Nike Is A Goddess The History Of Women In Sports Edited By Lissa Smith

Nike Is A Goddess The History of Women in Sports is a book that delineates women participation in sport. It is a combination of writings by Mariah Nelson, Amy Ellis Nutt, Kathleen McElroy, Melanie Hauser, Jean Weiss, Michelle Kaufman, Grace Lichtenstien, Jackie Burke, Karen Karbo, Barbra Stewart,  Shelly Smith, Elsie Pettus, and Lucy Danziger. The sports discussed are track and field, basketball, gymnastics, ice hockey, figure skating, golf, tennis, baseball,softball, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, sailing, swimming, equestrian sports, and soccer. This is an ambitious undertaking covering many centuries and athletes. There are problems with some of the essays. Others are better, showing a high level of research. This text was originally published in 1998 and much has changed. These writings are still relevant as a documentation of women’s challenges and struggles to get recognized in sport. A major problem with this monograph is that it focuses mostly on athletes from the West. Other countries have women participate in sport, but this is not studied as much. Reading this one can extrapolate mixed feelings. Strength sports are omitted. There is only an emphasis on Olympic sports. There are other sports played by women that are not recognized by the IOC. Despite these flaws, the text can at least be used as a reference source. Some sections could be pleasurable to certain readers, but other essays are lacking the same quality.

         Before readers begin dissecting the work, it is important to know the context of the title. Nike does not refer to the athletic gear and sneaker company, but a goddess of ancient Greek mythology. Nike was the goddess of victory. The Roman counterpart was called Victoria. According to the ancient myths she was the daughter of Pallus ( a titan) and Styx. She had siblings who were Kryatos, Bia, and Zelus. She was made a divine charioteer during the Titan War. She would be on battlefields to reward victors with laurel leaves.

  5132uKZwuPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Nike was not only a goddess of victory, but was also a representation of strength and speed. The reason that name is used for the more well known company is because it wants consumers to think using their products will ensure success. The first edition posted on the cover shows a statue of the goddess posted. Ancient art works of the goddess at first did not have her with wings. Gradually, they were added. The use of Nike in the title is showing how women advanced in sports and their successes.

93135cac2afa41a486ee8235d75b83f9

Nike as depicted in ancient Greek art. 

At certain points the essays reveal that women were in a battle. There was a struggle for equal pay and access to training facilities. The largest challenge was to confront sexism and traditional cultural attitudes. The spirit of Nike seems to be looking over the women in a metaphorical sense. She would bless them with victory. The Nike Company understood the lasting cultural impact of mythology.

6834219_8017

This is why they chose that name. Currently, Nike has been producing athletic clothing and gear for decades. Seeing as women’s participation in sports has increased it is only natural that women would become a major marketing demographic target. Sports bras are a major product they produce and are critical. It allowed women to do intense exercise with minimal discomfort to the chest and breasts. The text does not explain the mythology behind the goddess Nike. This could easily confuse readers with a limited understanding of the classics or Greek mythology. A statue of Nike appears on the book, which could confuse readers even more. This is only a minor issue, but an element that can be noticed immediately. Writers should never assume that their audience has knowledge about the topic discussed.

      The introduction Mariah Burton Nelson sets the tone of the monograph. It is called “Who We Might Become.” There is a feminist overtone, that generally alienates male readers. The problem with women’s sports monographs is that they cast all men as villains. Almost to a degree in which it is like a caricature of a popular action cartoon show. The essay starts off on a positive note then makes some generalizations. Mariah Burton Nelson reveals   background and how certain athletes inspired her as a young woman such as Bille Jean King and Babe Dickerson Zaharias . She was an athlete herself playing basketball while attending Stanford University. She is an author, motivational speaker, and sportswriter for numerous publications. The feminist perspective usually takes a negative view of all men. The men with power in the sports world were the worst  discriminators. They were corporate gatekeepers, owners of sports teams, coaches, and men who objected to change. What the feminist perspective fails to see is the growing number of male fans who are supportive. Unfortunately, Burton at a young age was sexually abused by one of her coaches. This traumatic experience could have effected the way she perceives men. The view seems mostly negative. Her book The Stronger Women Get The More Men Love Football  seems to have similar problems that appear in this essay. All men do not hate strong women. There is a growing number of male fans who are both amazed and attracted to women’s physical prowess. It cannot be forgotten, that without feminism women’s sports would not be were it is today. It cannot be ignored women are still discriminated against and some countries still do not send women to the Olympics. The issues of the sexual objectification of women athletes is a problem. What Maria Nelson fails to understand is that this is not solely a sexist motive, but a neoliberal capitalist model. Sexually objectifying women has been common in advertising and other media even before modern women’s sports. While sexism is an element to it, one cannot separate the exploitation and avarice of the neoliberal capitalist system.

           The essay “Somewhere to Run” did an excellent delineation of  women in track and field. This was written by Kathleen McElroy. The essay discusses notable figures such as Babe Dickerson, Wilma Rudolf, and Jackie Joyner Kersee. Track and field had existed as far back as the ancient period, but the modern version of this sport did not appear until 1837. The first modern track meet was held in England at Eton College. Women could not participate. Women were not even allowed as spectators. Vassar College in 1895 organized the first track meet for women.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Jackie Joyner-Kersee of Team USA posing with a javelin. Northridge, California 5/21/1992
ba
Babe Dickerson Zaharias

 When women began to become competitive and skilled, detractors from different parts of society began a crusade to stop  them. Doctors made the claim that women will harm their fertility. Social scientists claimed competition harmed the female psyche. Journalists and the press made similar accusations. Moralists and religious figures objected to the idea of women displaying their bodies. There was an attempt to diminish women’s athletics, by reducing competition. The idea was that women showing a competitive nature made them masculine.Women entering the new competitive opportunities came from athletic clubs or industry teams. One example of this was the Prudential Insurance Company. Women’s participation in track and field goes back as far as the ancient world. While women could not compete in the Olympics, they had a separate competition known as Hera Games. These games of ancient Greece only allowed young unmarried women to enter them. When the 20th century approached women also organized their own games, even when the IOC condemned it. Alice Milliat  who was head of Femina Sport organized international competitions for women in 1917.   The IOC wanted the International Amateur Athletic Federation to hinder this progress, but it seemed futile to stop women from organizing. Around 1926, Milliat was in negotiations  with the International Track Federation. This was a mixed victory, because women lost control of their organized competition, but were allowed to compete in track and field in the Olympics. Women athletes now had a new opportunity to display their skills. One of the first global women’s champions was Kinue Hitomi. She was a world record holder in the 200 meter and long jump. Often monographs such as these exclude non-whites. This deserves praise, due to the fact most sports history focuses on the West or Europeans.

qwe-hitomi
Kinue Hitomi  (1907 – 1931)  was one of the early track and field champions in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

 While there was high quality athletes, most were not trained sufficiently when they entered the 1928 Olympics. Reporters were generally negative when covering women in track competitions. This was the first time some saw women compete seriously in an international arena and many still held their traditionalist views. Some women completing the 1000 meter run collapsed and many took this as evidence that track was too vigorous for women.The IOC voted in 1929 to remove track and field competition. Seeing as there was resistance to this, it was negotiated that women could compete in 100 meter events.    The 800 meter events would not be reinstated until 1960.Even with these restrictions women continued to break barriers. The 1936 Olympics was significant because it was the first time African American women competed. Jesse Owens humiliated Hitler by winning gold medals and making a mockery of his racial ideology. Tidye Pickett was another hero of the games that discredited Nazi racial ideology through her athleticism. African American women were showing they could be just as talented as their white counterparts. The best element of this essay is that it discusses athletes that are normally not mentioned in sports history.  Alice Coachman for example was the first African American woman to win a gold medal. American racism was a challenge and it added an extra burden on African American athletes. African American women had to face both sexism and racism in their struggle to play sports. Coachman’s efforts allowed the door to open for other track and field athletes later on in the 20th century.

coachman_alice
Alice Coachman (1923-2014)  open the door for many African American women in track and field.

Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Joyner- Kersee,  Florence Griffith Joyner ,  Gwen Torrence, and Marion Jones became notable talents.Although this is one of the strongest essays in the text, but there are disputable presentations. It seems to be a bias against the Eastern Bloc nations in regards to performance enhancing drug use. While it acknowledges that they were talented they present it as if only the Communist East was doping their athletes. The book should be lauded for mentioning  controversial  topics such performance enhancing drug use and sex testing, some statements are not correct. McElroy states “women who use steroids to shorten recovery time  needed from high-stress activity to develop more muscle at a faster pace, and have a greater capacity for muscle growth,  can use a small dose that is hard to detect, especially since the drug flushes out a woman’s system much faster than a man’s.”Steroids do not “flush out the body.”Many times athletes use other substances to mask the steroids depending on the drug test. While a small dose can improve performance due to the fact women are extra sensitive to it, it can still be detectable. The biological passport has grown more sophisticated over the years.The author should have done more research in terms of the science of drugs. The text then states that “sex testing only effects a few women.” That is not true. This practice is a form of discrimination against women, but it also effects people who are intersex. Making it seem as if it is not a problem only further marginalizes women in sport. Although this part of the essay is objectionable, it does return to strong form. It describes the success of Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Yet, it did not have trepidation in revealing the racism and sexist media coverage both athletes had to face. Jaoaquim Cruz referred to Kersee as a gorilla. Cruz was from Brazil a country with a long legacy of racial hate. Joyner was subject to more drug testing, because of her athletic success. She never failed one and other accused her of use due to the appearance of a stronger looking physique.

flojo

The essay has minor flaws, but it is an excellent summery of the history of women in track and field. This essay ends on a positive note. It praises women’s advancements and resilience in the faces of many challenges. The essay can best be described by one of its quotes: ” women were allowed to fall, scream, strain, sweat, cry, show off their abs, and flex their muscles.”

       “The Battle Against Time and Gravity” is an essay that by Jane Leavy discussing women’s participation  in gymnastics. Gymnastics dates back to ancient Greece. This was part of the education of young men and was also part of the ancient Olympics. Women were not allowed to participate, but were able to dance. Dance has in a sense been incorporated into gymnastics. Fredrick Jahan  developed modern gymnastics in the 1800s. Women began to participate in the sport at Vassar College in 1886. Women’s gymnastics appeared at the Olympics in 1904, but these were not hardcore competitions. Exhibitions featured women performing exercises with wands and barbells. While the women were talented, they did not have an outlet for competitive expression. The individual competition that is more recognizable today came into existence in 1952.The US and Russia produced many talented athletes. Gymnastics is extremely competitive and the essay does not ignore the possible health dangers that go with it. There were cases of eating disorders and attempts to have the thinnest body possible. It was believed this body type made it easier to master complex movements. Coaching became close to abusive and it had to be addressed. Young children as early as age 14 were entering the Gymnastic Olympic games. Around 1996 it was mandated that competitors be at least 16 to participate .  The reason young girls were preferred  was that they were thought to be more flexible and easier to coach.

img-mary-lou-retton_172441576886
Mary Lou Retton became a major success in the sport.

   The sport has an issue with the health of its athletes. Many women become victims of compulsive dieting, poor nutrition, and eating disorders. The sport also has another challenge of being subjective. Scoring systems are highly politicized, which during the 20th century generated controversy. Retton suggested that scoring should be based on “originality and creativity, not pure daring.” There are cases in which athletes paralyzed themselves attempting to do dangerous maneuvers.  The essay describes this as sport that women are not allowed to age. From childhood to young adult are the span of competitive years. A larger woman would have difficulty in this sport, due to biomechanics. Many Olympic gymnasts retire in their early twenties. The great aspect of this essay is that it shows women can be competitive in their sport. There was a claim that was made that women never desire to be competitive. This writing shows the pain and sacrifice that athletes endured. Nadia Comaneci was a force to be acknowledged. Women can be very competitive as this sport demonstrates, but the question of putting young girls into it generates controversy.

          The essay “From Suburbs to Sports Arenas” has major problems. Ellis Pettus’s writing has factual inaccuracies and seems to favor white women of a middle class background. Women all over the world are now playing soccer, but she sole examines it through the context of a Western perspective.The essay reveals that while British women during World War I played soccer during breaks while working factories, there had been existence of soccer like games present in other parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Games similar to soccer were noted as far back as 300 B.C.E in Chinese civilization. An informed reader would have a problem with this essay’s approach. Solely focusing on the US and the West ignores the dramatic impact the game has had on other nations. It also favors a middle class outlook. She almost in subtle manner implies the best soccer players come from the suburbs. Soccer has been a tough sport for Americans to get excited about compared to the traditional favorites of baseball and football. Women began to get interested competitively in soccer in the 1970s in the United States. Title IX allowed for the development of athletes who would lead the way in forming professional women’s teams. This essay has to be the weakest written in the book. If it was researched better and presented differently it would have been more substantive. There are some positive attributes about this essay, but they are too diminutive. The struggle to get women’s soccer included reveals how sexism is still very much a part of the IOC. Then there are interpretations that are not entirely true. Pettus states : ” unlike male players, female players found a bond in the struggle to advance their young sport.” While it is true there was a level of international exchange it was between mostly European nations like Italy and Sweden. Japan was the only non-white country in which there was an exchange. This did not advance far as the author would have one believe. It exposes a level of racism and ethnocentrism. One can make the argument that it was 1998 when this text was printed and attitudes changed. This is not the case. The Women’s World Cup of 2011 saw racist abuse directed at Japanese players online through Twitter.

131832-japanese-players-soccer
This rhetoric is not from the 1940s  it is from 2011 :  World Cup Final vs. Japan Brings Out the Racist, Ugly American

 The author seems to be under the illusion of solidarity and inclusion. This is the trouble with white feminists who ignore or do not care about racism. This piece needs some revision in many respects.

         The essay “Nets Profits” was a great delineation of women in tennis. Women have according to Lichtenstein’s words ” playing tennis for 125 years on the highest competitive level as well as for fun.” Women’s entry into modern tennis came in 1884, when women began  having championships at Wimbledon. Wimbledon was the most recognized of the championships for tennis ( others included French, United States, and Australia).Women had a little more freedom in this sport, because it did not cause as much gender role conflict. However, women were still criticized for not behaving in a feminine manner. Even though sexism was still present women were able to perform at high levels. Suzanne Lenglen was one of the first major women’s tennis athletes. Similar to the amazing success of the Williams sisters in the 21st century, she was a Wimbledon champion that remained virtually undefeated. Except for the years of 1919 and 1925 she won many other Wimbledon Championships. Although not considered ” a classic tennis woman” meaning graceful and beautiful she captivated audiences with her performances. Besides that, she brought her native country of  France prestige in the Tennis world. Sadly, her life was cut short by anemia. Players like Alice Marble and Helen Wills would later become notable figures in tennis. The essay does mention that tennis was an elitist and racist sport. This changed with Althea Gibson’s entry.

SuzanneLenglen
Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938)

      World class tennis was completely segregated. Besides challenging the color barrier, Gibson also developed a new model of playing style. It was fast, explosive and powerful. She was so good, that it caused some criticism. The 1950s was an era in which extreme conservative ideas about gender and race were prevalent. Gibson as a woman was criticized as being “unfeminine” for performing well and despised because of her race. That did not stop her from continuing and being successful.

pg2_a_gibson_195
Althea Gibson (1927-2003)

 As the 1950s and 1960s passed there emerged an out spoken and talented tennis athlete who did much to promote women’s sports. Billie Jean King was exposed to tennis at a young age and grew to love the sport. When she entered tennis her strokes were not impressive and she needed work on stamina. Taking lesson from Davis Cooper she then was able to improve her performance. She became a dominant force in tennis from the 1960s to 1970s. She spoke out against unequal pay and discrimination against women in professional tennis. Billie Jean King is also remembered for playing in “The Battle of the Sexes Match. This match which Riggs set up was an exhibition match and became a media sensation. They challenged each other in 1973 at the Houston Astrodome. Booby declared that no woman could ever beat him. The 55 year old Riggs was no match for the strong 30 year old King. She won the match and it generated an audience of 55 million television viewers.

'The Sporting News 100 Years of Sports Images'
Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973.

The question remained did this have a huge impact on tennis or women’s sports in  general? This was a media spectacle, but it did have positive benefits. It demonstrated that women could be just as good entertainers in sports. Tennis got more media exposure, which was reviving a sport in a decline. King’s most important contribution was the founding of the Women’s Sports Foundation and the magazine Women’s Sports. The essay does a great job documenting the change and challenge in women’s tennis over the 20th century. This is one of the stronger essays in the monograph.

      The book continues with other essays about basketball, swimming, equestrian sports, kayaking, canoeing, rowing, and sailing. The game of golf is also discussed in the monograph. While a great number of sports are covered some are excluded. Weightlifting, bodybuilding, football, rugby, and martial arts are not written about. There are reasons for this. The first is that the monograph focuses solely on Olympic sports. This is limiting if one is attempting to examine women’s participation through out the entire sports world. Readers also have to consider the text was published at the end of the 20th century. Since then there has been progress. Women’s weightlifting had been added to the Olympics in the year 2000. It is important also to see what women are doing in less mainstream sports. It would not be until the early 2000s that mixed martial arts became popular. This phenomenon of women entering smaller sports deserves at least some attention. This shows that his text is a product of its time and why scholarship needs to be updated regularly. Changes in society and a field make a difference in historical perspective. There are a few women who are attempting now to form professional American football teams for women. This is the only sport that women are struggling to break into. The Women’s Football League has emerged, but gets limited press coverage compared to the NFL.

dc-divas-football
Since 2001 the DC Divas has been an active women’s professional American football team.
dc-divas
It’s unfortunate that ESPN never covers these events or games.

These recent develops may become too immense to ignore in future historiography of women’s sports. It seems strange that weightlifting is not added, considering the clearly feminist message that is conveyed in multiple essays. The emphasis on strength and power was once considered to be a male only attribute has been disproved. Women were flexing their muscles in the traditionally “male sports”  and demonstrated high levels of competence.  Not mentioning these sports, makes the book seem incomplete.

           Lucy Danzinger writes the conclusion to this compilation of essays. It celebrates that there has been a cultural shift to more of an acceptance of the female athlete. She also praises that there is a new generation of women who are confident in their sports abilities. Danzinger also states she is thankful she was able to witness such dramatic changes. The progress that has been made cannot be underestimated, but it seems she ignores the more harsh realities. There still is racism, sexism, homophobia,  and an unfair media surrounding sports culture. Although women and non-white groups have entered sport, the corporate gatekeepers and a portion of fans attempt to isolate people who are not white males. The experience for non-white women differ considering they do not have white skin privilege. It explains why the media criticizes Serena Williams more or why athletes who are not white get less press coverage. Then it cannot be ignored that there is division among class. Women who are born into working class households may have to struggle to realize their sports dreams. Combined with lower pay for professional women athletes it only adds to the burden. Homophobia still is prevalent and their are women athletes who may reject their fellow teammates just because of their sexual orientation. These are challenges that must be addressed if women are to advance in sport. Danzinger seems to miss this point and acts as if the battles have been won. Title IX has been under attack since its inception. The struggles are far from over, but it it is important to document the history of events. It can be used as a tool for future generations on how to combat injustice or discrimination.  Nike Is A Goddess   may not be the best monograph on women in sports, but it provides a general survey of women’s participation in sports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nike Is A Goddess The History Of Women In Sports Edited By Lissa Smith

Playing With the Boys : Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh

Playing With Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports  is a book written in 2008 which argues categorizing sports into “men’s sports” and “women’s sports”  represents a long held sexist tradition. The text takes this a step further can argues that separating men and women’s competitions is unequal. The authors state “sports in other words, are not just for fun, are not just for guys, are not just so much about background yammering, but a social force that does not merely reflect gender differences, but in some cases creates, amplifies, and even imposes them.” The introduction then presents the main thesis: ” the assumption that women are physically different from men translates into the assumption that women are physically inferior to men, which translates that women couldn’t or shouldn’t -compete with men because that would spell immediate injury to women, physically  if not also psychologically.” While there has been an increase in women’s athletic participation and improvements in performance, sexual dimorphism is a factor. Sex differences are the product of human evolution over millions of years. However, biological determinism is questionable. There are women who are genetically endowed that competing with men would not be a challenge. These are rare exceptions. Before puberty, there is no reason to separate sporting contests for boys and girls. The thesis has a major weakness in regards to the comparison of adult women and men. There are particular sports in which mixed competition does seem possible. Even with this major flaw, there are some positive attributes of the text. The book does an great job examining sex discrimination in sports from a legal perspective. It does not avoid the controversy of transgender participation. It examines the issue through the context of history. The authors do not solely place blame on men, but particular women opposed to women’s advancement in sports.

9780195167566

A problem with monographs like these is that they are dominated by feminist rhetoric. 

         The background of these authors is pivotal when analyzing the text. Laura Pappano is a journalist  and graduate from Yale University. She does have an athletic background being  a goal keeper on her field hockey team  Laura Pappano also as a hobby loves to bike, run, and plays tennis. It is clear she has understanding of sport and training. Besides being involved  formerly in the production of columns for Boston Globe, she founder the New Haven Journalism Project. Her works focus mostly on education and issues of pedagogy.Laura Pappano also is the editor of  fairgamenews.com which seeks to promote gender equality in sports. Her credentials are perfect considering she is a person who values physical fitness. Although her column for the New York Times “How Big Time Sports Ate Up College Life” makes readers question her motives. While it is true American universities do spend a ludicrous amount of money on sports, it does provide scholarships for students. Women benefit from this as well and have seen scholarship opportunities increase. It is true that men’s athletics at particular universities still receive more attention. This could be what prompted the creation of the 2012 column published. If it were the reverse, there would be little protest. If it was women athletics she would not voice such comments. This seems to contradict Laura Pappano’s claim of wanting equality. Her points in the column can be valid ( college should be about learning, not frivolous activity), but is indirectly projecting something else. When men play sports it is imposing gender discrimination, but when women do it is liberating. This distorted and simple perspective does not fully capture the true nature of the problem. Laura Pappano  analysis presented in her works heads in the right direction, but reaches wrong conclusions. This occurs also in Playing With the Boys. 

                                                             laura-pappano

Having some background in kinesiology and physiology would have contributed to Laura Pappano’s  arguments. 

Her co-author Eileen Mcdonagh  is a professor of political science at Northeastern University. Eileen Mcdonagh is a fellow in the Center for Advanced Behavioral Science at Stanford University. Her works focus on gender and political issues. Topics that Mcdonagh covers are reproductive rights, development of the American political system, and the representation of women in political life. It is apparent when reading the text, which parts she wrote. When making the arguments against sex discrimination, it is clear that was her contribution. Eileen Mcdonagh  examines political science from a historical perspective . She uses the same method of analysis for Playing With the Boys . While this is useful to the thesis, her lack of sports science in a sense is limiting. If one is seriously going to consider integrated competition between the sexes, biology,physiology, and endocrinology must be discussed. Eileen Mcdonagh  makes a compelling argument against sex discrimination in sport by using Supreme Court rulings. The comparison between African American’s struggle in regards to women lacks cogency, because that is a different form of oppression. She does make a valid point that women should be given a chance to try out for particular sports, if mixed competition is desired. Merely assuming that a woman would not be as skilled as a man based on sex is illogical.

 eileen_mcdonagh

Elieen Mcdonagh’s arguments seem more logical and lucid. Yet, a lack of experience in physiology, biology, and kinseology limit the ability to reinforce the thesis. 

        The physiological and biological differences between men and women’s sports performance is addressed.  This examines the endocrinology, anatomy, endurance, oxygen consumption, and metabolism. On average men are taller than women and have greater bone mass. Men produce more testosterone, while women produce only one-tenth of the hormone. It is critical in the development of lean body mass. Women produce more estrogen, but it is not impossible for women to produce more testosterone than others. The authors forget to mention the role of myostatin  in muscular hypertrophy.  This protein regulates muscle growth and having low levels gives an individual a greater potential for a mesomorphic body type. Understanding this protein is critical to athletic potential. While it is true that cultural bias may stop women from developing full athletic ability, sexual dimorphism is still a factor. If a man and woman were given the same training regimen and diet it is likely the male would become stronger. However, there are exceptions. Estrogen does have benefits for the female athlete. Women have an advantage in terms of heat tolerance, due to the fact they have fewer sweat glands. Having a slower reaction to body temperature changes can be useful in some sports. Muscular strength is pivotal and men have more of this particularly in the upper body. Training can narrow the gap, but there are performance percentage differences.  According to the authors ” Among highly trained powerlifters, one study found that performance differences ranged from 0 to 8 percent.” Men still have the upper body advantage, but women’s lower body can be estimated to be seventy-five percent as strong.

aw

Competing with men in sports that require upper body strength would be a challenge.

Another factor in performance is the utilization of oxygen. Muscles need oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate for the purpose of muscle contraction. The aerobic power generated is dependent on the heart’s capacity to pump blood, lung efficiency when oxygenating, and the blood’s oxygen carrying speed. Women have smaller hearts and lungs, which means their aerobic power is lower than that of males. Not only that there are factors in regards to metabolism  and lactate tolerance. Women have some advantages in metabolism, because fat contributes to the storing of carbohydrates and glycogen. Carbohydrates and glycogen must be consumed during exercise. This could be why women may have an edge in terms of endurance. Women have the advantage in ultraendurance events. Estrogen appears to have a protective role for skeletal muscles. It may also prevent soreness from long periods of exercise. This also is related to the lactate tolerance. After vigorous physical activity, muscles will tire. Lactate levels rise to protect muscles from over exertion. Males and females both experience this, but it is unclear who has more of the advantage.

7b5a76cd9cb17871d60352d781567957

One can not exercise without getting to a point of feeling tired. Women on average have little strength, but this can be by resistance training. 

Men seem to have a majority of the physical advantages. Oddly, the authors mention the anatomy of genitals. It is true that men’s genitalia does not offer any special advantage during athletic performance. Men and boys require athletic cups to protect themselves from injury. To say that female anatomy provides an advantage also lacks cogency. They cite the case of Melissa Raglin who in 1997, who wanted to play in the Babe Ruth League with boys. The twelve year old girl was ordered to wear an athletic cup. This was to provide safety, because any injury to the children would make the organization liable. The authors do not mention that the testis do actually provide a physical advantage. luteinizing hormone allows the testis to produce testosterone. The interstital cells and inhibin form a negative feedback control between the anterior pituitary gland and hypothalamus. This will control the level of testosterone in the blood. Strength is an important attribute to sports performance, but skill requires years of training. The authors could have done more research into biomechanical and physiological elements of the human body. It appears that women would not be as successful competing with elite male athletes.

        There are arguments that are credible for competition between girls and boys. Before puberty there is very little difference between girls and boys in regards to strength. Body composition is similar. Separating girls and boys for sports would seem ridiculous at this stage. Schools at one point feared that if they allowed girls to play on boys’ teams, boys would attempt to go on girls teams. The term for this is encroachment  by legal definition. The idea is it would not be fair to girls and the boys would physically dominate. This is not the case with children, considering they have not reached full growth. The controversy is over contact sports and whether females can handle it. There are girls who even in adulthood could handle physical contests with males. The authors point out that courts rule in favor of girls playing on boys teams, but rarely do so in the case of boys. The argument of US courts is the rulings are adjusted to compensate for past discrimination. Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh seem to agree with this ruling. This is not true equality. There are cases in which boys did not have a sports division at their school and had no choice, but to try out for the girls’ team. John Willimas was denied playing on the women’s hockey team at Liberty High school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1992. He played as a golie and previously played on a mixed team in middle school. It was clear that the Equal Protection Clause was violated, but the argument was made that it was protecting girls access to equal opportunity. This goes off the faulty assumption that just because Willams was male and not a member of a discriminated group he would dominate the team. That is not completely true when examining physical ability as a individual instead of the basis of sex.

image001

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Between the ages of one to thirteen there is no divergence in strength levels. When puberty occurs, boys will develop more muscle and a larger skeleton. There is a large surge in physical strength, that women will not procure unless they engage in physical activity. 

You cannot say you are a supporter of equality when it clear that boys would be at a disadvantage in the Equal Protection Clause. Christopher Mularadelis tried out for women’s tennis team, when one was not available to males. This occurred in 1978 at Haldale High School in Cold Spring New York. He was denied the right to participate. Male students who enjoy volleyball find it difficult to form a fully functional all male team. They are denied access to participate in women’s volleyball. Although men do have more physical advantages at this stage, they have not fully developed. Puberty concludes around age seventeen. Testosterone levels peak at age twenty and gradually decline as a male ages. Therefore, boys at this stage would not have an absolute physical advantage.  This is a distortion, but the authors refuse to address it further. They do admit that men do participate on female teams, yet do not seem to be concerned about the legal and discrimination challenges the male students face. The quote  by Jamal Greene that appears in the text explains the situation perfectly : “one-way racket that allows women to participate in male only sports without extending the same opportunity to males who wish to participate in female only sports.” There is little logic behind this stance. If it were a truly equal position it would function both ways for males and females.

      If it were possible to do away with coercive sex segregation in sport a question arises which sports would women perform equal or better to? The authors provide examples, but  omit other sports that are less mainstream. Wrestling at certain ages males and females can compete on an equal basis as mentioned in chapter two. A lower center of gravity favors girls . It is still a challenge seeing as males would have more total lean body mass. This puts females at a disadvantage in terms of weight class. There are some girls who even compete in wrestling against males in high school. Flexibility and skill can be a useful counter to a much stronger opponent. Rock climbing is another example the authors use to demonstrate that women can compete with males. If the book wants to make a compelling argument it has to examine other sports. Track and field was excluded. Women can be almost as fast as men ,but the structure of the pelvis does effect total speed. Women are closer to males in the lower body strength wise, which could make mixed competition  feasible. The authors could have excluded this to due to the fact that males still retain the highest speeds in track and field records.

704ae4e9982bf143df1a1effef8f1dd9

fae10230613788a1ed67051513e2c9ba

It is possible that a few women could compete with men in track. Yet, the majority would still be slower due to a wider pelvis. 

One sport that should not have been omitted is female bodybuilding. It would have advanced their argument of the possibility of integrated competition. Bodybuilding has experimented with this in which men and women compete in mixed pairs. Together they pose and present one routine along with standard poses. Not only is it competitive, it represents a level of cooperation between men and women that can break certain barriers. Women could compete with men directly depending on the athlete. Men do have bigger muscles, although there are some cases in which women are close to their male counter parts. Weight classes would have to be adjusted. Just like with figure and physique divisions, height would have to be taken into account.

 normal_colette_nelsonmuscular-men-4

As one can see from above, this woman looks like she could be a equal or a little stronger than the man. Women must work harder to become strong.

960501693

Here it looks like they are even.She could be stronger.

It is perplexing that the authors do not mention this sport. Female bodybuilding is fascinating when analyzed from perspectives of gender studies and sociology. This omission could be the result of bias. Pappano and Mcdonaugh clearly are focused on sports that are more mainstream or “popular”  with the public. Bodybuilding may not be considered important enough to be worth mentioning by the authors. This leaves out a helpful piece of information that contributes to the thesis. Here women are developing their physiques to the maximum, challenging the idea of female physical inferiority. They crush that idea with their powerful muscles and present a new archetype of womanhood. It is a shame they are ignored or written off completely. The book also does not expound on the fact that gymnastics could be mixed competition. This would actually put males at a disadvantage, due to women’s greater flexibility. Women’s gymnastics appears to be more popular than the men’s event. The reason this could be is that it is considered gender appropriate. There is a level of grace that is involved in these contests, but they still require strength and skill. These particular omission weaken certain points.

       A controversial topic that is rarely discussed is transsexuals involved in sport. The book does not avoid this subject. Should transsexuals be allowed to compete? That depends on the completion of  sexual reassignment surgery. After the surgical procedure there would be no hormonal advantages. The concern is that fair play would not be upheld if women competed with transsexuals. The reality is it has nothing to do with protecting women or being fair. It really is about excluding a group from competition and maintaining traditional gender convictions. Transsexuals violate gender norms in  traditional societies. There is less concern about female to male transsexuals. The reason being is that it assume that men are the better athletes. Male to female transsexuals face more scrutiny. There is a belief that they carry over the physical strength from their former sex, which gives them an extra edge. This is not true and some in the IOC still debate if it truly influences performance. This depends on whether or not the sexual reassignment surgery was done before or after puberty. It is more difficult after puberty when the gonadotropic releasing hormone has already activated sex hormone feedback loops. The authors stress that the IOC has not fully investigated medically the possible performance advantages of formerly being male.  It is great that the authors spoke out against transphobic policies that have been in place for half a century.

       Performance enhancing drugs are mentioned in the text. This is probably one of the most divisive and taboo subjects. It becomes more complicated when discussing gender politics in sports. While there are questions are fairness, bioethical concerns, and health issues there is a clear double standard in use. Women are criticized more for use than males. The authors demonstrate that it is not a concern about women’s health, but what is regarded as “natural.” If a man takes anabolic steroids it is acceptable. The double standard has become so blatant there are multiple cases of random testing of female athletes. Males do not have to do random drug testing like their female counterparts. One case cited in Playing With the Boys was the random testing of the women’s track and field team at U.C.L.A  in 1980. The men’s team was exempt from random testing. Athletic women are constantly accused of using steroids more than males. Only after the early 2000s did males face the same criticism for use. The general synopsis of this section is revealed by this quote: “while steroid have no place in athletics, social pressures fuel an unfortunate double standard in which male athletes artificially enhancing his body is wrong but understandable and natural, while the female athlete is considered unwomanly  or grotesque.” The authors do not seem to understand that performance enhancing drugs have been a part of sports for half a century . There are many substances that are developed that are not yet detectable by drug tests. Use or non-use has divided many sports enthusiasts and athletes. The fact is drugs are here to stay. One should take a neutral stance on this issue, because it is ultimately an athletes choice what they do with their body. Organizations still have the right to ban certain substances. There is no need to extend the War on Drugs to professional sports. The authors should consider how the use of certain substances may level the playing field. Anabolic androgenic steroids increase strength and muscle mass beyond what could be done naturally with diet and exercise. If women lack the necessary brawn to compete with men in mixed contact sports, performance enhancing drugs could be the solution. The risk could be too great in terms of health. Performance enhancing drugs will continue to be a source of discord in professional sports.

1940685-6226-atm14

Marion Jones increased her performance dramatically through the use of anabolic steroids.  stopping women from use has nothing to do with protecting their health, but the fear they will go through virilization. The conclusion is they will be less attractive, which appears to be more important in the sports world than performance. Some women can use steroids without going through virilization at all. 

Playing With the Boys does make valid points in regards to the institutional sexism in sports.  The most blatant form of sexism is the use of sex verification tests. These were supposedly designed to prevent men from “passing” as females and winning women’s competitions in the Olympics. The idea of this seems ludicrous, because it based on the idea that all men could beat all women. They never considered that a woman would attempted to compete in the men’s events. These tests have recently been discarded, but the IOC retains the right to conduct them. This is not in the name of “fair competition.”  The purpose is to make women feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable. Men did not have to do sex verification and it clearly demonstrated the high level of discrimination against women in sports. Sex tests were not even scientific. Women would have to display themselves nude to IOC  officials, doctors, and gynecologists to prove they were female. That method was unreliable and ignited much vociferous objections. It was soon replaced by a chromosome test.  The only accomplish with this was discovering genetic abnormalities or intersexed  attributes of athletes. Women contain 22 pairs of nonsex chromosomes just like males. Sex chromosomes contain XX for women and XY for men. There were cases in which women had extra nonsex chromosomes and were designated not female according to IOC rules. Ewa Klobukowska was made a victim to this ruling. She was a Polish sprinter who the IOC officials claimed had too many chromosomes to be regarded as female. It was never revealed which extra type of chromosomes she had, but it was clear that it did not give her “unfair” advantage.

download (1)

Ewa’s case represents the flawed scientific approach in sex testing. Although she was not intersexed, being that would have not given her extra physical advantages.  

Sex tests started in 1966 and came to an end in 2000. Unfortunately, the IOC has replaced it with a ruling that women with naturally high testosterone will be excluded from participation. It seems as if little progress has been made.  The wage disparity between women and men in sports is another clear indication of sexism. The fact is women’s sports are not marketed in the same manner or given the same amount of attention as men’s sports. The claim the text makes is that low turn out for women’s games is why there is a pay disparity. There are a significant portion of fans that are not targeted by corporate sponsors. This is an untapped market which business and corporations do not want to promote, because culturally it is believed that men are the better athletes. So according to the concept of gender logic, they should be paid more. Rationalizing inequality becomes even more irrational, when there is a potential for economic growth. Lowering the price for women’s sports events is a terrible business model. This pay disparity is rooted in a traditional belief that a woman’s main purpose in life was to be a homemaker. Having a career outside the home was a hobby and nothing more. Women did not need equal pay, because their husbands would care for them.  This strict gender role system continues to live on in sports.

         The sexist atmosphere continues in a rigid and limited definition of femininity. Strength, power, and skill are not seen as positive qualities. A female body that projects these attributes challenges the traditional notions of beauty as the text explains. It is acceptable in society for a man to develop himself physically while for women it is not. Female athletes even struggle with the fear of muscle. This also takes on a homophobic dynamic. Women who are heterosexual fear being labelled lesbian and other women of different sexual orientations are ostracized. Playing With the Boys does not adequately address this issue. Lesbians do face prejudice from their heterosexual peers, but the authors do not seem to think it is a problem. They seem to also view them with trepidation ” at the same time, however, the overplayed stereotype of female athletes as mannish lesbians has suppressed the popularity of women’s sports, support for female athletes, and the recruitment of straight females into sport. ”  This quote appears as if Lesbians are to blame for negative perceptions of women’s sports. Their presence is not to blame for negative attitudes, but a culture of misogyny and herterosexism.  Stereotypes, which can be based on truth are designed to degrade and alienate an oppressed group. The lesbian stereotype in this instance is used to control women and vituperate lesbians. The authors clearly have no understanding of this, because they are examining the situation through the perspective of heterosexual white women. This harms their argument if they truly believe in equality. Body image perceptions are still influential. Societal and cultural pressure may be holding women back from their full physical potential.

aq   022fb01f145f3af69b38a6b9efa4ff29

The slender body type is valued for women more so than a muscular one. 

The notion of female frailty has not fully been eliminated.  This did not just influence attitudes toward women in sports, but other physically demanding fields such as the army, police, and construction work.

      The idea that women need protection from danger may seem harmless. However, as the text demonstrates it was to control women and stop them from being competitors with men. The relation to sports is that women engaging in physical activity could risk injury. The fact is that athletes will acquire multiple injuries during the course of their careers. Men getting hurt is of less importance due to the idea that they are tougher. Women are believed to be too weak for rigorous physical activity. The authors explain as follows: ” in the end, the question about female protection entails more than safety.”  The idea of women showing such power angers misogynists. Men who have a machismo perspective believe women should occupy a secondary status in all areas of life. A woman successful at sports challenges cultural convictions about women’s roles. The authors expound on this further ” it also involves propriety and the belief that women simply shouldn’t engage in some activities.” This excuse was used to justify excluding women from education and the public sphere. The stereotype of the vulnerable and timid female has been challenged by a new generation of powerful athletes. This is both intimidating to certain groups of men. Other see it as an attempt to steal attention away from men’s sports.

        Another argument detractors use is that it is not moral for men and women to compete with each other. Claims that boys would be physiologically devastated have been used to stop mixed competition. The other claim is that girls would be injured or suffer the same trauma from loss. Failure is a part of life; it is how resilient  you are after it, which determines success. If boys were not taught to view girls as lesser beings, this would not be a problem. Detractors claim that it is unnatural for men and women to compete in mixed sports.

-eb94f03f2d2edf13-c0782063065017fd

This boy has no reason to feel shame by losing to a girl. He just lost to a better athlete.

Phrases such as “you throw like a girl” or “you were beaten by a girl” represent the gender bias. It is coded language that designates an inferior status. To be female is to maladroit, weak, and incompetent. Athletic skill can be learned through training, but girls are not given the same opportunity. Playing With the Boys reveals that girls are not given equal access to little league games. Football is seen as a “man’s game” and boys are at a young age encouraged to play. The emphasis on development of physical skills seems more important for boys. Sexism does not only effect women as they age, but also in their youth. Sports has a sexism and misogyny issue. Attitudes must change, so that women are valued members of the sports community.

        Men are not entirely culpable seeing as there are women who are opposed to women’s involvement  in mixed competition and participation in general.  The book mentions a long tradition of women who ostracize other women for opposing cultural mores. One example is the Eagle Forum which promotes past traditional views on gender roles. They are a conservative organization with the goal of promoting family values and right-wing political agendas. They target affirmative action and Title IX  for repeal on the grounds it is “special privilege.” The reason women would oppose involvement  is that they believe women’s role is both wife and mother. Men must be served by women and that is how nature intended it. It appears that some women have internalized  the sexism of society. The authors fail to understand this. Feminists are even divided on whether sex segregated sports is ethical. There is a faction of feminists who see women as victims who need constant protection either through extra legislation or different types of treatment in the public sphere. Victim feminism has painted  all men as treacherous. Sameness feminism does not have the misandrist attitudes, but refuses to acknowledge basic biological facts. Men and women are different. People do not have to be the same to be equal. The authors do not delineate on this schism, but it should be lauded that they mention it. Too often all men are made to be the villains in writings such as these.

       One issue is that the book seems to favor the sameness feminism faction.  The chapter “Inventing Barriers” seems to make the claim that certain limitations of particular women are cultural. The text does make a valid point that women have been restricted due to pseudo- scientific  theories in regards to women’s physical capabilities. Menstruation was once seen as a sign of female weakness. Physicians in the past even believed that the uterus was the weakest part of the female body. These sexist and baseless convictions have been discredited. To say differences in physical abilities is completely cultural is not entirely accurate. The paradigm of “women are weak” and “men are strong” is misleading. The fact of the matter is men have more potential to gain strength due to size and endocrinology. This does not mean women cannot acquire strength. The authors point out that when you examine individuals some women can be stronger than men. Men and women given the same exercise regimen would usually result in men gaining more lean body mass.


549422_439001889502297_2059178379_n
 arm-workout-mistakes

Males have a greater potential for muscular hypertrophy due to particular androgens.

It should be clear to everyone that men and women are different biologically. People erroneously are convinced difference means inferiority. That laughable notion has been adopted even by sameness feminists who attempt to say men and women are not different. This seems more self defeating than anything else. Women do not need to be exactly like men to be equal. The authors do not seem to understand this. They do make a potent argument that their is performance overlap. If analyzed graphically in terms of a bell curve, it is possible that elite female athletes could perform just as well as their male counterparts. The text also reveals that women certainly have gotten stronger ever since improved training and social barriers were removed. It is clear that women in sports have gotten physically stronger. Looking at the women involved in sports in the past the change is amazing. Women’s physiques have become more muscular and powerful. This is fact, but the authors omit that there is a ten percent gap in performance when examining Olympic records. Their rebuttal is a legitimate one. Women’s professional sports are still relatively new and it is unclear just how physically developed a woman can get. It is clear that women have improved in performance. Yet, it seems unlikely that elite female athletes would compete with elite male athletes en mass in the future.

tumblr_lknph86faE1qjergko1_500carmelita.jeter.reuters

Compare Wilma Rudolph (1960) and Carmelita Jeter (2012)  and it is clear that there has been performance improvement. 

            The legal basis for dismantling coercive sex segregation seems to be a more rational argument. As long as a girl or woman is qualified and able to play a particular sport, there is no reason to stop her. Young girls were banned from playing contact sports with boys in the United States. Sports such as football and soccer were off limits. The US courts would rule in favor of girls who wanted to try out for boy’s teams, because none existed for girls. These were clear Title IX violations. Blatant discrimination can be challenged on the basis of violation of the Equal Protection Clause. This is part of the fourteenth amendment of the US Constitution. Not state can enact laws that hinder the equal rights of US citizens. When applied to US schools and their sports teams it is only fair that girls have same opportunity to play. The assumption that men are naturally better athletes is not true. Girls and women could have the same athletic potential, but are stopped because of particular restrictions. The fear is girls and women are too delicate for rough activity. This has now been proven false. Heather Sue Mercer was mentioned in the book who played football at Duke University. Mercer was a place kicker, but she was dropped from the team. This was not because of her performance for which she was qualified, but because of her sex. The coach had a problem having a female on his team. This 1994 incident went to court and ruled in her favor. That is one of many examples that attempted to exclude women from athletic participation. There are qualified women and girls for sports teams, but they rarely find acceptance.

          Playing With the Boys attempts to parallel sex segregation  with racial segregation to reinforce the argument of  the existence of coercive sex segregation. This simply lacks credibility because of the different nature of racial and sexual oppression. While all women were subject to a code of sexism, African American women faced the trauma of white supremacy. The book ignores and omits the fact that white women have more opportunity due to the fact they have white skin privilege. Wilma Rudolph during her track and field career faced more vicious racism, than sexism. While the text understands that African Americans have had a struggle in society it misses one critical fact. Whites believe even to this day that people of African descent are subhuman. That is the critical difference. While white women were viewed as inferior to men, they were more valued because of their skin color. African American women and men were seen as subhumans and unworthy of existence by American society. The authors who are two white middle class women cannot possibly comprehend the issues surrounding racism and white supremacy. Their lack of knowledge is even more obvious in this statement : “while the Anglo-American psyche was able to overcome myths of white athletic supremacy to appreciate and accept the black athlete, women have made no such strides.” This is a delusional assessment. One can only recall Donald Sterling’s racists rants and realize that a majority of whites will never accept non-whites in the US. The former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basket ball team demonstrates this. It seems that the only women the authors are concerned about is white women. It could be that the authors could possibly have unresolved prejudices themselves. This cannot be confirmed, but the writers must understand that racism can be covert in action and policy.Saying women have not made progress or strides is mendacious. The four decades that have past the public has witnessed high levels of women’s participation in sports. This is not just in the United States, but globally. The London 2012 Olympics saw the highest number of female participants in the sporting event’s history. This parallel between racial segregation is the weakest section of  Playing With the Boys.

         Title IX which is a pivotal piece of legislation does have some limits. This argument is the most powerful one in the monograph. Title IX was not specifically directed at sports, but educational programs. Women were given less funding for school sports, which were designated as extra curricular activities. The text argues that Title IX did not go far enough for ensuring gender equality in athletic activities. Title IX for example did not stop the exclusion of girls from Little League Baseball. Title IX did advance women’s educational opportunities in universities and colleges. However, there still is the challenge of promoting gender equality in regards to intercollegiate sports. The NCAA even was fearful that if women’s sports were allowed, it would bankrupt men’s sports. If Title IX was effective it would address problems in which no female team is present at a particular school. Some girls have to try out for the boy’s team, because that is the only option. This results in the girls heading to court to challenge the ban on girls competing with boys in contact sports. A portion of girls have recently become interested in wrestling and football, but they may not have the full protection of Title IX. It is clear that the law may need some adjustment to deal with rapidly changing scenarios.

        Playing With the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports    does provide valuable information on contemporary women’s sports history. There are major problems with its conclusions. The solutions of promoting women’s sports through marketing and the internet are excellent tactics to countering negative perceptions. A new gender neutral view of sports is a healthy and welcome goal that must be advanced. These are rational approaches to disparities that women in sport face. Yet, this goal the authors state seems unrealistic: “females playing sports with males must become standard practice, not the exception.” Training and coaching can made a significant difference in performance, but there are elements of sexual dimorphism that make mixed competition unlikely. Men’s upper body strength would give them the advantage in weightlifting, basket ball, and baseball. Women would have the advantage in gymnastics, ultramarathon events, and swimming  due to flexibility ( as well as the effects of estrogen). For young girls and boys mixed competition is reasonable, because sex hormones have not influenced physical development. One should consider if elite female athletes would even want to have integrated competition. If this were done en mass, it is dubious that they all would be successful. That depends on which sport and the areas of the body which will be utilized ( upper body or lower body). If a woman feels that she needs to compete with a man, she should be allowed to. The authors seem to subtlety   promoting sameness feminism. Women do not need to be like men to be equals, because they were never inferiors. Although Playing With the Boys has problems it serves as a good reference source for the layman and scholar. It is written in a manner that is accessible to the general reading public and contains a wonderful appendix that documents legal cases in regards to Title IX. This is an academic text, but is still enjoyable for anyone interested in sports, sexual politics, and women’s studies.

Playing With the Boys : Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports by Laura Pappano and Eileen Mcdonaugh

The Frailty Myth by Colette Dowling

  The Frailty Myth is a book published in the year 2000 by Colette Dowling. The book asks the question can women be equal as long as men are physically stronger? She argues that the basis of the weaker sex stereotype in based on Victorian Age pseudoscience. There was the idea that too much physical exertion could damage the female reproductive system. Dowling  believes that women should seek to be on the same physical level as men in terms of strength and prowess.  She refers to this as physical competence. Running, developing cardiovascular endurance, building muscle, and learning to throw are essential. She puts emphasis on the need for girls at a young age to learn physical skills just like boys do. PE classes should expect more from their female students. Women student athletes should be given the same training as their male counterparts. The strength gap she is convinced can be narrowed, if  women are taught to develop their physical skills. Her book does make valid points, but is drowned in Feminist rhetoric.

download51F8TlX9JIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Here are two different editions of the book ( 2000 edition on the left and 2001 edition on the right). Notice the other half of the titles on the book covers are different. The statement “women approaching physical equality” is odd. This implies that women were physically inferior before. The other statement “redefining the physical potential of women and girls” is misleading. Women’s physical potential has minimally been defined. The truth is we do not know how strong women could get, because so much focus was on their limitations. 

The general synopsis looks at the history of the weaker sex stereotype. The books focus is on the struggle of women to get into sports. Her examination is on the United States and Europe specifically. She only once mentions women gaining access to non-western  international competition (the Asian Games). Dowling rarely puts emphasis on the women developing world, who are struggling even more than their Western counterparts. There are countries that have even worse attitudes in regards to women and limit their opportunity. Their tribulations will not be discussed in this book. She then delineates how the idea of women being physically inferior is based in pseudoscience and unproven theories. Ideas such as genital decay or the notion women would harm their reproductive capability were common in the medical community. This seems facetious to us now, but during the Victorian Age it was believed. The cult of invalidism was a cultural construction that desired to present women as weak and frail. Not only that, but prone to illness. This was gradually overturned when women started getting access to competition opportunities. Dowling discusses how women were prevented from participation and then how Title IX changed everything. Women  could now have more funding for sports in schools and colleges.She examines gender in relation to sports. the author explains why physical activity is good for women’s health and well being. The book then ends with Colette Dowling stating the need for women to have self-defense skills. The final stage  of  women’s liberation will be what she calls physical equality.

One of the major problems of the book is it lumps all men together.Third Wave Feminists tend to believe all men are the enemy. Dowling becomes guilty of this in one section of the chapter “closing the strength gap.” All men, she states have a fear of women’s strength. While it is true that men have used women bodies a means of control that is not the only method. Denying access to jobs and education were by far more damaging. Not all men reject women’s growing physical power. She uses the unfair criteria in bodybuilding competitions as an example. Men are in her view keeping women back in the sport. The judges do not want to see hyper-muscular development. This is more of a failure on the part of the corporate sponsors. The IFFB claims that larger competitors are not marketable. This is not true when you see the large numbers of fans going to the athletes’ pay websites.  The Weider Corporation misses this opportunity. The fact is many fans of female bodybuilders are male. By ignoring fan bases corporations will fail to add to their profits. Just as well, because more money should go to the athletes. Judging criteria has always been distorted in bodybuilding circles. Judging “femininity’ is nebulous. Then there is a general dispute on whether size, shape, or symmetry should be emphasized more than the other.

2012-Feb-Kashma_Maharaj

42247152484

Here are two athletes with pay sites, Kashma Maharaj and Colette Nelson. They provide video content as well as written content for their fans for a monthly fee. Clearly there is a large enough fan bases to keep these websites running. Some the funds go to expenses they need to continue competing. 

The most contradictory statements and claims in the text appear in the first paragraph of the sixth chapter . Dowling states: “as women got more muscular, the event was redesigned for female competitors so it had less to do about being strong and looking female.” Women can look very strong and female at the same time. The author seems to have a dubious feeling about that. When making a reference to the film  Pumping Iron II: The Women  she refers to Bev Francis as “macho woman.”  For a person who claims not to believe in strict gender roles in terms of masculinity and femininity  this is hypocritical. Bev Francis did not change her sex when she developed her body. Women come in different shapes and sizes. It is odd to say a woman of a muscular body type is abnormal. Models of beauty vary from culture to culture. When it comes to aesthetics in bodybuilding there are various perspectives. Often some say women have developed too much. Some judges prefer a sleeker model, a moderately size model, and the hyper-muscular model of body. That is why different divisions were created ( fitness and  physique). Incompetent judging of contests are as much to blame as sexist attitudes toward women. She states in a subtle manner that all men hate strong women. That is not the truth. Even though there are detractors of such women, there are a growing number of fans. Most are men.  While many magazines are disappearing featuring women in strength sports, there has been an internet revival. Fans have access to forums, websites, blogs, and online magazines. There is a greater exposure to female strength.

fl1107 muscfit_julyaug07cover

Here are two magazines. They are both for mainstream consumption, but feature women with powerful physiques. The Flex magazine will most likely be purchased by men, because of the woman on the cover. Muscle and Fitness Hers  is directed at women, but the model on the cover has a high degree of muscularity. The women are not portrayed in a negative light. 

The disappearance of female bodybuilding magazines may not mean public rejection to it. Print media ( including newspapers) are gradually being defeated by the internet. Women’s Physique World  for example ran in print from 1984 to 2006. However, it continues to sell its old issues and video material  on it’s website. This is a much more efficient business model. There are a myriad of sites dedicated to women’s strength sports. Most of the web traffic is coming from men ages 18 to 34. There is a huge portion of  men who enjoy female muscle. Colette Dowling should be praised for mentioning  female bodybuilding, but she needed  to more research  on the sport and culture. One statement becomes a blatant generalization : “today women bodybuilding champions make as much money from their appearances and endorsements-perhaps a final indignity for men.”  This may be an indignity for a sexist, but not all men. There are male fans and competitors that welcome women’s participation. Many want to see equal amounts of prize money for female competitors.

Colette Dowling’s assessment of sport performance needs adjustment. Her belief is that is the gap in performance is related to lack of training. While one cannot deny that women are discouraged from certain physical activities, sexual dimorphism plays a role. Dowling’s background is in sociology. She is a psychotherapist  based in New York. It would have helped her argument to expound more on exercise physiology. The author does not seem as knowledgeable as she could be in regards to sports performance.

Porait300

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2000-09-19/colette-dowling-frailty-myth-random-house

This is an audio file of her appearance on The Dianne Rehm Show. This was broadcast in 2000 and they discuss the state of women’s sports. Listen to the recording. At one point a caller questions her about the role of sexual dimorphism in performance and she has no idea what the term means. 

Sexual dimorphism refers to the secondary sex characteristics in a particular species. One pivotal factor is how hormones influence the body structure. Testosterone increases strength and the size of the skeleton. Women who produce more estrogen relative to androgens,will retain more fat. While Dowling points out estrogen provides benefits  to women in some sports, she reduces her argument to a battle of the sexes. Women have to be on the same level as men physically. The comparisons seem unnecessary. Men on average are stronger, but that does not make them better athletes. Strength is nothing without skill. Colette Dowling says she wants women to develop physical skills, but contradicts herself by putting emphasis on strength. Her comparisons between male and female athletes are adjusted to height and weight. This does not accurately portray  certain mathematical records. There still exists a 10% difference in  Olympic records. Estimates can vary in body strength ( no matter which sex). Women can be 80% as strong when the weight and size are close. Absolute strength can be about 65%. lack of adequate training can be an explanation, but endocrinology provides one too. There are many exceptions, but on average men will become stronger than women even on the same training regimen.

nelson[2]709208644

 Here a difference can be seen. Colette Nelson (left) is much stronger than the man who does not train. Xin Li Cao (right) would have a challenge trying to match the strength of her male counterpart. 

A few women could match men who are equally trained. These are rare exceptions, but possible. Women and men are biologically different. The section titled “The Menstrual Myth” misses some points in terms of body function. Over training can harm women ( just like men) in different ways. If a woman’s body fat becomes too low, she may stop ovulating. Sports that focus on weight like ice skating, swimming, gymnastics, and long distance running could be prone to the athletes triad. Exercise will not harm the menstrual cycle, but over training will. Dowling proclaims: ” many heath benefits have been found for exercising for females, so care must be taken to not overpresent women who harm themselves by going to extremes.” There is no over representation. Women athletes could at some point in their career suffer from amenorrhoea. Dowling does not seem to accept that women’s bodies function differently. This does not mean women are restricted in  their physical achievement. Having the right endocrinologist and coach can prevent such medical conditions. Women are prone to shoulder and joint injuries in sports. It is important that they build up these areas to prevent harm. Dowling needs to understand that biological difference does not imply inferiority.

The best part of  The Frailty Myth is the analysis and  history of sex discrimination in sport. When the modern day Olympics were revived in 1896, women were not allowed to compete. It was not that women were not able to play sports, but cultural mores would not permit it. Women did get to compete in the 1900 Olympic Games, but only in golf. Swimming and diving was added in 1920. Track and field events were added in 1932. The change was met with media backlash. Newspapers harshly criticized women’s involvement and sports organizations as well. The National Amateur Athletic Federation (NAAF)  was opposed to women competing in the Olympics. Real improvement did not come until 1964. The 400-meter run, volleyball, track and field pentathlon, and the 400-meter individual medley swimming were introduce for women in the games. Women continued to face discrimination with sex testing. Women athletes were required to go nude before a panel of doctors, gynecologists, and  IOC officials to prove they were female. Men were not required to do such a test.  The International Olympic  Committee   claim was to “protect” women from men who would disguise themselves as women and compete in their events. This rarely happened and it was clear what it was designed to do. Seeing as it was not possible to ban women from sports, another option was to make an uncomfortable atmosphere. It was a way of trying to put women back in their “place.” Dowling also has explored the pay disparity between male and female athletes. Many sports networks give very little attention to women’s sports on television.  The chapter “Can I Play” is a must read highlight.

One chapter that is troublesome was the discussion of rape. The section “Physical Assault : Keeping Women Down”  is a statement on the dangers of rape culture. Dowling is convinced that women need as much physical strength as possible to prevent perilous situations. The problem with the rape culture concept is that it views all men as  sex offenders. An individual who commits such crimes obviously has violent and anti-social tendencies. Colette Dowling casts men as either oppressive or malevolent. Self-defense is something women should learn, but seeing men as the enemy is not. She uses the high rate of sexual assault on universities as an example. Most of these crimes do involve alcohol given to the victim. So, in this case physical strength is not a factor. Being aware of your environment and people in the area is critical. Large muscles and strength are not always required to defend yourself. Certain martial arts like judo are highly effective.  Her knowledge of martial arts seems to be limited. It is true that learned weakness is detrimental. The biggest problem is the author’s conjecture that men keep women weak so they can be easy targets. Women may actually be weakening themselves by trying to reach a thin body ideal.  This is related to body image disorders that Dowling mentioned in previous chapters. The mass media shares some of the blame. TV, film, and advertising made the extra slim body type as something desirable. To blame men completely is unfair.

The book seems to come to the conclusion that might makes right. The last paragraph is of major interest.  This quote is revealing: ” When necessary, a woman must be able to tap in her fighting spirit and do what she needs to do to survive.”  While self-reliance and self-defense are necessary Dowling frames it in a combative tone. It then seems like she is saying every man is against powerful women. Her reasoning is in a subtle way that women should use their new found strength for vengeance . Some men have been brainwashed by a traditional culture. Others do have genuine misogynistic attitudes. Not all men have negative views about women or powerful ones in particular. This is probably the biggest flaw of the book. The monograph Colette Dowling produced is not the best on women’s sports.However, it does have some positive attributes. It reveals a history rarely written about. It gives a great outline of women’s rapid rise in the professional sports world and the struggles they faced. The most important message written in the book is the need for physical activity. The long term benefits are good for women. Seeing as people are living longer than ever, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is pivotal. One day society will be accepting of strong women, but it will take time.  Dowling closes with this quote ” women by making themselves  physical equal, will at last set themselves free.”  The fact is women were never physically inferior. There is a long history of women’s participation in sports. It seems as if women have already reached the physical equality that Dowling speaks of. Women are showing more muscular and powerful physiques in athletic contest, than in the past.

The Frailty Myth by Colette Dowling