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Brackets, fencing, and why can't I bet on the women? - Chronarchy

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March 16th, 2007


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09:03 am - Brackets, fencing, and why can't I bet on the women?
This morning, FaceBook pissed me off. Now, this isn't an irregular occurrence, really: FaceBook is so. . . well, it's so FaceBook-like. Even the name is shallow. Of course, that's what makes it fun.

But what got to me was that suddenly, my profile page has the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament brackets enabled. "Eh, whatever," I said initially. Then I clicked on it, and I realized that there was no way to get a women's bracket.

"That's odd," I thought. "Maybe I'm just missing it."

But as I looked through it, searched through the pages, and tried the random "Let's click until something works" method of discovering new features, I slowly came to realize that there was not any way to participate in a women's bracket.

I don't care much for basketball to start with. It's a silly game, and it involves a lot of running back and forth. A lot. You might as well watch a couple of kids on a teeter-totter for an hour and a half. Yeah, it's that exciting.

But I do care that women's sports get crappy coverage. Consider that our men's basketball team were declared Big Ten champs the same night that the women's team was. Article on the men's team? Page 1. It was also on page 1 of the sports section as the top headline, too.

Article on the women's team? Sure, it was on page 1 of the sports section, but it was at the bottom, in a tiny corner. And they sure as hell weren't on the very front page of the paper.

There is a feeling that women's sports should be just as available as men's sports. This is actually very important to us as Americans (and probably important to most everyone in the world). Title IX ensures that, of course, and most people think that's the end all (how Title IX is enforced at various institutions is a wholly different topic, though, that I will be happy to bitch about some other time). In practice, though, we do not treat women's sports as equal to men's sports. I'm not entirely sure we ever will.

Of course, the money is behind the men's sports. There's a $25,000 reward for the best bracket on FaceBook, and pretty much every major sporting site has a similar prize, and with it goes a lot of advertising for those who put up the cash. Office pools are common as well.

But how often do you hear about any sort of prize for the women's bracket? Who advertises during those games, and how much do they pay? Worse, what are the ratings like for women's basketball? The WNBA has been struggling for years, and a woman who is a top athlete and plays basketball for the WNBA will never make as much money as a man who is a top athlete and plays for the NBA. The fact that "WNBA" has a "W" in front of it alone makes it less of a "real" professional league.

And the funny thing is, there are WNBA teams that could knock off a number of NBA teams without so much as a backward glance. I know there are women's teams in the NCAA that could do well in the March Madness tournament, and could quite possibly win it outright.

But we segregate women from their male counterparts. In general, they're not allowed to compete on the same playing field. Often, the justification is that we're doing this so that they can compete on their own level, but this has the obvious insinuation that they're not good enough to compete with the boys.

I remember when I started fencing: there was no women's sabre event in the NCAA. Because of this, women were allowed onto the men's team. I never had a teammate who was female, but I certainly fenced a number of women. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I lost a number of those bouts, because they were better than me. One of the few pictures of me actually fencing shows myself and Carly Wells, and she's the one scoring the touch, not me. I don't remember who won that bout, but it wouldn't surprise me if she did. I mean, I used to beat a guy from Notre Dame (one of their best; Joe once said, "You made him your bitch. Take some KY to ND this year for him; it's only polite.") regularly, and even made him cry once at the NCAA individual tournament, and I even went touch for touch with the Italian Junior National Champ, but there were girls I couldn't beat.

I was sad to see the girls get their own sabre squads my Junior year. I was getting better and I felt like the competition dropped without the women in the mix. More to the point, they started putting warm female bodies in to fill the three newly-opened slots on every women's team in the country, transferring women from the other weapons, epeé and foil. And that first year, my gods, women's fencing was painful to watch.

You have to understand: the women had (mostly) been watching the men on their teams fence sabre for years and had (in many cases) never been allowed to even touch a sabre, much less practice with one. They saw what most sabre fencers used to win bouts: force. They also trained with the boys from scratch, and learned that sabres caused completely different sorts of bruises and welts than those they had previously experienced. These welts cover the sabre fencer's body, and they sting like nothing else.

This all lead to a horrible combination of fearless and fearful women. Some learned to fence with no fear, and these women were great fencers. They went in for the kill, and there was no stopping them. These were mostly the girls I had begun fencing with, as well as those they taught. Northwestern's women's team was dynamite.

Others learned that they were afraid of their opponents blades. They wanted a slot, they wanted to letter, and they just wanted to compete, but sabre was not the kind of weapon they wanted. It was extremely physical and most of the times they got hit, they felt the hit (either because they were fencing against men who only knew how to fence like that, or they fenced women who had learned it from the men), and they didn't revel in it the way a sabre fencer really has to learn to love it. A sabre fencer who takes off his jacket after practice and worries about the welts instead of finding a sense of pride in them won't last long, male or female. Add to this the fact that there were many coaches (mostly from Eastern Europe) who thought that women should never hold a sabre, much less fence with one, and you begin to see that the training at some schools might be either non-existent or unnecessarily painful for women fencers.

That first year, one could pick winners, sometimes, before the bouts started. The woman who put on her mask with confidence, who saluted and took her en guarde with purpose and strength, would win the bout against the woman who seemed to have little confidence. The confident woman would advance and attack, establishing right of way with her attack and her opponent advancing and being constantly caught in preparation.

[Fencing aficionados might find this little "right of way" game rather fun and amusing: You Make The Call]

Now, if two confident women were paired in a bout, it would be a good bout. There was finesse and action and it was amazing to watch, especially if the women had a background in another weapon and hadn't just been taught by male sabre fencers. It was anyone's game at that point, and we used to line up to watch them.

But if two women with no real confidence got paired up, the entire bout was almost a lost cause: it wasn't uncommon for directors to look at the crowd and shrug because somehow, remarkably, neither woman had managed to establish priority. An "attack" in sabre fencing is an extension of the arm: the arm must be going forward for an attack to take place. "Preparation" is when the fencer is preparing to attack, usually by drawing their arm (or the tip of their blade) back toward their body. Most often, the women would advance toward each other, attack, and then drop to a preparation: their arm would stop going forward and would, in fact, move backwards as they landed their touch. Thus, while the lights went off, the director could not see anything called an "attack", and so he could not award a touch to either fencer.

I remember once talking to a director after a particularly long bout, and he said, "I had to start giving points for 'least preparation' rather than 'attack'." Another director I knew personally looked over at me during a bout (I was the only person not on either team watching the action), shrugged, and gave points randomly after each action.

The second year, this improved, and the preparation issue almost disappeared, but the women who had been so confident the year before had become less-so: by practicing for over a year in their own squads, they had come down to the level of their comrades-in-arms during the effort to bring their fellows up, and they also didn't have to compete on such a high level to match the men's teams. The women sabre fencers had, in many cases, lost their edge.

But of course, their statistics went through the roof, because the competition was not as tough as it used to be, and those who had been fencing sabre with the men had advantages over those who had just fenced with the women.

Women's sabre is actually quite good to watch now, seven years after it was introduced: the women have more finesse, and force doesn't get you nearly as far in women's tournaments as it will in men's tournaments, so the top levels are less likely to be full of brute-strength jerks. I simply cannot imagine how amazing the women would be if they'd continued to compete with the men, though: when I started, there were only a handful of women fencing, but the stigma was breaking. When I finished, the stigma had returned with a vengeance. While it's cooled, I don't think it's gone away, and it may actually be worse because the men no longer have to worry about "losing face" by losing a bout to a girl. They can talk all the trash they want. Despite that, I would, today, place many women on the circuit as at least able to hold her own against the men, if not take them on and win outright (Zagunis and Jacobson come to mind, among others).


Unfortunately, they'll probably never get the chance. We work so hard to offer them a level playing field that we confine them to their own gender, and this doesn't do them as much good as we might think.

In the case of the WNBA, or the Women's NCAA, or the LPGA, all we have really done is say, "You're good enough to play professionally, but we need to give you your own little postage stamp of a conference because we think that you can't handle the men. We'll pay you professional wages, but not as much as we pay men. We'll give you contracts for endorsements, but your name isn't as good as a man's name. See, you have all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of men in the same sport. We just care less about you."

And that, quite frankly, is a terrible injustice.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Current Music: "Makin' Music for Money", -JB

(24 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:angelofastheny
Date:March 16th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC)

Fencing

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If one were to be very interested in women's fencing, how would one consider getting involved? You've now sparked my interest.
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From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Fencing

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You're in Baltimore, right? First, check and see if your college has a team (I'll bet they need warm bodies) or a club, and if not, try the Baltimore Fencing Center. Their classes look reasonable, and it's not like you can really go wrong with a beginning instructor. Well, you can, but you're not likely to.
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From:angelofastheny
Date:March 16th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Fencing

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Yeah, my college doesn't offer fencing of any sort and the closest one around is Hopkins. Depending on my cash flow, it's something I might look into. Thanks for the advice. :)
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From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC)

Re: Fencing

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np. Most likely, the only equipment you'll actually need is a glove, and those run about $14 (but you will never part with it. . . I still have my original glove, and the hole in the thumb is worn rather large). I don't know how much they charge for lessons, but you should call and find out. Since they don't have any prices on their page. . . maybe they're free :)

Support of fencing programs has become something of a popular cause. Fencers tend to be generally intelligent people (it's very, very much like physical chess), and so they tend to walk out of college and make a good deal of money, so they turn it back around. And every fencer speaks well of his or her sport. Because of that, lots of clubs are able to operate at low or no cost to beginners, usually only charging for private lessons.

I think my first two fencing classes ran $30 each.

If you wanted to buy a full "beginner's set" of fencing equipment for yourself, they run about $100 - $150. That usually includes a foil, a jacket, a mask, and a glove. Breast protectors are extra, but they run about $4 for a pair. And yes, I have it on good authority that you'll need them.
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From:angelofastheny
Date:March 16th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Fencing

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Passionate much? That's pretty neat that fencers are intelligent people. Sounds like an ideal extracurricular.

And I actually found a college down the street that's got a club level of fencing. Can you buy fencing equipment at a generic sports store or is it best to buy online?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Fencing

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Grins. I'm passionate because I had such a good experience with it, and I learned so much. Besides, it's not everyone who can actually truthfully say, "I studied for two years under the greatest fencing master in the world."

Buy online. You'll want to have the folks at the gym help size you for the mask, because guessing your size just isn't possible, but otherwise, I have a few sites bookmarked, if/when you're ready for them.

As for us being intelligent, I'm not just saying that because I am one. :) Though it doesn't hurt. . .
[User Picture]
From:rfunk
Date:March 16th, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)

basketball

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What's interesting to me is that when women's pro basketball started, first there was the WBL, then the NBA started the WNBA. As I understood it at the time, the WBL was where the real action was (and the good players), but the WNBA had the money, so that's the one that got the attention. So eventually the WBL died. I hope, but don't know, that the WBL players migrated to the WNBA. And as you said, that W in front of WNBA makes it second-class.

Fencing would seem to be one sport where there's no point at all in segregating.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)

Re: basketball

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*nods* I know that a couple of women's leagues have folded over the years, due to either lack of advertising or lack of support. It just really, really seems unfair to me that some of the best basketball players out there can't get a job in the sport that they love just because of their gender.

And yeah, the segregation of sexes in fencing is silly. I learned more from a number of women on the team than I ever did from some of the guys. And like I said, there are women I never once beat.

At least, though, most recently teams seem to be desegregating: because women now have sabre squads, the concept of a "true national championship team" is one where both the men and women take first place. Because of scholarship issues, though (thank you Title IX and your misapplication in colleges around the country), the teams will remain separate entities, I imagine.
[User Picture]
From:prophet_maid
Date:March 16th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
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Random aside: one of my grove members is a woman fencer :)
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From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Cool! For UofI? If you're Grove isn't keen on betting on football or basketball, maybe fencing is worth a shot?

Then again, given our team and coach. . . maybe not :)

What weapon?

(see, now I want to know all. . . asides are dangerous with me. . .)
[User Picture]
From:prophet_maid
Date:March 16th, 2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
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Not for U of I, but a private club in town.

I'm not sure what weapon she uses. Sorry.
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From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 07:40 pm (UTC)
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That's okay. I realized after I posted that, U of I was the first Big Ten casualty of Title IX's effect on fencing programs, from what I understand. The move to eliminate Fencing as a varsity sport within the Big Ten started there, or so the history as related to me states.

All the more reason to be very happy that I was never admitted to U of I. :)

It's okay. Now that I know that, I'll just quiz all your members when I meet them. :)
[User Picture]
From:prophet_maid
Date:March 16th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
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It's Cindy. She's got short dyed red hair.

Wow, I just realized the high concentration of redheads in my grove. I'm reddish, Cindy is dyed very red, and Brock is the stereotypical carrot-top.
[User Picture]
From:viedansante
Date:March 16th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
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A friend of mine here fences. She wanted me to go with her to learn, but I decided that my joints weren't strong enough yet (still overextending at the elbow). Maybe someday.

I remember my mom taking me to one of (if not the) first WNBA games in Cleveland. They were playing in the Baldwin Wallace Gym. I thought that was insane, because it was a college gym easy to get to from my house, and to me, basketball games took place in a big arena that was difficult to get to. It's funny how perception of the trappings of sports- location, etc, impacted my understanding/enjoyment.

From:emmilicious
Date:March 16th, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)
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Totally OT but the guy who invented basketball was born down the road from where I live.

My public school was even named after him.
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From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
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Cool :) OT is also cool. Public school, even, is cool.

I should be half as cool as your post.
From:emmilicious
Date:March 16th, 2007 08:29 pm (UTC)
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baby, you totally are.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 16th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)
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Hell, I'm not anywhere near as cool as you. I bask in your coolness.
From:emmilicious
Date:March 16th, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC)
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No no no...I bask in YOUR coolness.
AND I bask in your hotness.

cuz srsly. HAWT!
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From:road_trip_judi
Date:March 16th, 2007 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Interesting post.

It reminds me of something someone told me fairly recently -- namely that I should go see a women's hockey team play, that the game was much different -- more about finesse and less about brute force. For the record, I haven't yet. I need to rectify that. I may have to wait for next season though.
From:tanrinia
Date:March 19th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
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brute force? feh :)

and it's only because the refs don't LET them. no checking allowed. never mind that the vast majority of them learned to play with their brothers and can probably give/receive checks just as well as the men.

hmph.

[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 19th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Hehe. In Fencing, it's not supposed to be a sport of brute force.

But man, the male sabre fencers have sometimes made it such. I can't tell you how many times I got knocked flat on my back by some joke of a kid who couldn't stop moving forward.

Of course, I always got the touch, seeing as my attack was completed six feet before his bellguard slammed into my mask. . .
From:red_sput
Date:March 17th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
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The women's leagues don't pull in the same money due to lack of interest. The women's NCAA has made a lot of progress. They now play to sold out crowds usually in domes like the men in their final four. The difference is in the early rounds and if you watch any of the action today on ESPN or ESPN2 you will notice it. The very top women's programs at Tennessee and Connecticut(I want to put Purdue in there too sometimes too) attract the very top talent, those few that probably could stand up with the lesser of the men's programs, but are obviously never allowed. Nearly all women's programs use men in practice to go against because it is vital for them to being the best that they can be. The NCAA made a concerted effort this year to get rid of men's practice players and I have no idea why and the women's coaches were up in arms against the NCAA on that issue. The NCAA usually wins though, much like how they won in getting rid of Chief Illiniwek.

I love women's sports. I think they are just as exciting as the men, especially on the college level, and they usually play with a lot more heart. I'm excited the Purdue women are a #2 seed and I printed out a women's bracket and will fill it out alongside my men's bracket. I could go on forever about this but I think there isn't that much space here. I love women's tennis too:-)
From:tanrinia
Date:March 19th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC)

some women's sports trivia

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in grad school, we used to play both the men's and the women's NCAA brackets. AND, being sociologists, it was usually $1 for the men's bracket and 71 cents (or whatever the wage gap was that year) for the women's, to draw attention to continuing gender inequality.

of course, most of us just paid $2, as it was just easier.

and, secondly, the tampa bay lightning of the NHL had a woman goalie for a bit. she was in their farm system, and i can't recall now if she ever played an actual NHL game (someone else might know), but the NHL is not opposed to women players.

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