Women and Sports: A Not-so-level Playing Field by Pamela Philipose SignUp
Boloji.com
Boloji
Home Kabir Poetry Blogs BoloKids Writers Contribute Search Contact Site Map Advertise RSS Login Register
Boloji
Channels

In Focus

Analysis
Cartoons
Education
Environment
Going Inner
Opinion
Photo Essays

Columns

A Bystander's Diary
Business
My Word
PlainSpeak
Random Thoughts

Our Heritage

Architecture
Astrology
Ayurveda
Buddhism
Cinema
Culture
Dances
Festivals
Hinduism
History
People
Places
Sikhism
Spirituality
Vastu
Vithika

Society & Lifestyle

Family Matters
Health
Parenting
Perspective
Recipes
Society
Teens
Women

Creative Writings

Book Reviews
Ghalib's Corner
Humor
Individuality
Literary Shelf
Love Letters
Memoirs
Musings
Quotes
Ramblings
Stories
Travelogues
Workshop

Computing

CC++
Computing Articles
Flash
Internet Security
Java
Linux
Networking
Women Share This Page
Women and Sports:
A Not-so-level Playing Field
by Pamela Philipose Bookmark and Share
 

Sports is ultimately about the human body. Which is why the remarkable barometer of the physical differences between men and women and the social perceptions about these differences. Mumbai-based senior science writer, Padma Prakash, had observed in a monograph she wrote in the early nineties on women and sport, that "nowhere is this myth of (women's) biological inferiority so readily and forcefully demonstrable as in the sports arena. And nowhere can it be effectively demolished."   

So what are these physical differences,
stripped to the bone?


The male body, generally speaking, is bigger built and weighs more than the average female body, is endowed with a larger heart and lungs and is estimated to be about 30 per cent stronger. There are significant hormonal differences too. Men have a greater concentration of testosterone in their bodies that help to create more red blood cells. These factors, in turn, have implications for the intake and delivery of oxygen, which are directly linked to sporting performance. It is estimated that when a man is running at about half his capacity, a woman would need to run at over 70 per cent of her capacity just to equal his pace. On the plus side, women tend to be more sensitive to sound and have better night vision. Then, of course, there is the difference in their reproductive roles: Women attain puberty at least two years earlier to men, have a greater body fat percentage and give birth - a function that does impact greatly on their ability to participate in sports. 

The received wisdom over the years has been that women's bodies are delicate and need to be protected at all times. History, however, has an interesting way of exploding such myths. In 1926, renowned archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler unearthed a bronze figurine of a dancing girl from a Mohenjo-daro site. Later, he described her thus: "She's about fifteen years old I should think...A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world." Clearly, even 4000 years ago, women knew how to get the best out of their bodies. And women in the sports arena are proving it to this very day, whether through the power-packed tennis of a Serena Williams or the quicksilver boxing of India's own Mary Kom, five-time world champ.  

Yet, we need to recognise that every woman who excels in sports has to work immeasurably harder than her male counterparts to reach where she is, more so in a country like India where gender discrimination is hardwired into social reality. Going by recent evidence, Indian sportswomen have to contend with at least four hurdles in their race to the finishing line: Social attitudes; administrative inertia and poor resource provisioning; sexual harassment; and family expectations and commitments. Each of these factors reinforces the other. It may be useful to recall here that when Independence dawned in 1947, leaders like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur had realised the importance of women's participation in sport for nation building. More recently, in 1995, India committed itself to the Beijing Platform that urges governments to enable girls to participate in sport and physical activity on the same basis as men and boys through the creation of programmes in schools, at the workplace and in the community.  

Despite all this, India continues to treat its sportswomen shabbily. Every woman athlete in the country would understand the humiliation of a P.T. Usha, one of the country's greatest athletes of all time, who broke down before television cameras during the National Open Athletics Championship in Bhopal in 2009, after being denied accommodation in keeping with her status - she was asked to share a room with five other women. Women cricketers and members of the women's hockey team playing for India are constantly pointing out that while their performances have equaled and even bettered those of their male counterparts, the treatment accorded to them in terms of facilities and monetary compensation is distinctly second class. 

Such treatment is not accidental. It reflects the unquestioned social biases and prejudices of a seemingly equal society and an ostensibly neutral administration. Often such biases turn positively toxic, especially when women sportspersons come to be regarded as sexual prey.

Whether it is a Ruchika Girhotra two decades ago or women hockey players in the present team, innumerable, often anonymous women have been subjected to criminal and sexually overt behaviour from those who often are in a position to decide their fate as participants in the field. As the additional district and session judge noted in the Ruchika molestation case, "She used to play lawn tennis in the courts of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) with the sole aim to become a good player. The convict was a senior police officer and HLTA President at the time of the incident. As police officer his role was to protect the public. As president of HLTA his role was to train young budding players for India. But he failed in both duties by molesting a minor girl." The judge also noted that "as long as such persons are at the helm of affairs, the presence of women in the sports activities cannot be increased and real talent cannot be brought forward to represent the country in various sports". An important observation. Indian sports stand undermined, every time a sportswoman is subjected to such behaviour. 

Family commitments can also often be a show stopper, given the centrality that society and family accords to marriage and child bearing in a woman's life. Manipur's Mary Kom has revealed how her father objected to her taking up boxing because he felt that it would spoil her face and ruin her marriage prospects. Wrestlers, sisters Geeta and Babita Kumari, from rural Haryana, had to contend with sharp verbal attacks from local villagers and the larger family, who maintained that nobody would marry a wife with muscles, and that wrestling like men brings dishonour to women. But Kom and the Haryana sisters have been able to negotiate their way to sporting glory.  

In fact, change will come, it has to come - not because of a more enlightened sports administration but because of the sportswomen themselves. India, despite its patent lack of a sporting culture for women from the school level onwards, has had many women, who have defied the odds. Women like a Kamaljit Sandhu, who won the gold for the 400 metres at the Bangkok Asiad in 1970, a Karnam Malleswari, the only Indian woman Olympic medalist, or a Saina Nehwal, presently ranked No 2 in world badminton.  

Women like them have challenged stereotypes, re-defined parametres, expanded horizons and brought sporting glory to themselves and their country. This is also about freedom and testing the limits of endurance. As Jude Howell, director of the Centre for Civil Society, London school of Economics, and a runner in the London Marathon once told me, "There are many reasons why I like running. I love the sense of space when one goes running. You feel refreshed and have a whole new burst of energy. Besides, there's that sense of freedom." 

By arrangement with WFS          

2-Oct-2010
More by :  Pamela Philipose
 
Views: 1353
Share This Page
Post a Comment
Bookmark and Share
Name*
Email ID*  (will not be published)
Comment
Verification Code*
V8I22
Please fill the above code for verification.

    

 
 
Top | Women



Solitude and other poems by Rajender Krishan
 


    A Bystander's Diary     Analysis     Architecture     Astrology     Ayurveda     Book Reviews
    Buddhism     Business     Cartoons     CC++     Cinema     Computing Articles
    Culture     Dances     Education     Environment     Family Matters     Festivals
    Flash     Ghalib's Corner     Going Inner     Health     Hinduism     History
    Humor     Individuality     Internet Security     Java     Linux     Literary Shelf
    Love Letters     Memoirs     Musings     My Word     Networking     Opinion
    Parenting     People     Perspective     Photo Essays     Places     PlainSpeak
    Quotes     Ramblings     Random Thoughts     Recipes     Sikhism     Society
    Spirituality     Stories     Teens     Travelogues     Vastu     Vithika
    Women     Workshop
RSS Feed RSS Feed Home | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Site Map
No part of this Internet site may be reproduced without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
Developed and Programmed by ekant solutions