"THE STRONGER WOMEN GET, THE MORE MEN LOVE FOOTBALL: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports" by Mariah Burton Nelson

"THE STRONGER WOMEN GET, THE MORE MEN LOVE FOOTBALL: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports"

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To her exploration of violence and sexuality in masculine sports, Nelson (Are We Winning Yet?, 1991) brings formidable journalistic skills, a sharp anecdotal style, and incisive logic. Nelson argues that violent and aggressive sports -- football, basketball, hockey -- generate a hostile attitude toward women and function, in fact, as refuges for men from the threat of women's liberation. Women are tolerated as decorative (cheerleaders, topless dancers in ""sports"" bars, swimsuit cover girls) or derided, femininity being equated with masculine failure: Coaches belittle losing teams for ""playing like girls"" and award tampons to their worst players. An interesting historical chapter traces ""the crisis in masculinity"" to changes in male occupations in the 19th century from the physical to the more cerebral, and to women's discovering the bicycle, which gave them a freedom of motion that paralleled their growing political freedom. She offers cogent interpretations of the soap-opera quality of ""sports talk,"" the sexual language of sport itself, ""dominance bonding,"" or identifying with powerful symbols, the role of college sports in gang rape, the unhealthy dimensions of male coaches training female athletes, and an exceptionally funny and poignant chapter on female journalists in male locker rooms (with some great explanations of why men do not like to be seen nude). She analyzes the role of media, especially advertising, in producing a ""cognitive dissonance,"" the discrepancy between popular images of athletes and the reality, that lies behind much of the misogyny expressed by both spectators of and participants in the ""manly"" sports. Nelson disregards the role of hormones, the economy, even of war, in shaping the emotional tone and sexual biases of masculine sports. But her emphasis on journalism, especially women journalists as agents for change, however single- and perhaps simpleminded, is at least tangible and certainly thought-provoking.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace