Here we go again. Already exasperated from charges that the dominance of his UConn women’s basketball team might be “bad for the sport,” head coach Geno Auriemma was asked a similar question regarding his U.S. women’s Olympic team.
“We live in that Trumpian era where it’s okay to be sexist and degrade people that are good, just because they’re the opposite sex,” Auriemma told reporters following last week’s 110-84 win over Serbia. “We are what we are. We’re never going to apologize for being that good. We’re never going to apologize for setting a standard that other people aspire to achieve.”
“These are Olympians,” added the coach. “They’re supposed to play at a high level. They’re professionals, they’re supposed to put on a show, they’re supposed to entertain. So, what are we supposed to do? Just go out there and win by a little? We’re not bad for women’s basketball . . . What’s bad for women’s basketball is when nobody’s great, because then you could say, ‘You know what? I don’t think anybody really knows how to play this game.’”
The sexism surrounding the Rio Olympic Games goes beyond basketball.
When the Chicago Tribune tweeted that the “wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics,” the newspaper was roundly criticized for recognizing an unnamed male athlete over a woman — Corey Cogdell — who just happened to be a two-time Olympic medal winner in trap shooting.
Similarly, NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines discussed USA swimming phenom Katie Ledecky by explaining, “Some people say she swims like a man.” Gaines, to his credit, was quick to add, “She doesn’t swim like a man. She swims like Katie Ledecky.”
Sexism runs rampant in politics, too. Consider Hillary Clinton, potentially this country’s first woman president.
“On the one hand, Clinton’s career highlights how far women have come,” wrote Tania Lombrozo, psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2013. “Just 20 years ago, there were only three women in the Senate (versus 20 today) and there had never been a woman secretary of state. On the other hand, a glance at the proportion of women in public positions of power — whether it’s Senate seats (20 percent women) or board seats at Fortune 500 companies (16.6 percent women) — reveals that we have a long way to go.”
Indeed, a 2014 Pew Research Center study found that women are “in short supply at the top of government and business in the United States.”
Foremost among the reasons: “[A]bout four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves.”
Stated bluntly, many men fail to see the strengths women bring to leadership positions.
“The gender gaps in perceptions about political leadership are especially sharp,” adds the Pew study. “For their part, solid majorities of men say there aren’t major differences between men and women” in the areas of “compromise, honesty, backbone, persuasion or working for the benefit of all Americans. Nonetheless, [men] are somewhat more likely than women to give a nod to male leaders over female leaders on four of the five political leadership qualities tested in the poll.”
Perhaps men in Connecticut are more willing to trust a woman president since ours was the first state to elect a woman in her own right as governor in 1974.
Ella Grasso “paved the way for more women in Connecticut politics and set a wonderful example of what a public service-minded individual can accomplish,” according to the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
A Quinnipiac poll in June indeed found that Connecticut voters support Clinton over Trump by a margin of 45 percent to 38 percent. Moreover, this week’s Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows Clinton with a 6-percent lead over Trump.
Still, given the historic reluctance of men to back female leaders, Clinton’s election is anything but a lock. For example, a Roper Center poll last month found white men without a degree preferred Trump to Clinton by 14 percent.
President Barack Obama addressed this stubborn gender gap recently: “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear.”
“I want all of our daughters and sons to see that this too is their inheritance,” continued the president. “I want them to know that it’s never been just about the Benjamins; it’s about the Tubmans too. And I want them to help do their part to ensure that America is a place where every single child can make of her life what she will.”
Adds Geno Auriemma: “The world needs times when such great, great teams or great individuals are doing great things, that other people can talk about and other people say, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to be at that level?’”
And never would gender be mentioned.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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