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Let Women Compete

by MARK DONHAM

I first heard the term “Robin Hood in reverse” in reference to then Republican president of the U.S. Ronald Reagan. He got that term from his tax cuts and other policies in which it appeared that he was taxing lower income people of the country to give financial breaks to the rich and large corporations. Robbing from the poor to give to rich, I believe was the concept. The current administration is not only repeating this apparently Republican modus operandi, but is taking to new heights–or is that depths? While this administration is of course taxing the lower income brackets to pay for massive tax cuts for his rich friends, it also has it out for any threats to the dominance of the white male of the nation and world, including attacking the increasing excellence of women in fields that have “traditionally” been the exclusive domain of the white male.

I am focusing this particular discussion on the administration’s commission reviewing the Title IX regulations. Apparently this administration thinks that white male domination is being threatened by this law, which, as will be discussed below, is largely responsible for the progress that women have made in the past several decades in equaling or surpassing men’s performances in common sports such as basketball, tennis, golf, soccer, track, and other sports. It appears that there is a plan to reverse this progress and thereby insuring that the white male continues to dominate overall these fields. But isn’t this swimming against the current?

Recently an African-American woman from Tennessee Statue University, the athletic director, a woman named Teresa Phillips, had to coach her men’s basketball team because her male head coach had been suspended for a game. Ms. Phillips was the first woman to coach a men’s university basketball team. The next day I noticed that Annika Sorenstam, unquestionably the best female golfer alive, was going to compete in a PGA tournament, and probably compete well, placing above many of the men. This summer a woman tried a place kick in a men’s college football game. These are huge hurdles overcome, and they certainly could be seen as “threats” to the domination of primarily white male domains.

However, there are countercurrents running which the administration is quietly trying to tap into to. Perhaps, as previously mentioned, the most important is the Bush administration’s commission to review and change the rules for administering the Title IX requirements–the landmark requirement that public school funds be spent relatively equally between men and women’s sports. This law is undoubtedly more responsible for the advancement of women’s sport’s accomplishments than any other single factor. However, according to the February 26, 2003 “USA Today,” the commission will issue a report that, according to critics, “is too much about men’s lost opportunities and not enough about continuing discrimination against women.” Men’s lost opportunities? Say what?

The second issue running countercurrent to the progress that women are making in sports surrounds the Augusta national golf club–the home of the most famous golf tournament in the U.S.–the Masters. This club will not admit females as members, and it has become a bit of an albatross for the PGA, as most major women’s organizations are protesting this clearly sexist policy and threatening boycotts and the such.

This issue is a strange brew of politics, society, competitiveness, pride, and trivial pursuits. As a child I thought that women were inherently physically inferior to men, but I no longer believe that. However, I do believe that this administration wants to maintain that view among what might be loosely called “mainstream middle America,” or perhaps, the “Reagan Democrats.” Sure, this is a generalization, but come on, there are millions of middle aged white males with a great love of sports and probably some experience in them in their youth but now sporting a gut over their belt and an incapability of performing at any kind of athletic level, but still see themselves as “above” women.

It’s a combination of male greed, jealousy, and pride that keep pushing against women’s accomplishments, like swimming against the current of a large river like the Mississippi at flood stage, which is still resulting in a general perception in our society that women are not as competent as men. Sports is a key factor in those perceptions. Womens’ world records are generally less accomplished than those set by men in the same sport. Men get paid more for participating in the same sport. Men and women generally do not compete together at the highest levels of excellence in a sport. Frankly, I don’t think men want women to get as good as them and that is a long term problem that needs to be addressed. What isn’t mentioned is that the best women athletes can out compete 99% of men, but hey, that’s a minor detail isn’t it? Personally, I think men would be better off if they just accepted that women have the potential to be as good or better than men in sports, and that they have the same right as men to pursue their interest. Anyone who doubts that just look at the Williams sisters. They are my heroines. Sure, they may be a few men out there that could consistently beat them, but very few. And how many men could have overcome the obstacles that they did to achieve their level of skill?

And we will see where Ms. Sorenstam places when she golfs against the men. I can almost guarantee that she won’t come in last.

There’s too much resistance against this, no doubt. But at the same time, I do have some understanding about how this certain section of the white male middle-section hates this. Conquerors are loathe to give up their spoils, regardless of the justice issues involved. But we’re supposedly the world’s example of a fair democracy, where everyone is equal and has equal opportunity. Our leaders are supposed to be leading us to the fulfillment of our ideals. So when I see the current administration exploiting this flaw to gain cheap political support rather than lead reform toward equality so that this type of prejudice is eliminated, it is a justifiable source of outrage. Let me explain.

I remember when I was in grade school. We’re not talking 200 years ago–we’re taking 30–40 years ago. On occasion, and not on too many occasions because of a safety factor, we would have “boys vs. girls” games in PE class. I can remember boys vs. girls kickball, boys vs. girls softball, and a few other boys vs. girls games. There was never any question that the boys would dominate, and we considered more or less a joke to compete against the girls. In sports like basketball and baseball there was no way that girls could even hope to compete with the boys. Girls were cheerleaders. Boys were athletes. If you are 50 or older, that’s what you think–it is ingrained deep in your being. And these men are, for better or worse, the core of America in so many ways. They build our buildings, drive our trucks, buy many of our products, and set the mood for the country. They see themselves as powerful and they like to be on top.

So this is why a woman coaching a men’s college basketball team is such a big deal. That is why having a woman golf in a PGA tournament is such a big deal. That is why even a woman who tried to do some place kicking in a men’ s college football game last season was a big deal. Women have gone from athletic laughing stock to a series threat to men’s pride in just a couple decades. This is worrisome to a lot of men. It threatens their position on top. But cost of this top position for the men has been a stifling of the ability of women to achieve. This is in direct contravention of the main principles of our country. This is why the administration’s Title IX commission and the Augusta country club issues amount to low level pandering to insecure beer and McDonald’s guts to get some cheap votes and is not aspiring to our nation’s highest ideals. It is not leadership and the country should reject it soundly.

This administration has regulation rewrite fever. It is rewriting all the regulations it can, and it is doing it as fast as it can. The ethics of its procedures for doing this are another story. The substance of these regulations are almost exclusively regressive. The Title IX regulations can be put in a folder with tax cuts for the rich and those regulations relaxing environmental laws, labor laws, consumer protection laws, etc etc. But I guess my point is that rewriting the Title IX regulations is not going to stop the momentum of what is going on. Women are here to stay in regard to their skill levels in traditionally male activities. I say let women compete against men, starting in tennis, golf, and other such sports. Sure, the best men will currently beat the best women most of the time, but competition makes the lesser talents better. If we keep supporting women’s athletics and let them start competing against men, it is only a matter of time before they start competing seriously with the men. The time will come when we have world champion women, not just a woman’s champion. This is a real test of our constitution.

Are we for equality for everyone, of is that just a pipe dream to which we pay lip service?

MARK DONHAM lives in Brookport, Illlinois. He can be reached at: markkris@earthlink.net.

 

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