Equality. What does that mean? What does that mean in sports for men and for women? Is it merely the right for a woman and a man to be able to play the same sports? Is it really that cut and dry? Not exactly and here’s why. Equality is not just about being able to participate, but rather, as Professer Lavaque-Manty articulates in The Playing Fields of Eton, meaningful participation and meaningful competition. It is the terms on which one participates in the sport that determines whether it is meaningful or not. It is not sufficient for one to have their “presence at a pursuit”. Meaningful competition can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Whether it be, “the hope of winning” or “fair competition”, there is no “right” interpretation as to what meaningful competition is. What is true is that, “Meaningful competition is thus determined by social conventions, which, in turn, reflect social values.” By looking at the social conventions of a country or a society we can determine whether or not the participation is meaningful or not. After attending the showings of The Boxing Girls of Kabul and A League of Their Own the lack of meaningful participation and meaningful competition was most evident today as it was decades ago around World War II.
A League of Their Own details the journey of Dottie Hinson, her sister, and several other women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. As the small league of four teams is formed by Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey, the struggles for equality that the women face in the sport of baseball are quickly brought to light. It is clear from the get-go that their participation is not meaningful in any sense. As Professor Lavaque-Manty details, the lack of spectators takes away from the meaningful participation of women in baseball. There are little to no spectators at first at the games. Without the spectators is the game really meaningful? Not really. People need to be there in order for it to really mean something. So how did they get the people to the game? By using the features of women to appeal to spectators. The women attended charm school where they learned stuff such as dress and makeup. Furthermore, the women were made to wear some not-so modest uniforms that appeal to the men. Dottie participated in a photo shoot for Time Magazine where she does a split as she catches the ball. In one scene one of the players is seen kissing a fan near the dugout. It is these things that help draw in the crowds. The men are drawn to see these pretty women slid in their uniforms and play some baseball. They are interested not really because of the baseball necessarily but because of some sexual appeal. Is that really meaningful participation? Drawing in crowds not because of talent or interest but rather appeals of women? I would argue that it is not. This isn’t meaningful participation nor is it truly meaningful competition. By social convention it most certainly is meaningful competition as it is society’s fascination and appeal to the sexual aspect of the women that draws them to the sport. The competition only really seems to heat up when the crowds start coming and the only reason they are coming on some level is the sexual appeal of the women. So by society’s terms, yes,this is meaningful competition. However, in the eyes of morality I would argue that sexuality being the deciding factor in whether or not competition is meaningful is simply wrong. Additionally, the league was disbanded in 1954 mainly due to a lack of funding. This sad reality was not a fault of the players but rather of society and what it values. The owners shorted the budgets significantly and enough money was not allocated to it because society wasn’t appealed enough by it. Society determined and helped persist the inequality of women in the sport of baseball as a result.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul covers the story of three Afghan women and their journey as the first professional Afghan women boxers. They participate in the sport, yet, lack any amount of spectators for the most part and any real support of their country. The are not participating in boxing in any meaningful capacity as they are being condemned by society for participating in boxing as women. The documentary details how men in the country believe that “women cannot achieve anything great and their role is not to participate in sports” In fact many women are not allowed to go to school and some are not even allowed to leave their homes. The men are explicit in staying true to the belief that in participating in boxing the women are not practicing their religion properly nor fulfilling their roles. They should be, in the eyes of most men, fearing god and the man in the house. Additionally, they should be at home taking care of children rather than playing sports. In addition the girls and their families fear and recognize that if the Taliban were to gain control of the government, their families could be arrested for Kufar- non-muslim relations. These women are questioned by the entire country for boxing as it is something that is against the culture, religion, and social norms. It cannot be meaningful participation when there isn’t even any support from the country and the ones who should be supporting these women. Moreover, in examining one of the interpretations of meaningful competition as ” to eliminate the effects of the luck of birth and other factors that don’t depend on a person’s individual efforts. That way, the argument might go, competition would indeed be fair: the person who applied herself most diligently to practice would come out as the winner: A for effort.” As Professor Lavaque-Manty expresses, this interpretation is flawed as it is often hard or impossible to eliminate these effects that don’t depend on individual effort. For example, the women have facilities that are inadequate, trainers that are not fully qualified, and a lack of money. Furthermore, they are not given the same opportunities as women in other countries to progress as they are not truly free. Women in other countries are free and are encouraged to progress unlike the women in Kabul. These girls are scared and dangerous to participate in a sport that they love because of factors that are out of their control, as they are the social conventions of their country. Meaningful competition isn’t attainable for these women as long as they are hindered by the immoral and unequal views of their country that cause them to be at a disadvantage to other women around the world.
Both films tell the tragic and horrific story of persistent inequality in women and men’s sports. Although action in the U.S. such as Title IX has been taken, the inequality is still very prominent and is still continuous today both in the U.S. and around the world and the root of the problem seems to be the how the conventions of a society are practiced and how the roles of women are perceived.