|My Team of Matriarchs|
I play in a women's league in a neighboring town, and to my delight, there are enough women who play that there are eight full teams in the league. After the first couple of games, I had a realization--I was in the midst of a matriarchy!
It's a matriarchy for a few reasons. The players are, of course, all women. The team captains are women. And even though the umps are all men, they are by no means respected. Trash talking the umps is an art practiced by at least two women on each team.
And in a country where we're told over and over that 'no one wants to watch women's sports,' this little microcosm indicates otherwise. Players' partners, children, friends and neighbors come to watch. Players from other teams whose games are before or after will also spectate--the bleachers are frequently two-thirds or totally full. True, not everyone is riveted by the game the whole time. Kids chase each other around, teenagers and adults smoke and drink beer...but they could do that anywhere. They've chosen to be at the field because on some level they want to support the women in their lives.
Playing in this league feels so special because I just can't think of any other physical activity done by women in their late 20s to 40s that other people come to watch in significant numbers. In contrast, we are always watching men in their 20s to 40s do stuff: men's college sports, men's professional sports, pick-up basketball and soccer games, old guys' softball leagues. We watch them play poker on TV, dominate beer pong tables at parties, and on Fourth of July weekend in Austin, TX, I and a crowd of vacationing families watched a varied group of boys and men leap off a high-up rope swing into a swimming hole for hours.
Culturally, we are constantly validating men's physical abilities. When it comes to women, our society prefers to see us in contexts where we can be sexualized, caring little about skill, athleticism, or tenacity. I don't think it's an accident that the most spectated women's sport and the only sport where women's prize money is equal to men's is tennis, where skin-tight dresses and skirts are the unwritten rule for the female players. Without a doubt, these athletes deserve to be paid what their male peers do in the Grand Slam tournaments--they are incredibly skilled professionals who have worked just as hard to make it to the top. Even still, how they look and what they wear is a significant part of their media coverage and likely their appeal to many male viewers. I would LOVE to see the day when Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova just decide to wear a loose collared shirt and baggy shorts like their male peers. (Or maybe the men ought to see how well they can move in a skin-tight dress.)
I still recall a poster that was up in my high school locker room. It said, "what does it take for a female athlete to just be called an athlete?" Over a decade later, I'm still working on the answer.