Access to Opportunity lecturer Robert Sirabian, associate professor of English, spoke last Tuesday of the importance and legacy of Title IX in women’s sports and its relevance to women in sports literature.
The lecture, ‘Playing the Game: Women’s Sports in Fiction, Prose and Poetry,’ is part of a year long series that focuses on Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in educational institutions.
The lecture series was created in honor of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hosting the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III women’s basketball semi-finals. This lecture series discusses topics from women’s rights in sports, psychological effects of sports on women, and recently women in sports literature and its significance.
Title IX grants equal opportunities for women not just in the context of sports.
“It is just broader than sports,” Sirabian said. “It deals with gender discrimination and inequity.”
In the context of sports, title IX says that women have to have opportunities that are proportion to those men receive, he said.
“It deals with even perhaps scholarships to some degree and that is why Title IX is important in that sporting context,” Sirabian said.
Sirabian said that is relevant to Stevens Point because there are more opportunities for women’s sports and that women have an opportunity to play competitive sports at UWSP.
“Since Title IX, women have had growing access to sports, especially competitive sports,” Sirabian said.
Sirabian also said the rules of sports, like basketball, often were modified for out of fear that they would overexert themselves or that if they were too competitive that they would act in an “unladylike” fashion.
Sirabian said the women’s game is just as “tough-nosed” as the men’s.
“But women in basketball play every bit as fiercely as men do, whether they are in the Woman’s National Basketball Association, or even at the college level and high school level. I think that part of Title IX allows for those opportunities and also removes the attitudes of those who view women as lesser athletes,” Sirbian said.
In sports literature, women are often depicted as strong competitors who are skillful and tough. Still, Sirabian said, some of the literature discusses how women are questioned as athletes and notes that they are made of fun of when they compete.
“Some of the literature shows women trying to carve out their own tradition that is not necessarily the same as the men’s tradition, instead of the individualistic, violent, winning-is-the-only-thing attitude. For women the competition is important, but often it is more internalized,” Sirbian said.
He noted that there often is more emphasis on cooperation in women’s sports as an end in itself, not a means to something else. There is sometimes more emphasis on connection to team, he said, although he noted that this is a generalization that doesn’t always apply, as many men’s teams emphasize those values as well.
Logan Hermsen, a freshmen student athlete who was present at the lecture, said he learned that gender roles are still an issue.
“Just because you are a woman does not mean that you cannot do things that men can do,” Hermsen said.
Hermsen also agreed that equality for everyone is an important thing to be discussed.
“There are a lot of instances where people are discriminated against. The army used to discriminate against gays, and it is important to see that as an issue,” Hermsen said.
Sirabian encourages anyone in sports or who is an athlete to read sports literature because it is as important as any genre of literature. He also said that sports literature is often not taken seriously.
“Sports literature does suffer still today with the notion that it is not really serious or that it is just fluff, but hopefully as we saw from the lecture, sports literature is on par with any other type of literature,” he said.
“We connect to it. Sports is that one context most people have, because either they have seen it or they have played it … they can identify with that literature.”
Hermsen also said that sports literature is important because is makes us remember what has happened throughout the years in sports.