Will We Move The Needle?
The All Star Ultimate Tour Documentary was released on Monday and I had the opportunity to watch live with three members of the tour, Dori Franklin, Lisa Pitcaithley and Megan Cousins. We ended up having some issues getting sound to the TV instead of the laptop and had to pause the live link for a few minutes, which means we missed that much time on the end of the stream. Thus, we have no idea how it ended. When it ended for us though, we were silent. We were processing. Qxhna’s words rang clear and sat with us. She speaks of feeling valued by her teammates and herself, but not necessarily by the larger community. She speaks on the inequity of the professional men’s leagues and questions the solution to said inequity. I’m sure most of the women watching the documentary were nodding their head having felt those feelings and thought those thoughts. Here I was, sitting in a room with 3 of the women featured in the documentary; watching them make play after play, in awe of them and inspired by them–and while it was an incredibly empowering experience, we were left dejected.
A clip from an Ultiworld podcast that played near the end of the documentary lingers in my mind. Two men spoke of the tour exceeding their expectations in terms of talent and play, yet ultimately deciding it was hard to tell whether it moved the needle–whether it impacted the sport of women’s Ultimate as the tour sought.
I vehemently disagree with their conclusion. I think about the hour and a half I just watched. I think about the words the women spoke on camera and the sheer joy on their faces and in their voices as they celebrate each point and each player. I think about the World Championships and the livestream coverage. I think about the USWNT that has been assembled and the incredible female athletes that will take the field in London next week. Questions abound….
How will we be perceived?
Will we be entertaining enough?
Will we showcase our athleticism?
Will we convince spectators we are worthy of their time?
Will young players watch?
Will young girls be inspired?
Will we move the needle?
How do we change a deeply engrained societal belief that men are superior athletes, that men are more entertaining and worthy of our time? How do we change a deeply engrained societal belief that women are inferior athletes, that women are not as entertaining, and that women are not as worthy of our time?
While we are lucky to be apart of such a progressive community in terms of our seemingly universal commitment to gender equity, I can’t help but think about the video clips and highlight reels that flood my social media feeds daily. Videos that feature male athletes competing in a semi-professional men’s ultimate leagues. They get shares and likes and comments from male and female fans, young and old, veterans to the sport and just passerbys. They’ve reached SportsCenter’s Top 10, along with nine other clips of men playing sports (well, 98% of the time per a USC study on women in sports media). They widen the gap. They are here to stay. Young players are being introduced to this version of the sport via social media; a male dominated version of the sport with referees and corporate sponsorships. This version of the sport sidelines women. This version of the sport is here to stay.
I haven’t been able to justify personal support for teams or leagues, though I have friends playing and watching. Abstaining from clicking on videos or watching games isn’t a solution, and like Qxhna says in the documentary, I’m not sure what is. I like to believe the training myself and my teammates have put in is a small solution; training to be the best in the world and to showcase our skill, athleticism and spirit as a unit. What does gender equity look like when more playing opportunities exist for men? Can you achieve equity without achieving equality?
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the documentary live, I urge you to watch when it becomes available on-demand. Watch with your teammates or watch with the opposite-gender, and start a conversation afterwards. Talk about inequity and institutionalized sexism in our sport. Watch the USWNT take on the best in the World next week. Watch the All Star Tour take on the best in the US this summer.
Thanks Qxhna and the All-Stars.