Today’s post is from Prof. Lindsay Ross-Stewart, whose research focuses on sport and exercise psychology. In this blog post, she considers the widespread nature of gender bias in sports spectatorship, arguing that this is not a direct response to any diminished accomplishment on the part of the athletes, but rather a collective anxiety about the ways that gender plays out vis a vis sports. Be sure to follow the links she’s provided here. The images she’s provided may have you pulling on your own hair in frustration….
I was watching the Canada versus USA Gold Medal Hockey game last week when one of the women I was watching with asked “Why don’t they just pull each other’s hair?” Around 15 minutes later someone else entered the room and after a few minutes he said “I am surprised they don’t pull each other’s hair.” I have watched a lot of sports, many involving men’s teams, and no one has ever asked “why don’t they just kick each other in the junk?” as a serious sport question. So I began to wonder why is this question asked so often that I didn’t even flinch at the question, instead I just gave my standard answer, it is about playing within the written, and unwritten rules. I mean really think about it, if they did pull each other’s hair what would that accomplish? A penalty and perhaps an ejection – so why would an athlete do that? So why were people watching the hockey game so interested in the fact that the players had pony tails? I really don’t know, but here is what I think….
Imagine this you are watching a hockey game and the game is physical, I mean really physical. Numerous penalties have been handed out, a couple players are even a little bloody by the end. What image is in your mind? Do you see players in their hockey gear, helmets, face masks, padding? If you do, then you can’t see gender, because the padding covers shape, and the helmet and face mask cover the faces of the players. You can’t see if the hockey players are male or female. In fact the only thing that would give away whether the game was a men’s game or a women’s game would be how many pony tails you see hanging out the helmets. I have a feeling no one reading this will have imagined pony tails since pony tails are not part of our natural understanding of what a hockey player looks like. They are however, part of our schema for what a woman looks like – and therein lies the reason why people focused on the pony tails. Continue reading