Monday, May 3, 2010

Punching with the Boys ... or with the Girls

Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano's Playing With the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports argues that athletics in its current form perpetuates gender inequity in society. In essence, because we automatically separate boys from girls and women from men in sporting competitions, society does not allow for females who can out-perform males or compete on an equal basis with them, to do so.

McDonagh and Pappano's thesis rests upon the notion that gender exists along a continuum, as does athletic ability (or really any intellectual/physical quality). Therefore, females and males should practice and compete together in sport, just as they do in school and work, and competitive brackets should be based on ability, thereby eleminating segregation resting upon rigid gender norms. Of course there would still be gender disparities in competitions, but socially constructed understandings of gender would not be a fundamental divisive factor in athletic competition.

Yesterday, I watched an interesting video over on BloodyElbow.com, "Sam Stout's UFC 113 Vlog - Episode 2." As seen embedded in the video below, UFC fighter, Sam Stout is shown sparring quite extensively with a female kickboxer, Germain DeRandamie. Stout's commentary is quite refreshing in a sport that is obviously dominated by males from top (owners, management) to bottom (fighters, ring girls) (go to 2:35 of the video).

Watch Road To 113: Sam Stout's Birthday, Episode 2 on RawVegas.tv

I wouldn't say this is an exact example of what McDonagh and Pappano hope to see in sport. DeRandamie is still framed in the story in reference to Stout, who serves as the vlog's central focus. Also, this is heavy practice, not a formal competition per se. Still, this is a pretty unique example of progress in the striking dimensions of an MMA practice setting. DeRandamie has certainly garnered her male peers' respect by practicing with them at high speed.

I would argue this in more of an example of co-option in sport -- females (or in this case 1 female) entering a male dominated terrain without changing the overall nature of the institution, as opposed to co-operation, where women and men work collectively to revamp institutions such that they are gender neutral.

All this theoretical stuff notwithstanding, I say we have some progress demonstrated here, with much more to go. Oh, and it would probably be good if people weren't hitting each other in the head too much...the jury's still out on MMA and traumatic brain injury.

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