Monday, July 2, 2012

Hm, I'm Not Sure How I Feel About That...

Last week a good friend of mine from the US came to visit me, and since she is studying Sports Management I used the opportunity to first and foremost use it as an excuse to force her to watch a soccer match with me, and secondly to ask her a couple of questions regarding American sports in general. I know next to nothing about American football, so our Q&A brought us to a conversation about the state of women in sports. Italians live in a glass house on this issue, where apart from volleyball female sports leagues are virtually ignored. However I was aware of the existence of the WNBA, so I asked her if there was a similar league for women in American football. She said well… kind of. There is Lingerie Football, which is a serious league in that the women definitely play hard, by the rules and to win, just that they wear lingerie instead of a full uniform. My first response was

Hmm… I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’ve had a few days to think it over, and I still find the source of ambiguity in my head. Why is that?

On the one hand, I am no ones morality police. I’m perfectly in favor of breastaurants, bikini Jell-O wrestling, strip clubs, porn and even prostitution. Women who want to work in the sex industry (or a merely sexualized one) know exactly what they are signing up for and I have absolutely zero problems with them doing so. There is no reason to believe that the women in the Lingerie league are coerced or somehow participating against their will, and I understand its commercial appeal to the many men who are into that sort of thing.

Also, looking more into it, I discovered a host of Wikipedia pages dedicated to previous female football leagues that were disbanded due to lack of interest and money. I do not think that it is an inherent right for women to be able to participate in any sporting event known to man, I understand that if people are not going to pay to watch it, it’s not going to happen. But still there is something that bugs me about the whole thing.

I suppose, after much thought, my issue lies in the fact that bikini Jell-O wrestling is not as analogous as it may initially seem. The difference is that, if a woman wants to box or wrestle professionally and not in their underwear for the sexual pleasure of men, they can. There is the option of stripping down and covering one’s self in Jell-O for the crowd, or there is the option not to do so. Instead, when it comes to football, if a woman wanted to play even semi-professionally she has no choice but to do so in Lingerie, and a quick look at the teams in the league will also tell you that physical attractiveness is (at best) as much of a deciding factor as skill when deciding who to accept onto the team.

The question thus becomes: are there many women that even want an athletic career in football? That is something that I cannot answer, I have no idea. What I can claim is that times are changing, we are moving away from the times when “girls” were not “supposed” to like football, demonstrated by the fact that more and more women are showing interest in the sport, as well as more and more men who are willing to admit that they don’t see the point in it. (This is something I also see here: at the European Cup finals last night I was in a crowd of at least 1000 people, and it was split 50:50 gender-wise).  Mere numbers aside, who would even be willing to invest a significant amount of money in creating a league that history has shown us to be a flop?

A brief search on the internet shows me that Women’s football in college does exist, kind of, in some places. Does anyone have better information about that? I would propose if colleges started to get serious about their female football teams, offering athletic scholarships to women for them and perhaps making it a slightly bigger deal in their sports departments, it might be the spark to generate some interest, being mixed in with “school spirit” and all that. Once again I am shooting from a dark corner of complete naïveté in this regard, so please do help me out if you know more about this.

Has it all been tried, and people just could not care less about seeing women in sports, especially football? Or have previous attempts failed because backers were just not putting enough effort into the idea?

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