With the women’s World Cup in full swing this week, The Atlantic has two pieces examining the differences that female soccer players face compared to their male counterparts. Arguing that soccer is a “feminist issue,” Maggie Mertens is frustrated that female players don’t get much attention from the mainstream media and feminist activists alike. Gwendolyn Oxenham, a former pro, hones in on the “unequal fortunes” of Brazilian superstars Neymar, a man who makes $15 million a year, and Marta, a woman struggling to even find a team without it folding soon after.
Mertens’s piece was the most contentious among Atlantic commenters. A key passage:
The thinking goes that if women’s sports were worthy of more coverage, they would receive it. But as [Perdue professor Cheryl Cooky] points out, a lot of our perceptions of how interesting women’s sports are come from the media itself. “Men’s sports are going to seem more exciting,” she says. “They have higher production values, higher-quality coverage, and higher-quality commentary ... When you watch women’s sports, and there are fewer camera angles, fewer cuts to shot, fewer instant replays, yeah, it’s going to seem to be a slower game, [and] it’s going to seem to be less exciting.”
TheMeInTeam doesn’t buy it:
I would have found this article more interesting if the author could have just conceded the obvious fact that elite female athletes are simply not equal to their male counterparts in terms of physical ability—kind of an important thing for an athlete, unlike in other professions. Look at any world record, or watch an NBA and WNBA game back-to-back. The difference is real and impossible to ignore. It’s just physiology.
To put it another way, who would have the advantage in any athletic competition you can think of: an elite female athlete or her identical twin who trained just as hard but also took testosterone injections from the age of 12?
Women’s sports that are identical to men’s sports—soccer and basketball, for example—will never be popular, because men are faster, stronger and more athletic. On the other hand, sports that highlight the different strengths of female athletes—tennis, gymnastics, ice skating—are popular. None of those are team sports, so there may be something there.
I think you may be on to something about the difference with team sports. When the Olympics come around (winter and summer), I enjoy the women’s and men’s events pretty much equally. The women may be running/swimming/skiing slightly slower than their male counterparts, but I can’t really tell, and it’s just as exciting. For some reason, however, when it comes to team sports where I’m used to watching men, that slight difference in physical ability becomes glaringly obvious and I just can’t stay interested in the women.
PeterJakes doesn’t see it that way:
One of the best soccer matches I ever saw, men or women, was Canada versus USA in the 2012 Olympics.
Canada’s Christine Sinclair put her team on her back and almost carried them into the Gold Medal match, only to be thwarted by questionable officiating. That game represented the beauty of athletic competition.
GeorgeOrwellGeorge points to a sport where relative female weakness is actually an asset for spectating:
I actually prefer watching women’s tennis. Men hit the ball so hard, particularly on the serve, that there’s less volleying and it’s less exciting to watch.
Likewise, Diozkouroi looks to another sport to argue that physical dominance isn’t everything:
If people only paid attention to the top performers, there would be no categories apart from “heavyweight” in sports like boxing. Floyd Mayweather can get easily beaten by a heavyweight, but he is the one who gets more money and attention in that sport.
And by my count, only 19 of the 50 “greatest boxers of all time” fought primarily as heavyweights, and likewise for only half of the “most popular of all time.” As vkg123 puts it, “People don't make stupid comparisons like Mike Tyson vs Manny Pacquiao, and it doesn't stop people from enjoying one or the other.” A retort from ksmugg:
That’s a fair point, but it’s generally one that’s distinct to individual competition instead of team sports. I’m curious if you or anyone else can provide an example in a team sport.
Maybe women’s volleyball? According to this study:
Women earn fewer quick points than men due to differences in arm strength, so digging becomes essential to victory for women. With the ball in play longer, staying alive determines the winner of a match.
And those rallies can get really amazing: