We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The 2012 Olympic Games are making athletic history, with records being smashed by some of the world’s greatest athletes. But the true legacy of the London games may be carved outside of the arena — it’s the first Olympics where every country competing has fielded at least one female competitor. We explore the power of the Olympics as a venue for social change, particularly when it comes to matters of gender and women’s rights.
- Sally Jenkins columnist, The Washington Post; author of "The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed A Game, A People, A Nation" (Doubleday)
- Megan Greenwell Writer; Former Managing Editor and Columnist, Good Magazine
- Nancy Hogshead-Makar Director of Advocacy, Women's Sports Foundation; Former U.S. Olympian and 3-Time Gold Medalist, Swimming
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The 2012 London Olympics mark the first time that every country competing in the games is fielding a female athlete. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have sent female competitors to the games for the first time ever. But while this may look to some that like we have achieved gender equality, the reality is that imbalances still exist throughout the athletic arena. Both inside and outside the Olympic stadium women continue to have fewer athletic opportunities than men do and they still face sexism and discrimination within the world of sports.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to have this conversation is Megan Greenwell. She is a writer and journalist. She was managing editor and columnist for Good Magazine. She joins us from the studios of KPCC in Los Angeles. Megan Greenwell, thank you for joining us.
MS. MEGAN GREENWELLThanks for having me.
NNAMDIMegan, some people are calling this summer games the year of the woman and that's because there are women representatives from every single country participating in the Olympics this year. How important do you feel that is?
GREENWELLI think it's definitely significant. You know, when countries like Saudi Arabia send women to the Olympics it speaks for societal changes that are much broader than sports. And even in the U.S. where we've obviously fielded women in the Olympics for many, many years, this is the first time that the number of U.S. women athletes outnumber the number of male ones. And it's a very small difference and it's been close to a 50/50 split for many years so that's more of a symbolic gesture.
GREENWELLBut I do think it's important, you know. Women's sports has really struggled both in the U.S. and abroad for a long time. And they're baby steps that we're taking but they're certainly significant.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation call us at 800-433-8850. What potential do you think the Olympic Games have to cause social change, particularly when it comes to women's rights? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a Tweet at kojoshow or you can go to our website kojo.org and join the conversation there.
NNAMDISome people believe that women should not have been invited to these games, women from places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar because they haven't reached the same level of competition as other athletes. Why should they tend the games when better athletes from other countries didn't make the cut?
GREENWELLRight. And this has come up with male athletes. You know, it comes up at basically every Olympics. You know, there are countries like Bangladesh which is one of the largest countries in the world but has barely any Olympia athletes of any gender in this Olympics. And none of those people are favorites to win medals. So it certainly comes up. And I think that the answer is essentially it is a world gathering. It is about crowning the best athletes.
GREENWELLBut in certain events all of the best athletes are going to be from China. And in certain events all of the best athletes are going to be from the U.S. And that's -- you know, there are a variety of systemic reasons for that. And so to say that the Olympics should only be for the absolute best athletes irrespective of country I think ignores the legacy of what the Olympics started as and what it's supposed to be to this day.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're having a conversation about women in the Olympics with Megan Greenwell. She is a writer and journalist, was managing editor and columnist for Good Magazine. We'd like to hear from you, 800-433-8850. What was your reaction when you saw the female athletes from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Qatar, Brunei compete? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIMegan, some people believe that the participation of female Saudi athletes may actually hurt women's rights in Saudi Arabia. What are some possible drawbacks from the female Saudi athlete's Olympic presence?
GREENWELLI think the argument is, you know, like we were talking about before, that if the Saudi women aren't ready to compete at this high of a level, if they don't perform well in the Olympics than that will A. give men who oppose their presence at all a reason to say, look they shouldn't have been there in the first place. And also maybe hold back other women who want to participate who don't want to feel embarrassed.
GREENWELLAnd I think those are valid reasons. I think there will certainly be men in Saudi Arabia who will look at their -- the women's performance -- they're likely not going to win any medals -- and say, you know, look this is why we shouldn't have women in the Olympics. But I also think those are the same men who would say regardless, you know, they could sweep the gold medals. And that certain subset of men would oppose their presence.
GREENWELLSo I think that throwing the doors open is never a bad thing and there will certainly be hurdles. It's going to be a long, long time if ever before Saudi Arabia is fielding women who really can compete at that level and fielding equal numbers of men and women or anywhere close to that. But, like I said, you know, it's baby steps and that's important.
NNAMDIDo you think that the Olympics can effectively either enact social change or have some significant role in enacting social change?
GREENWELLI think it can. I still really believe in the Olympic spirit for what that means. And yes, it's very commercialized and yes, much of the talk around it is problematic and prejudiced in different ways. And yes, we spend more time talking about NBC tape delaying than we do about any of the substantive issues raised. But I do believe that gatherings of the entire world like this are important. Even in our modern very connected age I think there's a lot of power to seeing women from Saudi Arabia and Brunei and Qatar walk into the Olympic stadium as competitors.
GREENWELLI found that a very powerful image when I was watching the opening ceremonies. And I don't think it's going to singlehandedly cause widespread gender equality in those countries, but I absolutely think it's a contributing factor.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'd like to hear from you. As a matter of fact you can call now 800-433-8850. What potential do you think the Olympic Games have to cause social change, particularly when it comes to women's rights? 800-433-8850. Have you been watching the games? What do you think of the participation and the contribution of women in the games so far? 800-433--8850, or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on women in the 2012 Olympics. We're talking with Megan Greenwell. She is a writer and journalist. She was a managing editor and columnist for Good Magazine. She joins us from the studios of KPCC in Los Angeles. You can join us by calling us at 800-433-8850. Did your athletic team have a female coach? Do you think it mattered that she was? 800-433--8850 or if you have any other questions or comments about the 2012 Olympics we'd be happy to hear from you. 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIMegan, despite major gains by female athletes women still face sexism and discrimination within the Olympics. What are some of the ways -- what are some of your observations of how that has manifested itself within the sports themselves at the Olympics?
GREENWELLWell, there are several things. I think the media coverage has been problematic in a lot of ways. There's been a lot of attention -- excuse me, a lot of attention paid to the New York Times story about the hurdler Lolo Jones saying that she spent more time working on her image than she has on her hurdling skills. She finished fourth just off the medal stand in the finals of that competition the other night.
GREENWELLThere have been other examples of biased media coverage I think. Even watching the NBC announcers, you know. When you watched them calling the beach volleyball matches they refer to the male athletes in every sport by their last names, just as almost everybody does when referring to athletes. And Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings who are by far the best beach volleyball players in the world, and as of last night, the three-time gold medalists, they consistently refer to them as Misty and Kerry, which is a very small thing but I think these minor -- it's death by a thousand paper cuts, right. It reveals a biased treatment of female athletes as compared to men's ones.
NNAMDIThe notion that somehow we can refer to female athletes more familiarly than we refer to men, the fact that we refer to them it would appear less respectfully than we refer to male athletes?
GREENWELLAbsolutely. And I think that comes up in many different ways. You knows, we call them by their first names. We sort of trivialize their accomplishments by -- in a variety of implicit ways saying that they're pretty good for a woman. These types of things come up over and over and over again. And I think that the Lolo Jones article, you know, it's an easy one to pick on because it was so extreme. And it was written by a very good sports writer. But he really missed the mark on this one by focusing on her sexuality because it really was sort of demonizing her for being beautiful and for making a living.
GREENWELLAnd it's so much harder for female athletes to make a living in their sports than it is for male ones that to demonize her for making money off of endorsements when the companies, yeah absolutely, chose her because she was beautiful, but also because she was very accomplished, I think, is really problematic. And it's somewhat surprising to me that in 2012, we're still having these same biased conversations. But it's likely to not disappear any time soon, I think.
NNAMDII'm glad you made the point about female athletes not being able to make a living at their sports, because every four years we watch the U.S. women's Olympic soccer team with a great deal of adulation and we feel that these women represent the country in the way that we would really like to be represented. Yet you have written about women's professional soccer folding for the second time. How can we prevent women's leagues from disappearing?
GREENWELLYeah, it's such a challenge. I was really upset when the Women's Professional Soccer League folded again this year after three seasons. They made it either two or three seasons last time in the wake of the 1999 World Cup, which Brandi Chastain famously ripped off her jersey and it sparked a lot of interest in women's soccer. And it just hasn't been sustainable on the professional level. And the WNBA is much more successful but really it's been propped up by the NBA.
GREENWELLAnd I think that we need to have a serious conversation as a society about how big a priority this is for us. And if we determine that women's sports is a priority, and I absolutely think it should be, then we need to figure out a way to support it despite the fact that it's never going to gain the fan support that men's sports do. I've written that, you know, we essentially need to start thinking of women's sports as a bit of a charitable model rather than a straight business model, which I got taken to task a little bit for, you know, that being patronizing.
GREENWELLAnd as a retired women's athlete myself, I think that, you know, I wish it was a sustainable business model. I wish we didn't have to think about it that way. But I think if the only other option is we don't have professional women's sports leagues, that it's worth relying on men's leagues, one foundations, what have you to prop them up.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Nancy Hogshead-Makar. She is the director for advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. She a former U.S. Olympian and a three-time gold medalist in swimming. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. NANCY HOGSHEAD-MAKARThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDINancy, you participated, as I mentioned, in fact medaled in the 1984 Olympics. Talk a little bit about how the games have changed since you were swimming in the Olympic pool.
HOGSHEAD-MAKAROh, gosh. Well, a big bump -- a big difference between generations before me and my generation was, of course, Title IX, that suddenly I thought of my athletic career as ending right around the age of 18. And by the time I got to the Olympics, you might remember I tied for the gold medal. It was the first tie ever in Olympic history. The two gold medals were awarded for the same event with Carrie Steinseifer. Carrie would not do any endorsements with me revolving around the tie because she assumed, of course, her athletic career would span through her college years.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARAnd now we're seeing -- so that was sort of bump number one. Bump number two has been that athletes can get paid, that they can get money from the Olympic Committee so that their -- the length of their career is now much longer. So they think in terms of how many Olympics they're going to be in, not in terms of -- you know, back in my day we thought of, you know, one Olympics was sort of the norm or what we expected and two Olympics was really sort of, you know, shooting it out of the ballpark.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARAnd I never heard of somebody who was in three Olympics let alone -- so, you know, now we've got people, you know, Misty May three-peated today. The women's beach volleyball, you know, have three gold medals from three separate Olympics. I mean, it's astounding that change.
NNAMDIWhat are the options you feel, Nancy, for female athletes today after their collegiate or Olympic careers?
HOGSHEAD-MAKARWell, as Sally was just mentioning, you know, to be able to go on and have a professional career in athletics it still isn't really there for women the same way that it is for men. I disagree with her. She thinks that we should go sort of the model of having this be a charitable endeavor and I don't. I think that it will stand on its own two feet. But people discount the effect of sexism that still hampers women in athletics on a daily basis.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARAnd so until we can -- I mean, me as a, you know, I'm a lawyer on -- I do a lot of Title IX work as -- I represent the Women's Sports Foundation. And the litigation that goes on, really there shouldn't be the kind of cases that get brought. And there shouldn't be as much pushback. When a family comes to a school and says they need to start a new team, you know, in a lawsuit there's only two things that people argue about. Are -- is it -- what are the facts and what's the law?
HOGSHEAD-MAKARWell, the law right now is really clear. We've had 40 years of litigation, hard, hard, millions and millions of dollars worth of litigation. And the facts in Title IX cases meaning, you know, sometimes you have to go to court to determine -- you know, a jury decides was the light red or was the light green. And the facts are -- everybody agrees to what the facts are. Here's what we're giving the boys. Here's what we're giving the girls. So you really shouldn't have any litigation going on about Title IX. And yet there is still a lot. there's still pushback -- a lot of pushback.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARAnd so that's -- number one it's going to take time, just like it took the men's leagues decades for them to develop the following and the hysteria that they have right now. That took a long time and we're not giving women the same amount of time and the same ability to be able to do that. At the same time women are really hamstrung by the sexism in sports that's looking at them physically and making there be a beauty contest at the same time that there's this beautiful amazing athletic contest going on right now. So, you know, I think it's amazing how far we've come given what we're up against.
NNAMDIThat's Nancy Hogshead-Makar. She is the director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. She's a former U.S. Olympian and three-time gold medalist in swimming. She joins us along with Megan Greenwell who is a writer and journalist, who was managing editor and columnist for Good Magazine. Phone number here is 800-433-8850. Let's go to Kate in Frederick, Md. Kate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATEHi. I just had a quick comment. I'm a high school athlete. I have two daughters. I love women's sports and I'm all about girls given a chance to try lots of different sports and be involved. And I think it's really important. I think one place that we're lacking that's more important probably than what we're speaking about right now is kids. I think that there's a lot of money put into boys sports as opposed to girls.
KATEAnd I just think -- my comment is, you know, when it comes to professional sports the fact of the matter is in the vast majority of sports men are faster, men are stronger and men are more entertaining to watch. And, you know, while there are sports where women completely dominate -- I mean, I don't think there's any argument that women's gymnastics is way more popular than men's gymnastics and in a couple other areas too, I think that women have the chance to excel in a lot of individual sports. I think a lot of female tennis stars get as much publicity as male tennis stars.
KATEBut I'm not sure that trying to develop these huge professional leagues to have a huge benefit in the end because what I believe her name was Nancy, what she just said about giving women's sports a chance because men's sports took decades to build followings, too. The huge difference there is men didn't have anything to compete against. That's why they were able to achieve that. Women are never going to achieve that because they're competing against men. Men already have this vast following. Men already have, you know, achieved that.
KATEAnd because women, just by our nature unfortunately, aren't going to be able to reach those same physical levels...
NNAMDIWell, Kate, you've said a lot. Allow me to have Megan Greenwell offer a response or her perspective.
GREENWELLYeah, I mean, that's a point we hear a lot. And I actually strongly disagree with that and I think one way you can see a counter argument to that is to look at women's basketball in college. College women's basketball is really popular. It's not as popular as men's college basketball but at the big schools, at the University of Tennessee, at the University of Connecticut, at Stanford they sell out every single game. And you're absolutely right. Women basketball players will never be as big, as strong or as fast as men are. That's just biology.
GREENWELLHowever, what that means is it's actually a different game and it's really great to watch on its own merits. So you're not watching it because it's better or worse than a men's basketball game is. You're watching it because it's different. And there are some things that women basketball players are actually better than men at. There's -- it looks like a different game. The passing game is totally different. The -- a lot of women are much better shooters from the paint than men are because they can't just drive to the basket and dunk.
GREENWELLAnd so I think we need to get out of the mindset of comparing it to men's sports and watch it for what it is and really appreciate how excellent so many athletes are just on their own merits.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone from London is Sally Jenkins. She's a sports columnist with the Washington Post. She is currently in London covering the Olympic Games. Sally, thank you for joining us.
MS. SALLY JENKINSHi, nice to be with you.
NNAMDISally, I will begin by reading you an email so that we can circle back to how the presence of women from every country in the Olympics first came about. We got an email from Jim who says, "While Sarah Attar showed a lot of guts breaking the barrier of Saudi women, can your guests explain why Saudi Arabia chose a runner who was so slow? I hate to be negative, but her time would not have been a high school meet and she was clearly out of her element racing on the same track as the world's best. There are probably ten girls on my son's high school track team who could be that time. How do countries like Saudi Arabia select their athletes?"
NNAMDISally, could you circle back and tell us about how the gains and the presence of women athletes did not happen by accident and how the International Olympic Committee achieved that symbol of progress?
JENKINSWell, first of all, he's right. I hate to say it but, you know, there are a lot of people who say well, it was wonderful that she was here. It's also possible that it's just sort of some PR gloss for Saudi Arabia. And the conditions for women really, you know, are not terrific for female and female athletes in Saudi Arabia. So you have to start with a little dose of reality on that score, number one.
JENKINSNumber two, on the other hand it is extremely positive that, you know, in 1996 there were still 26 countries in the Olympics that sent male-only teams. You know, so that's a profound shift. That's a seismic shift. You know, the most interesting thing to me that's happened here is the physicality of the female athletes who are here boxing and weight lifting.
JENKINSBoxing today is arguably one of the most popular events. Women's boxing today was bedlam in the stadium. There were -- there was a packed crowd absolutely screaming for a great light-weight fighter named Katy Taylor from Ireland. So there's a lot of different things going on here and it's not, you know, this linear progress. It's one step up and two steps back in some ways. The female performers here are not routinely excellent necessarily in every sport but some of them are totally incandescent and very surprising, like these boxers.
NNAMDIJim, does that answer your question, Jim in Dover, Del.?
JIMYes, it does. I'm just wondering if the reason that she was selected could be an effort by Saudi Arabia to prove the point that women don't belong in the Olympics? I think it's someone who, you know, was clearly pretty slow, people reading too much into it.
NNAMDISome people have...
JENKINSI mean, that's sort of a conspiracy theory. I'm not sure I would go that far. You know, I think it was more of, again, a public relations maneuver. But I wouldn't say that their aim was to set women back in Saudi Arabia.
GREENWELLAnd it also speaks to -- if I can just jump in quickly...
GREENWELL...it also speaks to the lack of infrastructure. You know, women have never been given the opportunities in a country like Saudi Arabia. So of course their best athlete is not going to be very good. She hasn't had any support. The reason the U.S. women excel in so many sports is because there's this huge national infrastructure supporting what they do, and there are still problems with that as well. But to expect somebody to be the first ever female athlete for their country and go out and immediately win gold medals is not really fair. It takes many years and that's why I think this is a really promising step.
GREENWELLYou know, the next Olympics the Saudi women are going to be better and it's going to take time absolutely. But with some support they will certainly improve.
NNAMDIAnd Nancy Hogshead-Makar, you wanted to comment also.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah, I wanted to say that this has always been true for both men and women in the Olympics, that not everybody is even remotely in contingent for the gold medal. This is a celebration of not just the best athletes but to have the whole world be able to come together. There are men's marathon runners that run an hour slower than the winners. There are in -- back in 1984 when I swam there was somebody that swam a minute slower than I did.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARAnd, you know, if we're not -- you know, we just need to be equal opportunity when we talk about other countries not having the same sports model that our country does. The rest of the world would love to link their athletic program with their academic program the way the United States has. It has done our country very, very well to link those two things up together.
JENKINSCan I just...
NNAMDIYeah, please, Sally, go ahead.
JENKINS...let me just jump in here...
NNAMDIOh, oh, Sally jumped in, but we can't hear her.
JENKINS...performance, then what you see is a really dramatic steep curve, an uptick in female performance once countries do adopt a sport. Look at Japan's presence in the World Cup. They're the World Cup title holders and they'll be playing the U.S. for an Olympic gold medal tonight. Four years ago, they were a grassroots -- barely a grassroots program. Women's basketball only, you know, appeared at the Olympics in 1976. And yet now you have players like Candace Parker, you know, who are dunking the ball, who are really extraordinary players.
JENKINSYou know, there are times swum here that the young Chinese 15-year-old swimmer swam a lap that was faster than Ryan Lochte. So when people do give women opportunities you see a really amazing meteoric like rise in the level of performance fairly quickly. It doesn't take that many years.
NNAMDIHere is Jim in Laurel, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMYeah, I first -- when they were talking about the Title IX, the problem she says the law, but it's right there at the front. The law's almost impossible to comply with when they had it in Browne University where they said they have to have equal participation. They found in club sports, men participated in club sports eight times as much plus there's more interest in men's sports. So it's really a financial nightmare. I think the rules of Title IX actually hurt both men and women. They have to get rid of teams because they can't afford it.
JIMNow as far as calling (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, one point at a time. I'd like to hear...
JENKINSThat's nonsense. That's nonsense. That's absurd. That's absurd.
JENKINSBecause what's the problem -- if there's a problem at any university with Title IX, it's the fact that the athletic director doesn't manage his budget properly. The reason sports die is because universities are overinvesting in football, which is the most expensive sport on campus and under investing in other sports. And if they don't make a BCS ballgame, that means they're in the red by millions of dollars and that's why they cut sports. Not because they're having to fund, you know, a sport with a handful of women.
NNAMDIJim, your next point?
JIMWell, I'm going say about that, first of all, they get a lot of donations for football. I don't think it's true at all. They have, like, crew -- for instance there's more female crew people because crew is cheap. They get -- they can get a bunch of women to be in crew. There's more...
JENKINSRead any -- excuse me, read any NCAA report on the cost of college football and the relative cost of other sports. You're absolutely categorically in error.
JIM...say anything about football. You did. If I look at basketball so if some football teams do make money, why do they keep the football teams...
NNAMDIJim, what is your bottom line point?
NNAMDIYour bottom line point is that Title IX is bad for sport?
JIMWell, I -- Title IX is almost impossible to comply with so -- the rules as they are. As I said...
NNAMDINancy Hogshead-Makar, you may want to respond to that.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah -- no -- yeah, I mean, if you think that athletics is an important activity for kids to play -- to do for both boys and girls that they learn things that they can't necessarily learn on a chalkboard. But winning and losing and postponing short term gratification, there's an enormous amount of research that shoes that sports isn't just associated with doing well academically. It actually causes more academics -- or people to get more education and to do better in education.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARWomen in particular go into nontraditional careers and athletes in high school are far more likely to be in the workforce fulltime. They're far less likely to be obese. So if we think that this is a good thing then looking at an athletic department and athletic directors essentially given about -- you know, depending on, you know -- I'll make up a number, let's say 1,000. You've got 1,000 slots for kids, okay. So -- and, you know, you've got 500 for boys and 500 for girls.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARLike it's -- if you have an eye towards wanting to comply and -- not just wanting to comply, but wanting to do the right thing in giving boys and girls the same leg up educationally, health-wise and for our economy, then Title IX's really not a problem. It's been a godsend for everybody.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jim. Was that you, Sally?
JENKINSIt was. I would add one thing to what Nancy just said, which is that if you were looking for a good investment for your dollars forget that it's the right thing to do or the sensible thing to do. The two most expensive items in any university's NCAA budget is number one, coaches' -- football coaches' salaries and number two, the cost of the football scholarship.
JENKINSBy comparison the success that you can gain from female athletes is a very cheap item for a whole lot of success. Female athletes use the athletic scholarship, they graduate at much higher rates than their male counterparts. The athletic scholarship still actually means something to a Division 1A NCAA athlete who's a female.
NNAMDIMegan, I wanted to get to another aspect of Title IX because we see an imbalance in the representation of women coaching other women at competitions at this level. You recently wrote about this particular gender gap. What has caused this disparity between the number of male versus female coaches, and how in your view is it related to Title IX
GREENWELLWell, so this actually has been the unintended negative side effect of Title IX and I absolutely agree with both Nancy and Sally, that title IX has been a godsend for female athletes. I played sports in college and I would not have been able to do that if I had been born in a pre-Title IX era. However, the side effect of that is it has made women's coaching jobs must more prestigious and much higher paid, and what that means is that all of a sudden men became interested in having those jobs, and it turns out that when men want jobs, they get a disproportionate number of them.
GREENWELLWe see this in law firms. We see this on corporate boards, and now we see this in women's coaching. So the number -- the….
HOGSHEAD-MAKARCan I -- yeah. To add something to that, that if Title IX went away, or I should say that the fact that women have a hard time in coaching, or having a hard time getting those jobs has nothing to do with Title IX and everything to do with sexism in our society, and that the fact that the law doesn't protect coaches the same way that it protects athletes, and that even if there's no way to amend Title IX or to change Title IX in such a way that you wouldn't get that same result within coaching, that ...
NNAMDIWell, the sexism that you...
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah. Yeah. To say that this is -- to blame the problem on Title IX is wrong. That is not the fault of Title IX, and there's no way Title IX can fix it, and it would happen regardless of whether or not -- no matter how many women were going into athletics, the same phenomena that we would see about athletics is associated with male characteristics, and so when two people come up for a job, one's male, one female, especially if the person who's doing the hiring is male, they're much more like to be hired.
NNAMDIWhich is precisely that I think Megan Greenwell was about to make that what has happened here is that an old boy network kicks in that she was thinking it's an unintended consequence of Title IX, but how would you see remedying that situation, Megan Greenwell?
GREENWELLRight. Just to clarify, I don't blame Title IX for this, it's just something that we've seen happen since Title IX and, you know, the flip side of it is it's absolutely a great thing that women's coaching jobs have become more prestigious and better paid. It's just that because of -- like Nancy says, because of the sexism in society, that has led to this dramatic decrease in the percentage of women's teams that have women's coaches.
GREENWELLI think the fix is universities need to get -- I don't think it's a legislative fix. I think that universities need to get really serious about reaching outside of their traditional networks to find the best candidates, you know. Unlike the point about men being better, faster, stronger than women in the vast majority of sports, coaching is about leadership skills and communication skills and just pure intelligence, and to say that, you know, women are somehow less qualified to be coaches is just fundamentally sexist.
GREENWELLAnd so I think that the vast majority of athletic directors are still male. I believe it's around 80 percent, and they're likely to reach into their male dominated networks and I think that, like I say, it's not a legislative fix, but universities need to go out and recruit, and they need to be committed to finding the best people for the job, and if they're really committed to doing that, about 50 percent of the time the best per for the job is going to be a woman.
GREENWELLAnd so a lot of people criticized me after I wrote that article saying why should we care about the gender, let's just find the best person for the job which I absolutely agree with, but that means that 50 percent of the time, the best person is going to be a woman, unless you believe that woman are lest intelligent and less good leaders.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on women in the Olympics and take your calls. If the lines are busy, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on women in the Olympics. And we begin with a spoiler alert. If you don't want to know the results of this event in women's boxing, please turn your radio off temporarily because I am about to give a result that you probably won't be able to see until tonight. Okay. Done. U.S. Middleweight Claressa Shields won Olympic gold medal, capping her swift rise to the top of women's boxing with a 19-12 victory over her Russian opponent. That from the AP. The 17-year-old Shields shuffled, danced, and slugged her way pass her 33-year-old opponent showing off the free-spirited style and brute strength that made her unbeatable at the London games. Claressa Shields has won.
NNAMDINow, our guests are Megan Greenwell. She was managing editor and columnist for Good magazine. She's a writer and a journalist. Nancy Hogshead-Maker is the director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. She's a former U. S. Olympian and three-time gold medalist in swimming, and Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. She is currently covering the U.S. Olympic games in London.
NNAMDISally, while an impressive and enjoyable sport, and you reported on the athletic capability of the women who are playing it, it seems to me as though women's beach volleyball where almost all of the athletes are wearing bikinis receives a very high level of TV attention. Obviously the athletic capability of the players is one aspect of that, but do you see some sexism within this and within the coverage of the Olympics?
JENKINSYou know, if they don't see it, I don't see it. You know, the women who won their third straight gold medal last night, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings were very clear throughout this Olympics that, you know, they grew up wearing bikinis on the beach in southern California. That's what beach volleyball players wear. They have no problem with people coming there to see, you know, quite splendid bodies and drink some beer. What's interesting is that they then end up staying for the competition, and that's what we want. And so, you know, you know what, if three-time gold medalists have no issue with this, I don't either.
JENKINSI actually think they are great to watch, and I thought that last night what we saw on television with a celebration of their ability, and not, you know, some kind of, you know, spectacle.
NNAMDINancy, care to comment?
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah. I agree with Sally that, you know , when I swam I wore about the same amount as what they're wearing on the volleyball court, and what I object to when the commentating becomes about having a beauty contest that's going on at the same time as an athletic contest, and it's really unfair to put women into that box that they have to, you know, it's okay if you're competitive and you do these amazing athletic feats, but my gosh, you've got to look hetero normative, you've got to look like, you know, long hair and very attractive, and sort of to say that women who don't look like that, that their athletic accomplishments are not as great, and I think that's a big problem.
NNAMDIThere have been...
JENKINSYou're right, and it's this brutal double standard too, because if you do look really beautiful like that you get the Lolo Jones treatment, and if you don't you're gender is questioned or you don't get the endorsement deals. And so it's sort of like a lose-lose situation. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of Lolo Jones, let's go to Hollis in Fairfax, Va. Hollis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HOLLISHi, can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
HOLLISYeah. So I don't think that the Times article on Lolo Jones was biased at all. I mean, I think what the author was trying to say was that you can't pose nude for Sports Illustrated, or in a similar bikini for an Outdoor magazine and then ask to be appreciated for your athletic ability.
JENKINSReally? Because Rob Gronkowski did. Rob Gronkowski was on the cover of ESPN the magazine's body issue, and I don't think anybody is taking him less seriously as a really amazing football player because he posed naked.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah. Can I weigh in as an athlete? As an athlete and as, you know, somebody who's close to lots of other athletes, athletes when they look at themselves in the mirror, they don't see sort of -- they don't see sex, they don't see Playboy. What they see is, oh, my gosh, look what I have created. Look at this beautiful sculpted -- look what it can do. Look at how, I mean, they -- it is -- I think it's a real disconnect frankly between how athletes see themselves which is the result of, you know, five, six, seven hours a day of very hard training where they, you know, throw up, and they break bones and they, you know, really give their entire selves over to this endeavor on the one hand, and then on the other hand it's, you know, who's looking at it. What they see is something very different.
JENKINSCan I jump in here?
JENKINSCan I -- if I can jump in for a second. I also -- I want to make a distinction between naked pictures and nude pictures, you know. ESPN the body issue that Rob Gronkowski posed and that Candace Parker is in, it's a magnificent series of pictures. The SI swimsuit issue quite often is soft porn. There's a big difference and I couldn't agree more with what Nancy says about how athletes see themselves. They want to show off the bodies that are the fruit of their devotion. They're very intensely proud of them, and not in a sexual way, but in a Statue of David kind of way. I mean, they create these Michelangelos out of their bodies, and I think they're wonderful to look at, and I have no problem with admiring them or with athletes wanting to show them off.
NNAMDIThere have been a few cases to move to another issue of gender verification is high-level sports competitions. One of the most public examples is the South African runner Caster Semenya, but she is not alone. What is the controversy surrounding Semenya and other athletes who are considered too masculine? I'll start with you, Sally.
JENKINSWell, I mean, I think the first problem is that...
NNAMDIUh-oh. We seemed to have lost Sally for a second. Oh, she's back.
JENKINSI'm not sure why there is a gender test in the Olympics. I don't understand the point of that. Is the idea that somehow this young woman is cheating because she was born the way she's born? I mean, what are we testing for? I mean, I've never understood the rationale there, you know. Caster Semenya is what she is, she runs the way she runs, and well, if she can win a gold medal, I really -- I'm not sure that test belongs in the Olympic games. The rationale eludes me. It seems to be based in anxiety on the part of her competitors.
JENKINSThe gender test in the Olympics seems to go back to the anxiety that someone somehow might have unfair advantage, and to me, the element that you should be testing for if you're worrying about unfair advantages is which federation has more money. The greatest differential in the Olympic Games is not a hormone or a drug, it's money.
NNAMDIOnto you, Megan Greenwell, and then Nancy.
GREENWELLYeah. I mean, I also think that the way those gender tests are applied, I absolutely agree that there should be no gender tests at all, but the way they are applied is also extremely problematic because it's, you know, Caster Semenya is the anti Lolo Jones. She doesn't look beautifully feminine. People say she looks like a man, and you hear this all the time about so many great women athletes. We heard this about Brittney Griner, the Baylor basketball player, you know.
GREENWELLShe looks too manly. And it's a really problematic thing when you start deciding who to test based on who looks like they fit in line with your standards of femininity. It's really problematic, and particularly in athletics where we're simultaneously telling women, you know, be big, be fast, be strong, but also you really need to look beautiful, otherwise you're in trouble, you know, for all of these different things.
NNAMDIAnd you know now, Nancy Hogshead-Makar.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARYeah. Sure. So gender testing was starting when certain countries were investing heavily into wanting to show that their political system was better than any other political system. So in that scenario...
NNAMDIYou're exactly right. I remember -- I'm old enough to remember questions about the Soviet women athletes.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARSure. So in that scenario, it's not improbable that a country would force a man to compete as a woman and therefore be cheating other women. But today, you know, I don't really see a country having the same push for their athletes in the same way that it was say for East Germany who I competed against many times. So I understand sort of where it came from. I actually was gender tested, and I guess I have three children now, so that confirms it.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARBut the Women's Sports Foundation has a policy position on this which says that some people, you know, men and women in the world, we think of them as binary, as male or female, but in the real world there's all different shades between men and women, and sometimes these athletes get caught up in some of the different shades, some of the different genetic or hormonal imbalances or what not, that do give them an advantage. Whether or not it's an unfair advantage, I have eight liter lungs. The average amount for somebody my height would be four liters.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARSo, you know, did I have this unfair advantage, should I not be able to compete because...
HOGSHEAD-MAKAR...somebody who's seven feet tall, they have an enormous advantage over their competitors? But these are just natural things that people are born with. So if Caster Semenya is born with a very high proportion of testosterone in her, and that's the way God made her, she's not getting an unfair advantage. She's not taking steroids, so she should be able to compete regardless of...
NNAMDIWhich is why, Megan Greenwell, you say this is a slippery slope, genetic testing.
GREENWELLOh, absolutely, yeah. There are all of these different things. I think Nancy makes exactly the right point, you know. Different factors that make people better or worse at sports, and, you know, to draw a line and say some of these things are okay and some of them are not is really a problematic thing.
NNAMDIWell, before we go, I'd like to get back to why we started all of this in the first place, Sally Jenkins, and that is some people are calling this summer's games the year of the woman. Tell us what we should be looking forward to enjoying over the next few days.
JENKINSWell, you can watch the women's world cup gold medal match tonight between the USA and Japan. We've got the USA women's basketball team is in the semi-finals right now trying to get to the gold medal game. We've got some track and field left. And there's a good possibility that by the end of these games, American women will have won literally twice as many medals as their male counterparts which is really a fascinating, you know, shift here.
NNAMDIAnd that's what we'll all be looking out for. Sally Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDISally Jenkins is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. She is currently covering the U.S. Olympic Games in London. Megan Greenwell, thank you for joining us.
GREENWELLThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIMegan Greenwell is a writer and journalist. She was managing editor and columnist for Good magazine Nancy Hogshead-Maker thank you for joining us.
HOGSHEAD-MAKARThank you, Kojo. I really appreciate this opportunity.
NNAMDINancy Hogshead-Makar is the director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. She's a former Olympian and three-time gold medalist in swimming. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burney, with assistance from Kathy Goldgeier, Elizabeth Weinstein and Ella Campelman (sp?). The managing producer is Diane Vogel. Our engineer is Andrew Chadwick. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones.
NNAMDIPodcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. We encourage you to share questions or comments with us by emailing us at email@example.com. Today is Ella Campleman's last day as our intern. Good luck to you, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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