Taking Sex Differences Seriously – Chapter 7 (pages 159-173)

March 20, 2013 | NeW

As Elizabeth observed in last week’s blog post, aggression – when channeled productively – can be a powerful, positive force. A great example of this is the male tendency to excel in athletics. Rhoads notes that for most of history, far fewer women than men have participated in sports; but, the modern claim that men and women are identical leads to the assumption that both genders should be playing the same amount of sports. Many people blame cultural discrimination, stereotypes, and lack of opportunities, rather than the possibility that women simply don’t like sports as much as men do. Accordingly, well-meaning laws have been passed to ensure equal female involvement in sports. For example, the idea behind Title IX was to enable more female participation in athletics, by compelling schools to offer more opportunities to women.

This law arose as a way to involve more girls and women in sports, but in effect has also greatly constricted opportunities for boys and men. (159)

Women have benefitted somewhat from this – we’re probably healthier and certainly less disadvantaged (if we ever were) than before. But, Title IX stipulates quotas that must be reached, to prove that schools are giving women adequate opportunity. And due to tight budgets, schools generally achieve these quotas

by cutting male teams or trimming male squads while adding new teams for women. (160)

As a result,

From 1985 to 1997, over 21,000 collegiate spots for male athletes have disappeared. Over 359 teams for men have disappeared just since 1992. (161)

Many schools also conduct surveys, to gauge female interest in sports – but, reformists contest that society has conditioned girls to deny their interest in sports, so the surveys should not be used as a measurement. Here, I tipped my head and wondered, “Isn’t it a little degrading to women, to assume we’re all so deceived and confused that we can’t answer a simple survey accurately? I mean, surely today’s woman is self-aware and confident enough to know if she wants to play sports or not.” If women are truly as likely as men to be athletic, then why must we coax it out of them? Furthermore, in my experience, female athletes are lauded at least as much as male athletes, especially in our heavily feminist culture. We’re assumed to be overcoming so much, and are honored as pioneering flag-bearers for feminism – even if we seriously just enjoy swimming. So, I don’t personally perceive any lack of incentive for women to pursue athletics – if they want to. Because there are a wide variety of reasons why one might play a sport, (compulsion, peer pressure, expectations, scholarships) Rhoads notes that

The best way to judge the strength of interest in playing competitive athletics may be to see how many women and men participate at the recreational level. Here the differences are extremely large. (167)

Rhoads details how men tend to discuss sports while eating with friends, read about sports, and of course watch sports even excessively. Women tend to discuss people and relationships, and if/when women do discuss or watch sports, they’re usually interested in the athlete’s personal story, or in their beauty, physique, grace, strength, personality. Men enjoyed seeing one person or team win

at the expense of an opposing party. (164)

Women prefer relative rankings. Moreover, when men compete and win, they get a huge testosterone boost – whereas women experience a slight rise in testosterone, but in proportion to

how well they feel they have played well. (172)

But, not so with men;

Since a boost “creates a feeling of euphoria and exhilaration,” men who compete and win have an incentive not enjoyed by women to compete and win again. (172)

If these studies are true, then clearly the age-old stereotype of men liking sports more than women has a very rational, even neurological basis. Interestingly, no one earlier in history – when these stereotypes were most pervasive – would have known this.  Evidently, they just based their assumptions on the trends they saw in everyday life. Seems we modern folks may be over-thinking these things. Next week, Elizabeth will finish up Chapter 7!

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