Saturday, 12 August 2017

Does Counting Sporting Success as the Holy Grail Demean Women?

It’s fashionable now to celebrate the success of women’s sporting teams in Rugby, Football, Cricket and Athletics, for example as though this represents a new evolution in society of enormous significance. Whenever it is mentioned one feels a social pressure to join in the whole-hearted celebration of it. I certainly have no agenda for stopping this or rubbishing it – if that’s what women choose to do now then who am I to stand in their way or even think I could stand in their way? It sounds clichéd but we live in a free country where people can more or less do what they like within the law. Good luck to them!

The fact that I have no wish to determine how other people spend their leisure does not, however, prevent me from making observations on those choices as, in this free country, that too, is permitted so far. For many centuries men have measured a certain kind of excellence and derived great pleasure from sport. This may be because sport is a ritualized version of armed combat (something mostly, not always, prosecuted by males) and, given that it generally results in no deaths, a preferable one to the real thing. Sport tests the musculature, the endurance, the mental strength and the athleticism of males and furnishes opportunities for excellence. Like men, women, also need such physical exercise to be healthy and have developed sports of their own, some of which are the same as those practised by men. What is curious about the latest developments is that a great play is being made of women invading territory that has traditionally been that of the male. National sports of Football, Rugby and Cricket are the most obvious examples of this with new female teams on television. As I observed above, the fact of their doing this is of little moment. Women and their spectators are at perfect liberty to do what they will. What interests me is the meaning being imputed to these activities.

Moving onto territory where a certain sort of male excellence has long been measured is seen as a great triumph. I can’t help asking the question, though, is not the adoption of measures of male success by women strangely demeaning to them? Why are male measures of success – and incidentally, ones in which they will never succeed in measuring up to male performances – seen as a legitimate way to measure female worth? Are not these women, or their advocates who interpret the meanings of their undertakings, saying, in a strange way, that a woman will only have worth if she can perform against peculiarly male markers? Is this some women trying to be men because only being a man entails true worth? Such a belief or statement is curiously anti-feminist as, implicit in it, may be found the hidden intimation or suggestion that merely being a woman is, in some way insufficient in itself in terms of value. Aping men is to subjugate yourself to a purely masculine way of measuring value and feminism is supposed to be about freeing oneself from the tyranny of male value systems. A woman who has confidence in being a woman without having to imitate men is surely the greater feminist. Blinking and casually adopting a whole male value-measuring system seems an interesting mistake. In a back-handed sort of way it seems to demean women and female qualities. You would think that, in a society that, perhaps, has an over-inflated view of the importance and value of mere sportsmen women would be the first to assert other, superior values and to point this out rather than scrabbling to jump on the bandwagon.

I wonder what two very great women indeed (for, of course, women can be great too), Jane Austen and George Eliot, would have made of this.

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