By Alison Bergblom-Johnson
I love women’s basketball. I love watching world class athletes who, prior to Title IX, wouldn’t have developed the skills growing up and wouldn’t have ever played in college and wouldn’t have ever played professionally. Of course, I’m a fan of the Minnesota Lynx and of the WNBA in general.
Women’s basketball is played at a high level with an emphasis on scrappiness and virtuoso fundamentals. It’s worthy of respect. Unfortunately, many men show blatant hostility towards the WNBA and other women’s sports. There are astronomical inequities in compensation between female and male athletes and because of this, women’s athletics are widely underreported by the press.
Not only do I want athletes who happen to be women be acknowledged as athletes, I also want them to be taken seriously. It’s crucial to understand the ways we all are complicit in sexism against women players. Are we attending Lynx games, or frankly, any other women’s sporting events? Are we encouraging our daughters, nieces and friends to play? Are we gently calling each out for sexist attitudes?
While the Lynx didn’t get to The Finals this year, it’s the first time in three years we haven’t been there. We’ve won the championship two out of three times. Even this year, while the Lynx have been plagued with injuries, our win percentage still placed us number two in the league. The Lynx have some of the best players in the league, including MVP Maya Moore.
In general, sexism comes out all too often. When WNBA games are on national television I’m often annoyed to see tweets from hostile men about the WNBA. One that was particularly popular last year involved endless answers to “#WouldYouRather have your local WNBA team win a championship or win $5?”
Here are some offensive tweets during Game #1 of the Finals on Sunday Sept. 7th:
“There is some #WNBA on #ABC right now if you’re looking to make your day worse. #womensbasketball”
“Is it just me or Britney Griner’s voice really sounds like a man??? #WNBA”
I think of Twitter as a way to show the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of sexism. I also find it incredible how free men feel to be offensive in relatively anonymous forums.
So women playing exceptional basketball brings out (some) men’s sexism. Also stunning are the inequities in the game. The most a player in the WNBA could earn in 2013 was $107,000, the last year numbers are available for. In contrast the highest paid player in the 2014-15 NBA season earns 24.5 million dollars, 229 times as much.
It’s common to listen through a radio sports broadcast and not even hear if the Lynx won or lost. Also when the Lynx are playing fantastically, such as when Maya Moore scored 48 points in one game, there is only some attention given. Then when the team loses a game or suffers an injury, they are written off as overrated. It’s the old reality of having to be twice as good to be thought of as credible. Remember, the Lynx are the only professional sports team in Minnesota that has won a championship since 1991.
In addition to sexism, lack of access and participation matter. At MCTC, few women play on the intramural leagues.
“We usually have 2–4 females that participate in 3-on–3 or 5-on–5 intramural basketball,” Campus Recreation and Wellness Coordinator Drew Rongere said. “We had 50 students participate in the 3-on–3 league and 45 students participate in the 5-on–5 league.”
Some students played on both leagues but those figures aren’t available. Women are 53 percent of MCTC students.
Can women’s basketball also be a site to explore women’s hostility to women?
When I first started watching the Minnesota Lynx the summer of 2011, I had a near irrational frustration and dislike of players on other teams. I hated a players’ overly plucked eyebrows. I hated another, a nine-time all-star, for her trademark dark red lipstick.
What I really hated was that these players made things difficult for us on the court. I had translated that into a critique of their appearance. Women certainly police boundaries of what women can and cannot do or be. Part of that is how we’ve been socialized to judge each other based on appearance.
We’re raised to compete for men’s attention and to write anyone off not perceived to be worthy of that attention. Where do these beauty standards come from? Largely from the media. It doesn’t seem that individual men have been consulted in the matter in great detail.
One night at the Target Center with my friend Chris, I was complaining once again about these players.
“This isn’t a fashion magazine, it’s basketball,” she said.
And she’s right. This is basketball. This is basketball, my favorite sport. This is basketball, the sport of fifth-graders, Kobe Bryant and the Minnesota Lynx. While there may be inequities in basketball and sexism in the game, the way forward is to call each other out in gentle ways for how we are all implicated in it.