Monday, November 24, 2008

Final Fours and "Women's" Final Fours

On Saturday, I went to a UConn Women's Basketball game, because I love college basketball and I love women's college basketball more than men's, and because I love UConn's women's team probably more than any other team. It was a blow out, as can happen when one women's team is ranked #1 and the other team is unranked. But that gave me time to look at the banners adorning the XL Center. 
Pretty, aren't they? What struck me, though, was the difference in the emblems of the Men's winning banners and the Women's winning banners. Here are the two competing emblems from 2004, the year both the UConn Men's basketball team and Women's basketball team won the NCAA National Championship:

The Men's banner just says "NCAA Final Four"; the Women's banner explicitly says "NCAA Women's Final Four". This goes directly to what Habladora was saying in her Gender and Profession: Lady Doctors and Male Nurses post. Men are considered the norm when it comes to basketball players. Therefore, the banner doesn't have to explicitly say "Men", because when someone says "basketball player", we generally think of a man. In certain cases, like lady doctors and male nurses, I generally think we should leave gender out of the discussion, because it is a signifier of something out of the ordinary. It doesn't help change who we picture as doctors or nurses; it just modifies the automatic picture that appears at the mention of "doctor" or "nurse". For something like a Final Four appearance, though, I think we should take a different tactic. 

It is a competition, and two separate ones. For that reason, I would like for both the men's Final Four emblem and the women's Final Four emblem to indicate gender. Because right now, it seems as though the ungendered Final Four is the "real" Final Four, and the women's Final Four is an afterthought or less of a concern. And that is true; outside of Connecticut and Tennessee, many women's college basketball teams struggle to gain an audience; and women's teams in general can still suffer at schools like UConn and Tennessee, schools that have one outstanding women's program but whose other programs don't obtain that excellence year after year. Although I'm into language and words and how language and words shape our world and our lives, I wouldn't go so far as to say that making the gendered distinctions among Final Fours will suddenly revolutionize women's sports and make them as recognized and popular and respected as men's sports. But I do think it will help, even just a little bit, even just mostly subconsciously. Because even though it is a little thing, the little things add up; and although the wording on a sports championship banner is a very little thing, it is a representation of the gendered aspect in sports and other professions.


Jess said...

Apparently the ball got dropped somewhere in the beginning of the new millennium. I was at the XL Center the other night, and the UCONN banners that were hanging all specifically said men's or women's. One of the men's ones was from 1999. Then the lights when out, so I didn't really get the chance to figure out what year the switch occurred.

jjfs85 said...

This reminds me of a problem I have with English. English is (thankfully) a genderless language, meaning that the nouns in English do not explicitly have gender. Thankfully, this means that you don't need to change the end of every adjective to match the gender of the noun it's modifying. I'm really happy about that - but there is a problem that still exists in English concerning pronoun gender and it came up in conversation a few months ago.

Faith and I were walking down the main drag of our tiny city when I saw a driver who was doing something idiotic. The reflection of the blue sky reflected off the windshield blocking my view of the driver. I then said to her something like, "He has no idea how to drive". Then I proceeded to get yelled at because I assumed the driver was male.

Here's the problem: our language has no genderless third person singular pronoun (other than "it" which is unsuitable for referring to people). This means that to be PC, I would've had to say "He or she has no idea how to drive". That is much too long. Of course, when I said "He", my mind didn't decide that the driver had to male, I just used the male pronoun to mean person of unknown gender.

petpluto said...

JJ - On the one hand, I commend you for not automatically assuming that the driver was female, as the "bad (or crazy) woman driver" is a well-known stereotype!

On the other, I think you just highlighted a problem with our world - that being that "male" is the default sex and "female" is the modified sex, especially in terms of language. I highly recommend Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, as it examines (partially) this very subject.

That being said, I'm not sure if it was fair for Faith to yell at you for this particular incident. Others, I'm sure she's completely in the right!

jjfs85 said...

Haha! She's usually right (I'm scoring points by saying that!), but in all fairness, she had no way of knowing what I meant by "he" until I explained the problem.