I recently heard a coworker comment that women's sports leagues are so very badly under-exposed and under-watched, because:
1) sports are a male-dominated field,
2) men don't watch women's sports, and
3) women who watch sports spend most of their time watching men's leagues anyway.
This got me thinking. Are we being fair to female players by making them compete only with other women? Are we ghettoizing them for having different bodies, for being female?
Now, I know just as well as the next person that women and men have different bodies and different skills. Women, by and large, are simply not as strong as their male counterparts. But not all women are less strong than all men! Women bring a different set of skills to the table, such as a lower center of gravity and better endurance. Aren't these valuable qualities? Couldn't any good coach find a place on his team for a male player who displayed such attributes?
Some people who I've discussed this with (including my girlfriend) say that women should be divided from men in sports, because without a male presence on the field, women will play much more aggressively. In the presence of men, they become weak and ladylike.
But perhaps this is merely a function of the fact that girls are never pushed to compete against men, or alongside them? What if all sports were gender-integrated from elementary on up? Would boys stop being unconsciously domineering towards their female teammates? Would they see them not as girl players, but as fellow players who possess different strengths and weaknesses? Maybe they'd just see 'em as "one of the guys".
One problem with this approach is the spectators who fund these leagues. They want faster, harder, more brutal plays. Plays which female players simply cannot deliver. But as my Political Science professor said to me on my first day of college, "Rules influence outcomes." Sure, maybe games like basketball and football discourage females from playing alongside males, but maybe that's just a function of the rules. Could the rules of these games be changed in such a way that would allow women to compete alongside men? Not just make it possible for them to hold their own, but to actually excel? For female players, playing in an integrated league, to attain fame equal to that of big names like Kobe Bryant or Brett Favre? Not because they're such brave little troopers, carrying on against all odds in a male-controlled sport, but because they're actually the best players in the league.
I don't know if changing the rules will "solve" sexism. Could it usher in a new era, in which men do not view women as weak or deficient, but as equal partners and teammates in life? I don't know, but I doubt that the solution could be as simple as changing a few rules here and there. I just feel that we're sending mixed messages to our daughters, if we tell them that they can do anything a man can do, as long as they don't try to physically stand up to one.