Monday, March 30, 2009

An Example of Sexism

My sister studies basketball. She watches every game possible; she goes over the film; she watches old games and new ones, NBA games and NCAA games, and she plays the game every chance she gets. There isn't a rule she doesn't know, or a call she can't make. She eats, breathes, and lives basketball. She isn't a natural player; she's intuitive, but not gifted. Her real strength comes from her obsessive nature, and also her inability to accept her own limitations. It makes this time of the year an absolute hell, because it is March Madness time, and because I live in UConn Country. Watching games with her is agonizing, because she is not only a basketball aficionado but because she's a talkative know-it-all who has to provide her own running commentary throughout the games. It makes actually enjoying my UConn Huskies games more than a little difficult. At the same time, it does mean that if you want to know some obscure or semi-obscure rule of the game, or just something that makes little sense, she's the one to ask. 

At dinner tonight, she came home with this:
These morons at school were wondering why UConn is playing in the West Region of the Bracket. Saying, like, 'What, they aren't anywhere near the West'. And of course, they wouldn't even let me start to explain it to them, because they were guys.
This is what sexism is. It is not recognizing that the girl next to you, the one who has been on basketball leagues since elementary school, might have some knowledge to impart on a subject. It is dividing centers of expertise down gender lines. Now, knowing that my sister is, in fact, a know it all asshole, it is more than likely that she started her opening sentence with something like, "You morons"; but still, she looked defeated in a way she very rarely does, because it is very hard to actually defeat a know-it-all asshole (I should know, since I share that familial trait). She knew the answer, and was denied imparting that wisdom to less crazed basketball fans. And the guys? Well, they missed out on an explanation for how NCAA brackets are formed.

There's another part of this, and that is my own sexist moment. When my sister started going on about the 'morons' in her school pondering the philosophy of the NCAA bracket, I did immediately cast the primary players as girls. There was no gendered language to alert me either way. Because of that, I immediately assumed ignorant about sports=female. With the basketball nut sitting across from me, the soccer nut sitting next to her, and the baseball nut on the other side of me. Three people, all carrying that XX gene, all carrying encyclopedic knowledge about their respective sports (and, for two out of the three, an encyclopedic knowledge on cars as well). I could dismiss this as being just a symptom of my own non-sport mindedness, but I don't think that is the case. It is because even with Title IX and the Women Huskies, even with all the returning college kids (girls and boys) meeting at the girls' high school basketball games in my town, even with my feminism, there's still this idea floating around the ether that boys know sports and girls don't. It is why those boys refused to listen to my sister; it is why I didn't entertain the thought that the so-called morons could be anything other than girls. And my sister, both of them actually, get lost in that shuffle.

If she were a different kid, I'd worry that the next time some boys were sitting around talking sports and being 'morons' about it, my sister wouldn't even try to step in to correct them. Luckily, that isn't who she is. She may be many things, but meek generally isn't one of them. And yet, I do worry about it; mostly, I worry that one day I'm going to get a call to bail her out of jail because she snapped when someone questioned her understanding of the game. Really, though, I worry that one day, she will stop being the know-it-all nudge she is. I worry that this kind of gender essentialism will slowly cut into her. I worry that she will not just feel defeated for the moment, but that it will be a low-grade cloud hanging over her, distracting her from her deep and passionate love for this game. Sure, it would make my life better if I didn't have to hear her screaming at the coaches, refs, and players who can't hear her anyway. For starters, I'd actually be able to hear the people who were paid to talk about the game. Still, I don't want that happening to her. I don't want her to feel like a part of her is being ignored because it doesn't fit with the boy-girl dynamic.

Yes, sexism hurts boys too. Those boys probably didn't want to get corrected by a girl sophomore. It would have possibly been considered embarrassing. To tell you the truth, I'm concerned about that as well. But I'm not related to them. I'm related to a quirky, crazy, intelligent, passionate, obsessive kid who loves sports more than almost anything else. And I don't want her to ever feel like that love is something that doesn't jive with the rest of her. Because it does; and I want to see her continue to glow in the wonderment of it all. Even when she's being a pain in the neck.

1 comment:

John said...

So all we need to do to defeat a "know-it-all asshole" is invalidate them through sexism? You fool! You've revealed your weakness, and now I shall exploit it! I'll just have to always wear an athletic cup (a steel one, to be extra safe) to protect myself from all the crotch-kicking that will likely ensue.