Entry from July 17, 2011

This morning’s topic on the WTOP (Washington News Radio) Talk Back line with David Burd took the occasion of today’s women’s World Cup soccer final to invite comments from listeners on why so few people watch women’s sports. “Be honest,” said Mr Burd, perhaps as a way to absolve himself from any responsibility for “sexist” or politically incorrect responses. All of those whom I heard who took up the invitation were men, but their comments were not invariably or incontestably the product of outdated patriarchal assumptions. One man, it’s true, said that the sporting gals would get a better audience if they dressed more attractively, but another said that they were already quite attractive enough and that he couldn’t watch women’s sports because his wife would resent what she apparently regarded as his ogling other women.

By coincidence, yesterday’s Daily Telegraph of London contained an article by Germaine Greer headed: “If men want to play men-only games, let them.” Nor was Ms Greer unaware of the fact that nearly all games people play are, or were until very recent times, men-only games.

Before women start demanding equal opportunity in sport, we have to consider whether a sufficient number of women actually want such a thing and whether they will take advantage of it. Otherwise, we are simply removing facilities from the men who are already motivated to use them. What should be obvious is that no competitive sport, except maybe the ghastly synchronised swimming, was ever invented by women. Men with time on their hands will play with anything that comes to hand, bottle-tops, stones, knuckle-bones. They will invent rules. They will set up teams and they will compete. Women don’t do this; they don’t form clubs, with secret signs and passwords; they don’t gang up for fun. They don’t invest huge amounts of money in leisure activities – unless you count shopping, which is actually very, very hard work.

Yet instead of drawing the obvious conclusion, namely that men and women are simply built differently and designed by nature (or evolution, as I suppose we are bound to say) for different purposes, she insists on making an ambiguously feminist point — which is to say one every bit as fantastical and unconnected to reality as that of the Title IX feminists she is arguing against:

Women’s inequality in sport is an illustration of their inequality in every other field of human endeavour. They have, or believe they have, less disposable income, less time and less opportunity to devote to leisure activities. If any free time should fall to their lot, they find work, not play, to fill it with. When that changes, everything else will have changed with it.

In other words, when hell freezes over — though she is bound to make it sound more hopeful than that so as not to dissociate herself from the feminist project by following where her train of thought would otherwise seem inevitably to lead her.

To those without this inhibition, the reason why few people watch women’s sports is less of a mystery. It is because sporting prowess is the opposite to and, indeed, the nullification of the qualities for which heterosexual men — and also most women — are biologically programed to want to look at women. These are not the active qualities of striving and fighting and winning that we expect from and admire in men but the traditionally feminine and passive qualities of beauty and charm and accessibility. It’s all very well to say that these expectations are “socially constructed” — though this should not exclude them from being also biologically constructed — but like all such things the construction must have taken place for a reason. As we commiserate with our plucky American gals in their loss of the World Cup, we may still hope that they and their fans don’t fall prey to the Willie Loman syndrome that is the bane of our culture and come to believe that “attention must be paid.” No it mustn’t. Nobody has a right to an audience, and sportswomen have chosen one of the more difficult ways for women to get one.

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