Opinion: Rebuttal of Marriott Student Review: "Sexism at its Peak"
Last year, when BYU football beat Utah for the first time in a decade, students stormed the field and celebrated the momentous victory. In 2018, students packed the Smith Fieldhouse to watch BYU women’s volleyball beat Texas to advance to the Final Four. While the crowds may have been different sizes, the environment at both was electric. And even though football may bring in more money, contrary to what the Marriot Student Review (MSR) would suggest, in its article Sexism at Its Peak: Gender Inequality in Sports, these differences are not the result of gender-based discrimination or “the patriarchy.”
The majority of sports media coverage is on men’s sports because football, the most watched sport in the United States, is only played by men. Between college football and the NFL, the coverage is enormous. Football is overwhelmingly popular among men, women, students, boomers, millennials, Gen Z, and probably even those babies that everybody sees at the BYU games. There is no equivalent for women’s sports. This skews viewership, and as a result, most sports airtime is given to men’s sports. Baseball, the second most popular sport in the United States, has no women’s league and its counterpart, softball, does not get a lot of coverage. Basketball, which does have its own women’s league, is only the third most popular sport. Thus, comparing women’s basketball to the NFL, college football, the MLB, and the NBA and then claiming that the reason for the difference in popularity between men’s and women’s sports is because of sexism in the media is nonsensical. It is not sexism that is driving “inequality” in national sports. We should not pretend that women’s sports leagues, such as the WNBA, would have thousands of fans storming the field if only it weren’t for the “patriarchy.” Women cannot physically compete on the same level as the NBA, so they naturally have a smaller viewer base than the more elite NBA teams. The WNBA is not less popular because of the ambiguous cultural force of “patriarchy” intent on suppressing the popularity of women’s basketball. It is less popular simply because businesses give airtime to the sports that viewers enjoy most and have a demand for.
Furthermore, the MSR uses egregiously incorrect statistics to support its claim that companies are sexist because they are not giving women a proportional number of sponsorships. Their incorrect statistic comes from incorrectly multiplying the number of total female high school athletes (3.3 million) by the chance that they go on to play in college (4.1%). From this incorrect estimate, they ridiculously estimate there are 1.3 million women’s college basketball players. There are only 500,000 total NCAA athletes. In their cited source, it shows in the adjacent column there are 16,509 college women’s basketball players- not 1.3 million.
Finally, the MSR also absolves women of all responsibility for their own actions. They argue that women are less likely to participate in activities because of anxieties about the way they look, and then blame “a patriarchal society” for this anxiety. Setting aside any inherent differences between boys and girls that could be a cause for this phenomenon, the reality is that it is not just men who are creating the “impossible barbie standard.” As the MSR mentions, “nearly all women are photographed in sexy passive poses.” However, women are not forced by Sports Illustrated to do these photoshoots. They do them willingly, generally for significant payouts, and then promote these photos online. It is thus disingenuous to blame the effects of their posts on “the patriarchy.”
Let’s acknowledge that it is not gender-based discrimination that accounts for the differences in the views, coverage, and attendance between men’s and women’s sports. Let’s also acknowledge the responsibility that all adults have to combat the harmful effects of unrealistic beauty standards. And let’s allow people to simply enjoy the sports they want to watch. Go Cougars!
Written by: Thomas Olsen
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author.
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints