By Ian Sullivan
During Super Bowl XLIX this past Sunday, Always, the feminine hygiene brand, aired an advertisement that forced viewers to cease discussion of deflated footballs, proper play calling, and dancing sharks for a brief moment, and to consider the abilities of women and girls. The commercial, promoting a #LikeAGirl hashtag campaign, begins by having an off-camera voice ask a few adults and a young boy to throw, run, and fight “like a girl”, to which the participants giggle and demonstrate a painful level of inadequacy. Then a 10-year-old girl named Dakota introduces herself, and her and a few other girls demonstrate how to properly do these things with the appropriate level of intensity and conviction. It was a simple and memorable advertisement during this year’s big game because while most Super Bowl commercials have glorified hedonist behaviors and objectified women, this one brings to light the important yet often ignored issue that women are largely viewed as inferior to men in the world of athletics. Hopefully, after viewing the commercial, you were left with the impression that there is a lot wrong and that change is needed, if that was not already the case.
This past season, the women’s basketball team here at the University of Idaho was the Western Athletic Conference champion. Regardless of conference, that is undeniably a huge accomplishment. Not too many people in our community seem to care about all the accomplishments of our female athletes, yet hundreds of students will still take advantage of a few Saturdays every fall semester to get inebriated and watch the Vandals football team play. The men’s basketball team hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since the late ’80s, and the football team hasn’t had a winning season since 2009, but there is a culture here at our school that caters largely to men’s athletics and ignores women. And this isn’t just an isolated problem within our own community. This is the case throughout the entire world. I don’t mean to knock on our football and basketball teams; I know those student-athletes work hard and it’s unfortunate that they haven’t been able to achieve much tangible success, but it’s just ridiculous that you can go to a women’s basketball game or any other women’s sport for that matter and you hear nothing but crickets practically, compared to the exuberant school spirit displayed at our football and men’s basketball games.
Sports need feminism, and feminism needs sports. However, unfortunately, it seems like women are often discouraged from pursuing their athletic aspirations. Every so often, we do get a polarizing figure, such as the Williams sisters, Brittney Griner, and Mo’ne Davis, the inspirational 13-year-old who was only second girl ever to play in the Little League World Series this past summer, and the first to pitch a no-hitter during. But while these women are great at what they do, and are even greater role models, they apparently aren’t enough. Like so many systems and institutions in our society, the world of sports is oppressive towards women and too often the notion is brought up that men and boys are naturally and athletically superior. This is not the case and this way of thinking now is both ignorant and dismissive. There are so many ways for women to contribute, and it’s time they felt empowered to do so.
From a personal standpoint, I have always loved sports and I attribute so much of my character growth to the many years I spent playing on teams. I’ve gained so much from my own athletic career and I wholeheartedly believe I am a better person today for it. So many of my biggest role models growing up were athletes, and athletes like Mo’ne Davis and Brittney Griner leave me in awe. As I have gotten older and no longer play in any organized league, I have found inspiration in those who report and write on sports. One of my favorite figures is Jackie MacMullen, a columnist and panelist on ESPN’s hit program Around the Horn. In the world of sports journalism that is dominated by men, it’s both refreshing and rewarding to take in to considerations the perspective of a woman. Her hard work and rise in the industry is grounded in sheer motivation. With that said, there is so much to be gained from sports and I wish everyone could take away as much as I have. It’s disturbing that girls are not encouraged as much as boys from a young age to actively pursue success in sports, and I only hope that will soon change. Because when men achieve great accomplishments on the playing field, it’s great for sports. But when women do, it’s great for society and tells a larger story of dedication, perseverance and overcoming barriers.