Recently, I witnessed something that I can’t get out of my head. It was something I had seen many times before. But this time stood out more than the others.
What I saw was a dunk. It was by a person named Brittney Griner, and it occurred during a women’s basketball game.
It wasn’t a great dunk, but it was certainly more impressive than a Kyle Korver dunk.
It was the way she dunked that stood out to me. It was a fluid two-handed dunk, and she swung on the rim as though she was trying to tear down the goal. As Griner trotted back on defense with her face balled up, I could sense men nationwide sinking into their La-Z-Boys in fear of what has yet to come. She had just experienced a feeling that most people will never know; she dunked a basketball in front of thousands of fans in a game that was being nationally televised. There was no doubt about this one, she would have easily thrown it down even if she had been going up with a men’s ball.
In this moment one thing became very obvious: sport rules have been acting as a subtle form of oppression for as long as women’s sports have existed.
And so, I have these…
…Five Feminist Questions
1. Why are there different rules for women’s basketball?
The rule differences between men and women’s basketball seem rather arbitrary. It was only this year that the NCAA decided to move the women’s three-point line back a few inches to be the same as the men’s. But, still, there is no backcourt 10-second rule in the women’s game, and the basketball is slightly smaller than the men’s ball. What is the reasoning for these women-specific rules? Do people think that women are so slow and unathletic that crossing the ball over half court in 10 seconds is just unimaginable?
Most collegiate women’s basketball players grew up playing basketball with boys. By familiarity alone, many female basketball players even prefer shooting with the men’s basketball.
There is no legitimate reason for these rule differences. It seems these rules only exist as a patriarchal reminder of the athletic differences between men and women. For sure, there is a major difference between a college men’s basketball team and a women’s team, but the women’s game would not crumble if they were subjected to the same rules as the men.
2. Why is women’s lacrosse so much different than men’s lacrosse?
If you’ve ever been to a women’s lacrosse game, you’ve probably noticed that it is nothing like men’s lacrosse. Other than the main objective of the game—put the ball in the opposing team’s net—few consistencies exist between the men and women’s versions of the sport. How did the men’s game become so physical and barbaric, while the women’s game is the exact opposite? In men’s lacrosse, fans celebrate bone-crunching hits while unarmored goalies stand in front of 90+ MPH shots.
On the other hand, to the untrained eye, an onlooker might see women’s lacrosse as nothing more than a bunch of girls running a cross-country race in funny-looking goggles while carrying a stick and passing a ball around from basket to basket. Even so, some traditional lacrosse fans maintain that the women’s version is the purest form of lacrosse. They contest that the intricacies of the game can sometimes be lost in the wake of the big hits that occur in the men’s version. It’s interesting how the men’s game developed in a way that caters to physicality and aggression, but the women’s game remained that of finesse and endurance.
3. Why aren’t women allowed to check in ice hockey?
Unlike lacrosse, to the naked eye, women’s ice hockey appears to be the same as men’s ice hockey (and in both versions you will see quite a bit of hair flowing out the back of the helmets). Men and women wear the same equipment. Yet, if you sit and watch a women’s ice hockey game, you will notice one glaring difference from men’s ice hockey: there is no checking.
In women’s hockey, any checking results in a penalty. Though it is not allowed until later years in boys’ hockey, boys begin training on how to hit at a young age. It’s perfectly fine to allow men to bash each other into the boards, drop their gloves, and start swinging. But, God forbid if a woman were permitted to experience the satisfaction derived from a clean hip check into the boards. We couldn’t possibly run the risk of our future mothers cracking their wider-set hips in the name of sport!
4. Why are there separate leagues for men and women in professional pool?
Perhaps I’m wrong, but pool is something that barely qualifies as a sport. It is a game that many folks are able to play at bars while consuming alcohol. (Try playing basketball or soccer while steadily consuming alcohol, and then tell me whether or not pool still qualifies as a sport.) I don’t see how the supposed increased athletic abilities of being a man apply to this game? We don’t have separate poker tournaments for men and women. I don’t see a difference with pool. There’s no way different potential skill-level ceilings exist between pool playing men and women.
5. Why are all women’s tennis matches the best 2 out of 3 sets at majors, as opposed to 3 out of 5 for the men?
In all of the major tennis tournaments, an extra set is necessary to win a match on the men’s side. However, women’s majors remain the best 2 out of 3. To be a woman competing in a major, you must be a world-class athlete. Surely, an extra set would not cause these women to collapse. Don’t worry, chauvinistic men, I’m sure they would have just as much energy to prepare dinner and do the laundry after 5 sets as they would after 3 sets. But also, they would probably be able to kick the crap out of you over such an insinuation.
I am not saying that men and women are athletically equal (this argument does not matter here). All I am saying is that many of our major men and women’s sports still involve unnecessary rule differences. These differences were most likely created by men, and serve to perpetuate the societal disposition of male dominance.
Why not unshackle women, and rid their sports of the nonsensical rule differences?
Is it because society doesn’t think women could handle it?
If so, good luck explaining that to the Brittney Griners of the world.
For more from Luke…
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