“Women are crushing big-wave surfing… ”
A British academic has lit up Twitter with her posit that men and women are separated in sport only because men are terrified they gonna get beaten by the gals.
Posted a few days ago, Dr Sheree Bekker’s twenty-part Twitter thread has snowballed 2130 comments, 18.1k retweets and 43.3k likes, ok by Instagram metrics, phenomenal on Twitter.
On the history of (the segregation of) women’s sport
I have been hearing more and more frequently the narrative that women’s sport apparently exists as a ‘protected category’ so that women can win (because on this account no woman will ever win again without this protected category).
a) is not the reason why women’s sport exists as a category, and
b) it is not true that no woman will ever win again.
This narrative is also profoundly paternalistic and keeps women small.
I wanted to unpack this a little:
A. It is important to know that women’s sport exists as a category because the dominance of men was threatened by women competing.
We see this over and over again in the history of sport:
Women’s inclusion was on the terms of those in power. They didn’t want women ‘taking opportunities’ away from men so they segregated women.
It was never about a benevolent (still sexist) aim of supposedly ‘giving women a chance to win’.
It was about control.
And the narrative (B) about women being inherently physically inferior to men?
Concocted as a reason to segregate us without threatening masculinity.
There are once again greater fears here that women may start to challenge men’s dominance more broadly.
Indeed we are already starting to see this:
Exhibit B2: women are crushing big wave surfing (in 2020 Maya Gabeira surfed the biggest wave of the year in a record-breaking feat, Maggie Mertens explains here why you wouldn’t have heard about her feat).
Sport isn’t inherently gendered. We manufacture strict binary gendered differences, and then we naturalise them. Understanding and interrogating this helps us to understand the panic and fearmongering around women’s sport right now, and where we might go next.
I’m on the side of Bekker, as you might imagine.
Two months ago, I gave hell to the WSL when it refused to throw the best girl surfers in the world at epic Pipe.
Proof, I believed, that the chauvinism so rightly hit with the spotlight in Girls Can’t Surf hasn’t gone anywhere; that when the waves are perfect, the girls are given the revoltingly slimy end of the stick, so to speak.
“It was a fucking joke and a disgrace to all equality in sports pushes ever,” one top female pro told me.
The opposing argument is that female dominance over men is a fantasy, proponents pointing to the sudden rise of Lia Thomas in women’s college swimming and to the time a has-been German tennis pro, rated 203, smashed hell out of teen superstars Serena and Venus Williams, back to back.
Where do you stand?