Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. Note also that this is going to be a lot longer review than I usually give to a book of this short length, because this is an important topic and I don't think it was covered adequately or ironically, equitably here!
The overall impression I had of this book was not that of a reasoned and cogent argument, or of anything that went into any depth. It felt much more like a rant, and as such it failed to make a case. This is the kind of subject which all too often becomes emotional, but that serves no purpose in trying to get a the roots of a discrepancy like this, to properly understand the issues, and to determine how best to set them right - or even if they can be set right.
What disappointed me most of all was that the author seemed unable to recognize the issues even when she described them. For instance, I read:
Every PGA Tour event is televised and some tournaments draw more than 10 million viewers. Only select LPGA Tour events are televised, and even major tournaments draw fewer than 1 million viewers.I don't get her point here. It seems to me that she's elucidated the problem perfectly: the viewership of the female tournament is one tenth that of the male tournament, meaning that the advertisers are not going to show-up in droves, meaning the money is going to be significantly less, meaning that the winner's purse is going to be dramatically reduced. The the root of the discrepancy, and therefore the problem to be resolved here is why the viewership is so much less, but the author evidently wasn't interested in pursuing this question, preferring instead to wave a hand at media coverage and mark it down as explained. Well, they had media coverage here, but the viewership was far less. Why is the author not asking why that's the case? I'll talk more about this later.
On the one hand the book makes some good arguments for equity in how women are treated when it comes to sports and it definitely highlights the discrepancy between how male and female athletes are viewed (and paid), but on the other hand it came across as rather whiny and preachy, and it seemed far more focused on money and celebrity than ever it was in trying to understand why there's such a massive discrepancy between how athletes of each gender (regardless of whether they're celebrities or not) are viewed.
The author never did distinguish between equality in how athletes are treated, and equality in how athletes garner for themselves a fan base. You can legislate equality, as the US did when Democrat Senator Birch Bayh introduced what became known as Title IX in June 1972 (a year before Roe v. Wade made huge strides in another direction related tomember of Congressr who co-authored it, but it's most commonly referred to as Title IX. Patsy Mink was the first Asian American woman elected to Congress
At the beginning of this book we're asked, of two basketball stars, "Why aren't athletes like LeBron and Maya valued and recognized equally for their talent?" There are reasons for that which we'll go into shortly, and I would have been much more impressed had the book gone after real answers like this instead of the route it took. I would have been more impressed still had it approached the subject as fairly as it expects male and female athletes to be treated! The only 'solution' on offer here seemed to be that if women are given the same media exposure as men, then everything will magically balance-out, but nothing was put forward to support this claim, and frankly I have a hard time seeing that happening for a variety of reasons, and especially not in the US.
The first issue is the question of whether sports really represents the same kind of workplace that other occupations, say in the medical profession or in businesses not tied to professional sports offer. Frankly it doesn't. No one in their right mind would argue that two people, regardless of gender, who were doing the same job to the same degree of skill should get equal treatment including pay, in any ordinary endeavor, but the question of how you resolve whether two people are doing the same job in sports went totally unexamined. There were some random potshots taken at it, but nothing substantial.
Instead, we were treated to a distinctly monocular view: that of men v. women, without any attempt to look at the issue using any other lens. In particular, the fact that sports is one occupation which is conducted in the full glare of media, and with huge audiences in attendance and dramatic financial considerations in play wasn't addressed at all. This is one reason why, at the risk of a pun, it's a different ball game when compared with other occupations.
The book opens with a mention of several female athletes, including Danica Patrick, a NASCAR driver, who is gushingly described as "the most successful female race car driver in history" yet this driver has never won a race on US soil, and as of this writing has had only a single win to my knowledge. So how is her 'success' being calculated? By the fact that she earned thirteen million dollars last year? What does that have to do with being an athlete per se, or with being successful at her chosen sport? Nothing! It pretty much has to do with her having a monopoly in being a high-profile female on one hand, and her not being a complete disaster at what she does on the other.
While I would not deny Danica Patrick, or anyone else the success she's had, however it's measured, I would balk at trying to use this as an argument for equality and the author strangely seems to agree with this because whenever she talks about other female athletes, none of those are championed as successful for having no wins! On the contrary, they're put on a pedestal as being very successful in terms of winning things.
So we immediately have a disconnect in what constitutes success, which then means we have a problem in determining how that success should be rewarded. Do we value a high earner who is not successful at least insofar as garnering wins goes, or do we value success in terms of wins even when remuneration is poor? What's the goal here?! It cannot be the double standard the author seems to have set up. This is important.
I also have to wonder why this book doesn't reference other people who are sports professionals, but who do not earn the big bucks. There are thousands of people in sports, men and women, and only the so-called top-tier ones get the big bucks. Most of the others are entirely unpaid or only part-timers, or full-time professionals earning only the lowest level of financial remuneration for athletes in their field.
Admittedly this can be significant pay, and much higher than most of us can hope for, but I think it would have served a useful purpose to ask why they - both men and women - are not as highly paid as the ones featured in the book, and to ask: does the reason for their inequality offer any clues to the reason for the inequality between men and women - and I'm not talking in terms of performance. This is sports, remember, and individual performance is only one factor - and a relatively small one as it happens, because this isn't your regular everyday occupation, especially not in team sports.
The natural response to what I've said here might be that this book was talking only about high achievers, matching high-achieving males with similar females, but if we apply the 'logic' employed here, but in this direction, can we argue that those people, too, would magically get pay raises and achieve equality if only they could get the same media exposure? You really can't, so I'm wondering how it is that we think increased exposure alone would magically improve women's lot in sports?
If you think I'm trying to make an argument here that female sports professionals are really only lower-tier, or poorer-grade, or second-rate performers, then you're misunderstanding. The argument I am making here is that it's really not as simple or as straight-forward as this author seems to be trying to argue. You can't make a case for equal pay without supporting it, just as you can't make a case for those lower-tier athletes (of any gender) to be on par with the top-tier athletes without supporting that in some way, too.
You can't argue that it has to be done purely from a bald claim that person B ought really to be remunerated at the same level as person A, regardless. You have to ask what is being contributed, because professional sports is about exposure and audiences, not just about personal performance. This is an aspect of the endeavor which the book doesn't explore. Yes, it complains about poor exposure for female athletes, but it doesn't offer any suggestions or real examination of root causes! It merely blames the media and leaves it at that.
The only argument the author seems to be able to make is along the lines of "Hey! Fair's fair!" but the way this system works, and has worked for far too long, really has nothing to do with how well a given athlete performs. The most widely-followed sports really aren't about that, notwithstanding all of the individual achievement awards and post-game MVP appellations. It's about blind team solidarity, sheep-like (or perhaps more accurately, wolf-like) adherence to pack mentality, and in-your-face aggression towards every team and every supporter who isn't "us". Individual players have no part to play in that aspect of team 'sports' especially given that at some point the individual will move on or retire, while the team continues on largely unaffected by the loss of any one individual.
It's not that women can't give attitude or be aggressive, or assertive as over-hyped TV cameras love. They can. It's just that women in general are not as overt as men are in this regard and this applies whether the male or female in question is a player or a spectator. Women are not as combative (that's not to be read as 'not as competitive', which would be a huge lie) as men, and while this is perfectly fine - in fact, I personally prefer it - it doesn't play well given the juvenile frat-boy sports mentality which is rife in today's male-soaked sports media, where it's entirely given over to a combative attitude.
The mentality is 'destroy or be destroyed', 'win at all costs', losers are useless, and so on. The Queen song, We Are the Champions sums it up: "We are the champions! No time for losers 'cause we are the champions of the world!" This is how it's seen. The US football Super Bowl winners are hailed as champions of the world even though no other nations competed!
Again, it's a winner takes all mentality, and it has nothing to do with how well individual athletes perform per se. It's that very psychosis: aggression, combativeness, posing, strutting, in-your-face rudeness, and asinine attitude, which completely turns me off sports, but it is this which appeals to the cave-man mentality that far too many team sports and media outlets seem dedicated to embracing, promoting, and perpetuating. There is no more room for equity and fairness here that there was in the Roman Colosseum.
Before we go any further let's be clear that there are inequalities. According to the Women's Sports Foundation:
- Female students comprise 57% of student populations, but female athletes received only 43% of participation opportunities at NCAA schools.
- Male athletes get 55% of NCAA college athletic scholarship dollars. Guess how much women then get!
- Women's teams receive only 40% of college sport operating dollars and 36% of college athletic team recruitment spending.
- Median head coaches' salaries at NCAA Division I-FBS schools are $3,430,000 for men's teams and $1,172,400 for women's teams.
The problem with the stats just quoted is that all we get is the bald fact of inequality. There's no exploration of why it's so or why it's being allowed to perpetuate and exacerbate in the professional world. This disparity is nowhere more pronounced than in professional soccer as is highlighted in Newsweek. The US women's team has won three world cups whereas the men's team has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals, yet male players routinely "earn" three times what female players do! To earn their relatively meager compensation, the women must win all twenty of the season games whereas the men could lose all twenty and still get full pay. Is this fair? Not even close. This is exactly the disparity that Title IX sought to set right, so how is it that it fails so badly when these athletes actually get to the professional level?
On this score (at the risk of another pun!) I was sorry to see some sleight-of-hand in this author's reporting. Consider this statement regarding remuneration in the National Women's Soccer League: "The average salary in the U.S. based NWSL is between $6,000 and $30,000 for a six-month season. A top-tier player on the men's pro side makes more than the high-end of that average - in a single week" Note how we went from an "average" to a top-tier performer? The average isn't even an average, it's a range. Is the actual average halfway between the two values? How does that compare with the men's average? We're not told, but comparing an "average" to a top-tier man's pay isn't comparing apples to apples. That said, the two would still be discrepant, but when the numbers are twisted and mismatched like that, it's really hard to get a good picture. We can't begin to figure out how to narrow a gap when we don't even get to know what the gap is or why it really exists!
One assertion from the author, referencing what someone else has said on the topic, is that "the key to closing this gap is simple: People just need to see us play. When increased exposure leads to interest from advertisers, the amount of money involved can rise pretty quickly," but this is not borne-out by experience. According to Newsweek, the Women's World Cup final of 2015 was the most watched soccer match - male or female - ever in the US, but this garnered nothing for women's sports, not even for women's soccer in the year that followed.
It's been almost twenty years since the US women's team won the World Cup soccer final in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl holding some 90,000 fans. It was a stunning game every bit the equal of a men's game - in truth leagues better than a men's game. The US men's soccer team has never done this! Whenever there's such a win, and there have been three, it's all "we're world class" and "women's sports are on the upsurge," but the day after it's always "ho-hum! What's next?" You cannot blame female athletes for asking "What do we have to do to get recognition? You cannot blame the US Olympic women who carried home 61 medals to the men's 55 from Rio for asking the same question. The author apparently isn't interested in asking this kind of question or pursuing it as far as it needs to go.
There are important aspects to these discrepancies which the author doesn't touch upon too, and which in fact relate directly to her calling an unfair play on pay. Look at US basketball, for example: while fifty or so top NBA players earn more than the entire WNBA teams roster combined, the NBA brings in five billion dollars, whereas the Women's National Basketball Association is lucky to break even. This is a question which ought to have been explored, but was not. Why does the WNBA fare so poorly? Is it because the media is shunning it, or because it simply doesn't attract as many fans and global sponsorship as the men's games do, and if that's the case, then why is that so? The author seems content to blame media bias, offer no support for the claim, and leave it at that.
We'll get back to that in a second, but let's take a moment and ask why the author never addresses the fact of women being segregated in sports as they are in no other profession, not even in the military these days. She simply accepts this segregation as a given, and I have to wonder why that inequality isn't addressed. If the leagues were white players on one side and black players on the other, then I'm sure she would have found that worth questioning, so why no questions about gender segregation? The black basketball league would then be the one making the big bucks and the white league would be in the position the women's league is, more than likely, in terms of garnering coverage! It's not an inapt comparison!
I further have to wonder if this segregation is part of the problem: if women, instead of playing in the WNBA, played in the NBA, how would they fare? This isn't to try and set up an argument for saying that women can't compete on equal terms and therefore shouldn't get equal treatment. Women have proven repeatedly that they can compete on equal terms. This is to point out that this book really doesn't delve very deep. It makes a superficial argument that everything ought to be equal, but it never makes a case for why, and it never wonders whether this particular aspect also ought to be equal and if so, would it improve matters? It avoids that altogether. It also avoids dress code, which we shall look at shortly.
Back to the segregation. It's a fact the women tend to be smaller and less muscular than men, but is this a problem? Maybe. Women would be typically shorter and lighter than the men they played against were the basketball leagues to be combined. In the NBA, the average height is six feet eight inches, whereas the average height in the WNBA is six feet. Would this be a disadvantage given that half the NBA players are necessarily six feet or less, and basketball is in theory at least, a non-contact sport? Would the advantage that a tall woman has among less tall-women in her league translate to poor performance if she became a medium-sized person among many taller persons in a male league? It's an interesting question, but it went unexplored and ignoring this made the author's case feel more like special pleading than it did a call for fair play.
Dd you know that the ball is also different between the male and female game in basketball? It's slightly smaller and lighter. Why is that and why does the author not address it? Why do female basketball players use a smaller ball while female soccer players do not? There's no answer because the author didn't ask the question. These differences in equipment translate across many other sports - the women's javelin and the women's discus are both smaller and lighter than the men's, the shot is lighter in the shotput, LPGA courses are shorter than PGA courses, and so on. In basketball, while women shoot free throws on par with men, their 3 pointers from the field average lower even in their own league. So what does equality mean? What does parity have to hinge upon? Again, we get not a word on this from the author who seems to be arguing for parity in pay but not in anything else.
As Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, told me: "The reason we have females separated in sports is because in many sports, the best female athletes can't compete with the best male athletes. And everybody knows that, but nobody wants to say it. Females are structured like a disabled class for all sorts of, I think, good reasons."This is something else the author did not explore in this book. Is the problem that simple or is there more to it? She didn't ask. According to the NY times, "There has yet to be a financially viable women's mainstream sports league in the United States." The author would undoubtedly argue that this is because of poor media coverage, but although she argues that, she fails to support any such argument.
And take a look at the crowd in the image accompanying the article. That says it all right there. Women are not sports attenders in general - not on the level at which men are - or even at which women are when it comes to men's games. The attendance by gender at all of the major sports in the US shows males turning up at literally twice the rate of female attendees. We read a lot in this book about women who play the sports, but nothing about those who attend and thereby help pay the salaries of the participants.
It bothers me that the author doesn't explore these aspects as a reason for disparity and inequality, asking why the attendance is so poor. Advertisers are not going to want to pay much to have an ad at a game with seven thousand people when they can have one at a game which will be seen by twice that number of people (not even including the viewers at home), and without extra advertising revenue, there's less cash to pay the players. The author doesn't explore, either, whether men really ought to get more if they play eighty games in a basketball season, which is twice what female players play.
There's an interesting, and sad, article here about this disparity in attendance related to Syracuse University's performance in the 2016 basketball season (and on the topic of inequality do compare the men's basketball page for Syracuse in Wikipedia with the women's! This makes a better argument about inequality than this book did, in my opinion!). Women had a far better season than the men (losing in the final whereas the men lost in the quarterfinals) yet their attendance was averaging less than a thousand, while the men's was almost twenty-two times as high.
Keep in mind that roughly thirty percent of the attendance at the men's games - that would be 6,000 to 7,000 people - was women. Where were these women when it came to games played by their own gender? ESPN is on record as saying that men accounted for 66% of its WNBA audience in 2013. Where were the women? Why are they viewing women's games at roughly the same percentage as they're viewing men's games? Why are so few men viewing women's games?
None of this is explored in the book, yet all of it is relevant to the case the author thought she was making. Is the lack of interest in women's sports not just from the media and from men, but also from women themselves? Apparently so, and this is one thing Title IX cannot legislate. They can compel equal opportunity (to more or less success as we've seen), but they cannot compel fans and supporters into existence or into attendance.
There are sports where women compete on perfectly equal terms with men, but where women are highly underrepresented. The author never explored this. For example, Danica Patrick has extremely high visibility and is highly rewarded for racing in NASCAR, but as mentioned, she has never won a race (as of this writing) on US soil, and has had only one win elsewhere. The author mentions Danica Patrick but never explores the details. Patrick earned about thirteen million in 2015, whereas Dale Earnhardt earned almost twice that, with no wins! Kyle Busch, who won at least five races earned less than Patrick did! There is no justice or parity anywhere in this particular story, yet no one seems to complain about that!
What do TV advertisers advertise at women's games? At men's games it seems to be cars, beer, power tools, and financial and retirement opportunities. What do advertisers want to offer to women, and do they have the same advertising budget to offer it with that the car and beer advertisers do? Again, this is unexplored, but it does have a bearing on the subject. More to the point is what happens in comparable situations.
For example, a new TV show is very much like a sports event. Because of the intensely capitalistic system the USA operates in, the show needs viewers to survive. If viewership goes down, the show is cancelled. We've lost a lot of quality shows because of this, while crappy so-called "reality' shows thrive. Why? Because this is what idiots watch on the idiot's lantern. It's that simple. Quality often fails were the lowest common denominator wins every time, and this is the issue: it all comes down to what makes money for the media. It has nothing to do with parity or equality, fairness or gender rights. If the female sports events don't attract viewers and sustain the attraction beyond world cup events, then advertisers are not going to be interested and the media is not going to cover them, yet this author doesn't ask why attendance is so poor. She just blames the media for it.
Let's talk about equality some more - in this case, equality of dress. Has anyone given any thought to how male athletes dress as compared to female ones? Probably not, but I think it's part of the problem. Take a look at your average male track athlete in the last Olympics and note how they dress for the track. On men, the shorts may be tight or loose fitting, and the shirt may be sleeveless or not, but they are wearing a shirt and shorts. Now take a look at the women who are, for all practical purposes, dressed in bikinis. Shotput? The same. Javelin? The same. Why is that? For beach volleyball, they wear even less! The men don't though. Why is that?
Consider this: swimming is the only event I can think of in the Olympics in which men wear less than women. Maybe it is literally for all practical purposes that women dress so skimpily, but if that's the case, then why are men not emulating them in terms of wearing an abbreviated top and bikini shorts? Now look at soccer or basketball. What do women wear? Very much the same as men do! Why is that? It seems to me that if you want to be taken seriously as an athlete, you might want to reconsider wearing bikinis for every event! Is this a valid argument? We don't know, because once again, this is a highly visible aspect to sports which this author completely ignores.
I didn't like this author's overall attitude either, quite frankly! At one point, she says, "But it's female athletes who most consistently give us representations of women who embody qualities like toughness and power and tenacity." How disrespectful is that to women who work in other professions? Are female firefighters not tough? Are female law enforcement disempowered? Are female soldiers, sailors, air personnel, and the Coast Guard lacking tenacity? Are female industry leaders powerless? Are teachers not tenacious? Are female nurses not tough?! The single-minded focus on athletes here, notwithstanding this was the main purpose of the book, was an insult to women working in other fields.
In conclusion, this book felt far more like a cult of personality than an honest exploration on gender inequity in sports. The bottom line, though would seem to be popularity: does the media really shun women's sports or does the media simply show what's most popular because it's from this that advertising revenue will derive, regardless of what gender is involved in the sport?
This question should have been one to explore, but we don't get that here: who attends? Who pays to watch? Is the female game perceived, by those who pay the entrance fees, just as worthy of admission price as the men's game is? As reported in late 2016, "The WNBA registered its highest attendance (1,561,530) since 2011 and the highest average attendance (7,655). For comparison, the average attendance at NBA games is over twice that, at around 17,000.
Are people simply voting with their feet not for which gender is worth supporting, but for which game is worth viewing with their limited budget? Which has the best atmosphere? Which one their friends will be going to and talking about the next day? Maybe it's just that simple, maybe it isn't, but we won't know the answer to that from reading this book, and I cannot recommend it because not only does it not achieve what it claims to aim at, it doesn't even pursue what it claims to be chasing! If you want to write a book about leveling the playing field, you need to be on the level in what you write.