Social entrepreneur, political commentator, and freelance writer Jamila Aisha Brown recently wrote an excellent opinion piece for Ebony.com entitled "The WNBA Problem: Play Like a Man, Act Like a Lady", in which she writes about the continued inequality in sports.
I definitely agree with her that we have a long way to go as far as defeating harmful stereotypes and sexism in sports. It is ridiculous that in 2012, all sexual orientations are not accepted, and the combination of that and sexism is roadblock in the success of women's sports - in this case the WNBA.
Wearing makeup, 'feminine' clothing, and continuously flaunting one's 'traditional' family should not be requirements to play women's professional sports, or requirements to have a successful women's professional league. The only requirements should be talent, skill, passion,and competitive drive - the very same requirements that men need to play professional sports. The last time I checked, wearing Mary-Kay, Vera Wang, and having a boyfriend or husband did not win a WNBA championship for the Minnesota Lynx, and Axe, Dulce and Gabbana, and Nike are not competing in the NBA playoffs.
Labeling a woman a lesbian, or saying 'she looks like a man' hurts women and their endeavors as well. Women do not look the same, just like men do not look the same. Women who play sports are not all lesbians, just like men who play sports are not all straight. Sports is mutually exclusive to a person's looks and love life - whether a person plays sports does not determine looks or sexual orientation, and vice-versa. Can you imagine how more successful the WNBA could be right now, as well as any other women's leagues if stereotypes and sexism didn't exist? These athletes wouldn't have to worry about appearing what men dominated media deem as safe, feminine, and heterosexual . Their focus would be laser sharp on their sport, their training, and the sustainability and progression of their particular league.
The inequality is really based on some men's fears. A lot of men still think they are entitled to a lot (jobs, prestige, positions, money, etc), and they do not want their entitlement threatened or taken away to give opportunities to women - especially when they know women can do just as good a job or better. So, since they are threatened, they go the insult, stereotype, or sexist comment route. They make issues out of non-issues. One can see it in action in the comments area of articles that have to do with women's sports on websites sites such as ESPN.com and Yahoo.com. Instead of bypassing the article, men leave inappropriate, vulgar comments about women in general or specific women athletes. It is pathetic, shameful, sad, and reflects these men's closed-mindedness and insecurity.
What is more disturbing is that some women do this very same marginalizing, not understanding how they are only hurting themselves and their daughters, sisters, nieces, and granddaughters. Why dim your own light and the lights of other women? What are you scared of? When you follow these men in their sexist thinking, you are only limiting your success - your ability to achieve - be it sports or the corporate ladder. If you don't think you are deserving of respect, just as capable or more capable, or equal - don't expect anyone else to think of you in that manner either.
Ms. Brown is definitely right that the perception of women hasn't changed even after the passing of Title IX. There are still too many people out there with archaic, paternalistic ways of thinking. With that said, we can always keep fighting, and keep educating. Women should be able to act like and be themselves, not what the way someone else wants them to act or be.