Steidinger, Joan. Stand Up and Shout Out. Women’s Fight for Equal Pay, Equal Rights, and Equal Opportunities in Sports.Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020. Pp. 232. $24.95 hardback and ebook.
Reviewed by Łukasz Muniowski
Judging by pure numbers, women’s participation in organized sports is at an all-time high. This was made possible due to Title IX, a federal law that mandated male and female athletes be treated equally and not discriminated on the basis of sex at federally-funded institutions. In 1972, when the law was introduced, it was estimated that around 300,000 women and girls actively participated in sporting activities. Now, the number is around three million. Joan Steidinger’s book, Stand Up and Shot Out, explores the overlooked consequences of Title IX, focusing on how, almost 40 years later, women still find themselves struggling for recognition and respect. She addresses all kinds of discrimination, from media coverage and racism to selectively-applied pay parity.
Upon the signing of Title IX in 1972, it seemed that things swiftly would improve for American girls and women in sports. In 1973, Billie Jean King won the “Battle of the Sexes” over Bobby Riggs. A year later, she founded the Women’s Sports Foundation. Further developments were expected, yet nothing of such stature occurred. This clearly is a shame, as girls who participate in sports have a greater chance of reaching success in their adult lives. And since women are prone to underestimating their abilities––whereas men overestimate theirs––sports allows them to become more confident, as well as learn the importance of teamwork and leadership. While sports in general, both professional and amateur, do a great job in developing such qualities, little effort is put into cultivating them for women and girls outside of the realm of the track, field, or court.
This applies to high-level positions in sporting organizations, including coaching other athletes, either female or male. Before the advancement of Title IX, 93 percent women were coached by women, now that number is 41.5 percent. The pay parity at coaching positions made it desirable for men who are considered not good enough to work with men to instead coach girls or women. Although empathy and listening skills are the key qualities associated with female coaches, these are not qualities looked for in coaches for reasons that are deeply rooted in social expectations regarding authority figures––as if, in order to inspire, coaches must be authoritative, a traditionally-masculine trait.
Furthermore, before Title IX, male and female sports programs had separate athletic directors, usually a man and a woman, respectively. Now there is only one, usually a white male. The person in charge has the ability to allocate funds reserved for female athletes to boys’ or men’s teams, often presuming that is more important to provide male athletes with the benefits of extra funding. Gender-based discrimination is one thing, racial discrimination––if not institutional racism––is another, even among most recognizable athletes. In 2015, Serena Williams, arguably the most dominant tennis player ever, male or female, earned around 10 million less in endorsements than Maria Sharapova. Williams is Black and muscular, while Sharapova is white, tall, and blonde. Athletes like Williams are depicted as manly for not fitting certain, traditional (and traditionally-white) standards of beauty. In contrast, the slim and long-legged Sharapova personifies qualities that, for decades if not centuries, have been associated with appropriate femininity
Likewise, successful female athletes’ public perceptions suffer when they are in a relationship with or related to famous men, even if the woman athlete is simply better at what she does. In the media, their status as a wife, girlfriend or sister of a male athlete is presented as their primary identity. Soccer player Julie Ertz is one example of an athlete who does not get her due because she is married to an NFL player. This perception partially stems from the small numbers of female sports reporters and journalists, who, if more prominent, undoubtedly could influence the popular perception of women athletes. Women constitute around 11.5 percent of sports reporters and 10 percent of sports editors at the Associated Press.
To sum up, in American women’s sports we are often dealing with surface changes, not institutional ones. Women remain excluded from the most powerful positions in sports, which has prevented growth in women’s sports that exceeds the boundaries of the tracks, fields, and courts. Apart from pointing out these flaws in implementation of Title IX, Stand Up and Shout Out proposes numerous ways of addressing them. Generally they may be summed up as follows: women must try to reach for togetherness, as it is by working in unison that advancements will be made. The same applies to men, who need to not only allow women to move up in sports’ society but also support their movement by giving them the platforms necessary to express themselves.
Female athletes also be empowered to abandon fear and speak out about their experiences, furthering the advancements that began in 1972. Such action takes courage and such change takes time. To accelerate these processes, female athletes must be confident that when they speak out on certain issues they will not be ignored, or, even worse, scrutinized. Those who stand up and shout out need to be respected for their bravery, not discouraged from further action.
Łukasz Muniowski recieved his Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Warsaw. He is the author of Three-Pointer! A 40-Year NBA History (McFarland, 2020), Narrating the NBA: Representations of Leading Players after the Michael Jordan Era (Lexington, 2021), and The Sixth Man: A History of the NBA Off the Bench (McFarland, 2021).