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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Women athletes

I'm one of those pathetic old guys who never outgrew his sport, so I've been absorbed by the Olympic Trials for swimming this week. (I even watched some of the heats.)

I've corresponded with a few fellow swim fans, and noted that a couple of them are simply less interested in the women's events. I can understand why they'd feel this way: women, are after all, inferior athletes. Why bother to watch someone swim a 100 meter butterfly in 56 seconds when you can watch someone do it in 50 seconds?

My swimming friends aren't the only ones who feel this way. There's a reason the WNBA has never gained the traction the NBA has.

There are certain sports where the women do attract as much attention as men, and make roughly as much money. Tennis comes to mind. Of course, much of the big money in tennis is made from endorsements, and those are as dependent on the looks of the female player as on her playing ability. This, of course, drives the feminists crazy.

But that gets to the heart of why male sports stars tend to have more commercial potential: male athletes, for the most part, represent the male ideal. The ideal swimming build, for instance, is tall, wide-shouldered and muscular. But while that may be the male ideal, it's not necessarily the female one. And high testosterone body types tends to dominate in most sports.

So while women may swoon over male athletes, men tend not to get as excited about female ones.

That said, you don't have to be attracted to the participants in order to appreciate their achievements. And, as far as those achievements go, it's just a matter of using a different yardstick. And if you're using that different set of standards, it's just as exciting when Katie Ledecky breaks a world record as when Michael Phelps does.

If you're a diehard fan of a sport, following the women as well as the men gives you twice as much to follow. Which is why I was surprised when those friends mentioned that they were less interested in the women's events.


Anonymous said...

For timed sports like swimming and track it's easier to compare performance across genders and then within genders. This makes it easier to admire both Ledecky and Phelps, or Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt for what they do. Plus these are relatively minor sports where the die hard fan can follow both men and women.

The major pro sports of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have expanded and marketed themselves so much that they produce more content than even the most die hard fan of those sports could consume. The women's leagues seem to only attract those who have played or some other direct connection.

John Craig said...

Anon --
True enough. I guess part of the reason I watched every night this past week was because I knew I only get a chance to see it on TV once every four years.

Though, for some reason, now that I think of it, women's soccer in the US seems to be as big as men's soccer.

Rona said...


how big is men's soccer in the US? If it's mostly watched by liberal egalitarian types then it's not that surprising women's is as popular. Here in Europe, at least in Croatia, no one even knows the names of female players.


John Craig said...

Rona --
I don't follow either sport, and couldn't give you attendance figures, but it's my impression that I see more women than men soccer players in the news. And I could give you the names of several recent women soccer players -- Mia Hamm, Hope Solo, Brandy Chastain -- whereas I can't think of the name of a single male player. I know it's different internationally.

Is it watched by liberal egalitarian styles? I don't know. I know there are lots of kids' soccer leagues around here, and that there seem to be more girl players than boy players, at least at a young age. Maybe it's a function of the fact that the media figures all those girls need someone to look up to. But honestly, I don't know, these are all just fleeting impressions, as I said I don't follow it.

Luqman said...

I personally think there is a metaphysical element to this. Women engaged in competitive sport is alienating spiritually in a way. It is simply not very feminine to be engaged in competition of a physical nature. When I think of female athletes, its not very nice things that tend to come to mind. Dont know how much store you put in stuff like that. It is not absolute, women can share in action, struggle and raw competition like men, but it seems to be averse to their natures.

From a culture war perspective, female sports seems to subtly promote an androgyne agender narrative. It is possible to see this now seeping into the public consciousness (tennis pay gap etc.).

John Craig said...

Luqman --
I know what you're saying, but when I think of most of the female athletes I know, they're generally a pretty healthy, normal lot. A lot of them seem to run, and compete in 5k's and the like, which gives them nice slim figures. And I don't see it as antithetical to femininity. Of course, I don't know any female power lifters or the like. And when you see women at the extreme masculine end of the spectrum, and these are often the women who become champion athletes, they aren't typically feminine. But I wouldn't hold it against them that their hormonal makeup is what it is, none of us can help that.

What I resent is when people try to redefine why is attractive, and tell us that if we're not attracted to something we're not, i.e., "strong women" with big muscles, that that means there's something wrong with us. That's just silly. None of us can help what we're attracted to, and most men are just by nature sexually attracted to more feminine women. It's not their (our) fault, and it's also not the fault of the women who are less feminine. It's a no fault scenario, until the liberals come along and preach that there's something missing in the men who don't go for female shot putters. And this is the same crowd who preaches all the time that it's not the gays' fault that they are the way they are (which I agree with).