casablanca 10 years ago by Nawal El Moutawakel, a woman who wanted to encourage other women to run. The footage of women of all ages, running in everything from shorts and a tank top to pants, sweatshirts, and a head scarf, holding hands as they crossed the finish line, waiving to the camera, being cheered on by crowds, turned me into a blubbering mess. (Crap, I'm even tearing up as I write this.) The race filmed had 24,000 women from 30 women participate. Talk about beating stereotypes.

The video was made by a foundation based in the Netherlands called Women Win, whose mission is to empower girls and women worldwide through sport. Again, just looking at the photos on their website turned me into a giant cheesedoodle. I'll be honest - I freaking hated playing sports as a kid. Yet the work of Women Win is utterly inspiring to me, particularly in light of the stereotypes called to mind in the Beat the BS video. Sports challenge stereotypes about women's bodies as weak and only good for baby making (which is a stereotype that has always made me scratch my head, as it seems that pregnancy is insanely taxing and birth is only for the hardiest); watching women compete reminds people that women are not inately meek.

Of course, the flip side of all the benefits of participating in sports is that women who do so and excel are often looked down upon for breaking out of a s feminine trope. Alyssa Berthiaume, a women's studies professor who blogs at A Blog of Our Own has an amazing post about her experience working with female athletes and guest coaching a basketball game:

When we talk about gender roles and constructions we always stumble upon the stereotypes and expectations of women athletes. They are considered masculine or thought to be lesbians. They are assumed to have no “feminine” interests. So many of my women athletes have complained of these things.

My first semester of teaching I had two basketball players come dolled up to class just to prove that workout gear wasn’t the only thing they enjoyed wearing. They did their hair and makeup to show that they also wore beauty products that were in the tradition of femininity.

Alyssa concludes by noting how far we are from gender equity when it comes to sports. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was supposed to address the disparities in support for girls and boys sports in public education. Although clearly we have a long way to go, under the Bush administration, Title IX repeatedly was attacked. Many hope that the Obama administration will step up enforcement of the act. (On Monday, I'll be blogging about how universities are using the financial crisis as an excuse to cut women's studies and other "minority" depeartments, so I can't imagine that how enthusiastic university leaders are about throwing money to women's sports - Title IX needs all the help it can get.)

Beat the BS, indeed.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track is about unusual things to see and do in New York City.

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