If Women Ruled…Sports Boards…

Many of us have heard the famous hypothesis that “if women ruled the world, the world would be a more peaceful place.” Whatever you think of that claim, something similar is now being said of sports.

A research study out of Australia says, “More Women on Sports Boards Would Reduce Corruption, Doping.” As a feminist philosopher and member of a department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, I’m always intrigued by claims like this that suggest women would do better than men. I’m often wary because the suggestion that women are ethically superior to men makes an essentialist claim about women’s moral superiority that I doubt can be borne out by the evidence.  Is there something in women’s genes that make them more ethical? I doubt it.

So it was heartening to read that the researcher, Catherine Ordway, doesn’t think having more women on sports boards would improve things because women are more ethical. Rather, according to this report in the Canberra Times, Ordway claims that:

It was not because woman were “more moral or nurturing” but because diversity on boards tended to break up “group think” – the more diverse a board in the gender, culture and backgrounds of its members, the broader the mix of ideas and creativity, she said. It was also more likely that people would ask “the tough questions”. But there was limited value in simply appointing women from the same backgrounds as the men – instead, boards should look for diversity.

This claim that diversity breaks up “group think” has been presented in different forms by feminist philosophers over the past few decades. In the context of acquiring new knowledge, feminist philosophers have claimed that a more diverse group of thinkers will come up with more diverse questions because of the very different perspectives they bring to the table and the different experiences from which their interests and questions arise.

It’s interesting to see a similar hypothesis play out in a sports context. We won’t really know if Ordway’s right until we see a shift in the composition of sports boards:

She supports the push to have more women on the top sporting boards – with the Australian Sports Commission running a name-and-shame style system where it names boards with fewer than 20 per cent women on their boards.

Its latest report names archery (17 per cent), boxing (14 per cent) and the Australian paralympic committee (10 per cent) as having fewer than 20 per cent women in January 2015.

The sports commission’s target is for women to make up 40 per cent of board members of the top 15 sports boards, and Ms Ordway said the target was likely to make a difference not only to the number of medals won by Australians but also to integrity – meaning less doping, match-fixing and corruption.

You can read more about this research here:

Meanwhile, what do you think? How different would sports be if women occupied more seats in the power structures?


My Glove (Guest Post)

by Shelley Tremain

Right-handed leather softball glove for a left-handed thrower. Tan leather, well-worn. The fingers are joined with criss-crossing strips of leather and the area between the fingers and the thumb is closed with a two-tone woven leather piece.
Right-handed leather softball glove for a left-handed thrower. Tan leather, well-worn. The fingers are joined with criss-crossing strips of leather and the area between the fingers and the thumb is closed with a two-tone woven leather piece.

I haven’t really run since I became disabled at twenty-five. Not that I have missed it. But when I was a teenager, I was a star softball player.

I started playing league softball when I was nine. By the time I was twelve, I was a better batter than the seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds in the league. But it was my role at first base that really stood out.

I’m left-handed, so I caught with my right hand and had a terrific stretch off the bag. I never missed a throw, not even one way over my head.

I had one glove for all the years that I played. I loved that glove. That glove was my summer. Softball was my summer.

I can still remember how, when I first got my glove, I greased it and tied a ball in it for a couple of days to “work it in.” I remember the colour of my glove, how it looked on my hand, the subdued shine of the leather. I remember how it felt, especially how it felt when the ball snapped in it.

We had the strongest infield. Me and Cathy and Sue. We won the league championship a few years in a row. We were first-draft picks for our team. All three of us were on the all-star team for our league. I won best batter in the city-wide tournament one year.

Then Bill, our coach, started standing close to me and putting his arm around me, saying things to me. I didn’t want to play first base for him anymore. I asked to be traded to another team and then asked my new coach to put me in the outfield. I stopped playing after a couple more years.

I don’t know what became of my glove.

Shelley Tremain is a disabled feminist philosopher of disability and publishes on a variety of topics, including disability and philosophy, ableism in feminist philosophy, disability and bioethics, and Foucault. Shelley is the editor of Foucault and the Government of Disability (University of Michigan Press, 2005, 2015) and is completing a monograph entitled Foucault and (A) Feminist Philosophy of Disability (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming). She derives pleasure from writing, long walks, and doodling and blogs regularly at the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog:


fitness · Guest Post

What’s in a (Women’s Team) Name?


Recently I saw the cartoon, How Society Polices Women’s Clothing (No Matter What We Wear), in which illustrated female figures engaging in various life activities (i.e. working-with-clipboard, relaxing-with-guitar, clubbing-with-clutch purse) are each critiqued for what clothing is worn. I had noticed, however, that none of the women were depicted wearing sports clothing.

This is not to say that women’s athletic apparel escapes cultural policing. For instance, women’s clothing for tennis and beach volleyball seem increasingly revealing and sexy, while already revealing women’s clothing has become athletic apparel, such as in the lingerie football league. In the 21st century, women athletes (particularly those who have achieved celebrity status) are tasked with demonstrating excellence in both athletic performance and sexual attractiveness.

In direct contrast, my current rec league soccer team jersey is far from sexy, especially after I have totally soaked it in the heat of an outdoor summer game. My jersey has white accents, but is mostly Wizard-of-Oz-Emerald-City green. On the jersey is printed the league’s insignia and the number 12 (not even my favourite number). Its style is almost totally generic. Aside from my rainbow socks and matching headband, I’m sure I must blend in almost entirely with the grassy green soccer pitch.

But I have come to identify profoundly with my jersey. On Sunday nights, number 12 green is me. An hour before game time you will find me frantically looking for my jersey like it’s a (well-hidden) treasure. When I arrive at the field, my heart begins to race when I see my Emerald City green-wearing teammates already warming up on the sidelines. (There’s no place like home!)

My only other soccer jersey (purple, number 18) is equally un-sexy with me in it, but on this jersey our fun and slightly sexy team name is on the front of it: “Chicks with Kicks.” My green team name, by the way, is “Femmes of Fury.” So while as sports clothing my jerseys aren’t explicitly gendered or sexualized, the team names still manage to adhere to the formula of suggesting both (aggressive) athletic performance and (sexy, objectified) femininity.

In fact, there are websites dedicated to listing such team names for women. On one site, top-rated women’s team names include the “Pink Fluffy Monsters” and the “Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers.” Cute, right? But the performance-attractiveness formula emerges again, suggesting that women must be rough-aggressive and passive-feminine. Of course, this is not the case for every women’s sports team. Samantha has reflected in another FIAFI post on soccer team names bearing gender neutrality in favour of referencing activities like drinking and middle-age onset.

I tend to regard my team names and sports apparel as emblematic of 21st century mainstream feminism: the “radical” feminist power of our all-women team uniform, a liberal “girls are as tough as boys” attitude, and 3rd wave “fierce-but-still-fashionable” accessorizing (i.e. the afore-mentioned colourful socks and headbands) that expresses our individuality amidst our uniform-ity.

It’s not that I dislike “Femmes of Fury” and “Chicks with Kicks,” per se. But do I wonder about how these team names risk re-inscribing feminine-otherness, even as they invoke girl-power assertiveness. Do men feel the need to ensure their sports team names follow such a similarly gendered formula?

My questions for FIAFI readers: What do your team jerseys look like, and your team names sound like, and what do they mean to you? Do these “fearless feminine” team names still suggest that feminine attractiveness still matters as much as athletic performance? How might such team names resonate (or not) with non-cisgender or gender-queer players?

Guest Post · inclusiveness · soccer · stereotypes · team sports

My Love-Hate Relationship with Co-ed Team Sports (Guest post)

The blogger in her early days playing coed team sports with her elementary school
The blogger in her early days playing coed team sports with her elementary school

Spring!!! As soon as I see the first patch of grass, I’m itching to get out and play… soccer, basketball, ultimate, football, I’m up for whatever. These past few summers, I’ve been playing pick-up soccer with a meetup group… They’re awesome, super well organized, they meet three times a week, and there’s usually a pretty good turnout. But, despite my eagerness to get out and kick a ball around (finally!), there’s also a part of me that’s hesitant to head out and play. And, really, if I’m going to be honest, a big part of what’s keeping me away is the worry that by the end of the game, I’ll feel upset. There’s a bitterness that tends to well up in me when I’m playing co-ed team sports; a sort of dense multi-layered sludge that keeps on giving, even once the game is over.

Here’s how it goes: I show up and notice how few women there are, if any. We start playing, and I quickly pick-up on this pattern where I’m often not covered and still rarely get the ball. It’s like I don’t exist. And when they do interact with me, the guys feel like they can coach me, like give me “helpful” hints. I get this feeling like my calling for the ball (“I’M WIDE OPEN!!”) is just seen as obnoxious, especially if I get at all insistent, after the fifth missed opportunity. Then, when I finally get the ball, I feel like I have something to prove. And, I might make a good play, which is nice, or, I might mess up, which is less nice, and leads to the confirmation that I’m not a reliable player, even though everyone messes up now and then. “All this because I’m a woman”, I privately fume.

But, then, this immediate sort of frustration gets processed through self-doubt and self-reflection: Am I really getting the ball less often than I would if I were a man?  Maybe, the other players have just played together for a while and have a good rapport… Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am… Maybe they’re just not that good and aren’t aware of good passing opportunities… I’m probably just being oversensitive… And, if playing co-ed sports makes me so upset, why do I insist on participating and putting myself through these unpleasant feelings, and possibly even making the game less fun for the others… Why can’t I just get over it and have fun?

As a counter to this self-doubt comes the dredging up of the past. While, it may be that I am being over-sensitive in this particular case, I have reasons for being watchful for cases of differential treatment. Ever since I can remember, I have been treated differently in team sports. Early on, boys (uncensored, as kids will be) voiced their prejudices about not wanting girls to play, or not accepting that girls could be better than them. It often took adult intervention for them to take me seriously, such as a coach telling the boys to pass the ball to me because I was a good player. And, in my grown up years, I’ve experienced the more obvious type of discrimination in leagues that require teams to have a certain number of women on the field. The gameplay can sometimes become centered around the men, and the women become human pylons.

Finally, there comes the meta-frustration, or, anger at “the system”. I consistently get the message that women and men are not on equal footing when it comes to team sports. For one, when I’m paying attention, I notice a near absence of women in pickup sports. Also, women can be given conditions that make a sport “easier” (if not easier, just different) for them, such as a smaller ball in basketball, lower volleyball nets, shorter matches in tennis, no tackle football games… or, remember girls’ push-ups in high school?  And, truth be told, I know that even I perceive women and men differently on the field. All this just leaves me in a funk, thinking about how pervasive and entrenched these systematic divisions are.

But, then this weird thing happens, where I remember that, sure, sometimes I end up feeling pretty down after playing co-ed team sports, but, still, there are other times, where I meet awesome people who both play hard and encourage each other. And there’s this added bonus where I get to be a woman playing pick-up sports, which changes things just a bit. So, this weekend, I’m going to play soccer with the meetup group, and, damn it, I will have fun running my guts out, trying to set up good plays, and generally just letting my aggressive and competitive spirit run loose.


Jeanne-Marie just got her MA in philosophy at Tufts University, and is now giving computer science a go. She loves team sports (all of them), biking, swimming, and has not yet learned to love running.

athletes · fashion

Prom dress rugby and lingerie football: what’s the difference?

I love prom dress rugby. It makes me grin.

I like rugby more than football. I have a teenage son who plays both sports, rugby at the provincial level and football on his high school team. Over the years of watching both games I’ve developed a pretty strong preference for rugby. Now that might just be my British heritage, combined with a small streak of anti-Americanism, showing but rugby seems to me to be a much more athletic game.

I also love prom dress rugby and hate lingerie football. The picture above is from UCLA’s prom dress rugby match, a fundraiser for breast cancer research. Sorry, no photos of lingerie football here. This is our sandbox. But there’s loads of lingerie football photos everywhere else on the web.

It seems to me there are important differences between the two sports though beyond my simple preference for rugby over football. (Rugby is the sport I would have played if I’d been an athletic child and if rugby for girls had been an option in the 70s and 80s. You can read about my regrets here.) Both prom dress rugby and lingerie football play on the clash between traditional notions of feminine beauty and and the rugged, traditionally masculine nature of the sports involved. It’s the juxtaposition of frills and lace and tackling that makes me grin. Both get humour value from, and take pleasure in, playing the game in non-traditional attire.

But here it seems to me the similarities end.

What are the differences?

  • Most importantly girls and women play rugby in regular uniforms 99% of the time. Prom dress rugby is annual event, a one-off thing, put on in the spirit of fun.
  • Prom dress rugby events are usually fun events put on by the teams as fundraisers for charity and to draw attention to the non-prom dress version of the sport. Of course, the teams themselves belong to amateur or community leagues or more commonly to high school and university athletic associations. Lingerie Football is a for profit sport. That by itself doesn’t make it better or worse but it does make it different.
  • There’s a punky DIY ethos to prom dress rugby. As a friend said, it reminds him of the other tough women of amateur athletics, roller derby girls. Some women play in hideous bridesmaid dresses they’ve been required to wear, others in their own actual prom dresses, and many scout thrift stores for prom dresses–the flouncier the better–worth trashing.

Lingerie Football used to be just an American thing, but like Hooters, it’s made its way North. Toronto even has its own Lingerie Football League team, the Toronto Triumphs.

Arguably as the game goes international, with Canadian and Australian leagues, its tone is changing too. There’s even been a re-branding. In a press release issued last Wednesday the owner and founder of the LFL Mitchell Mortaza announced its new name, the Legends Football League rather than Lingerie. So still the LFL.

“While the Lingerie Football League name has drawn great media attention allowing us to showcase the sport to millions, we have now reached a crossroad of gaining credibility as a sport or continuing to be viewed as a gimmick,” writes Mortaza in the press release.

And the press release promises sports attire rather than lingerie although frankly the performance attire looks like they’ve upgraded to skimpy beach wear instead of bedroom attire. No more garters, no more chokers, and no more strappy lacy things. Think Baywatch, rather than Victoria’s Secrets.

You can watch the press conference and see the new bikinis–I mean football uniforms–here.

I also feel the need to say something about my preferences since feminists are so often misunderstood on this front. I’m a feminist but I’m also a liberal. I’m not in favor of censoring lingerie football or condemning those who enjoy playing or watching. In matters of what attracts you, what makes you grin, I’m an unrepentant liberal. What I’m doing here is explaining why I like prom dress rugby much more than I like lingerie football. It’s an invitation to see the world from my point of view, rather than an argument against yours.

There’s a great photo of prom dress rugby in Sports Illustrated Photos.

I love their tag: “We kid you not. Feast yer peepers on the Next Big Thing. Lingerie football is so, like, yesterday….”

I hope Sports Illustrated is right.