A nice thing about growing up is rediscovering things you dismissed when you were a kid because of your parents. Adulthood has allowed me to appreciate the merits of the modern action movie, the tastiness of ranch dressing, and in the most unlikely twist of events, the joy of watching sports.
For much of my life, I’ve viewed the culture of professional sports as a club that wouldn’t have me as a member, which didn’t bother me because I wasn’t particularly interested in joining anyways. As a little girl, I had no natural athletic ability and an Australian mom who had a tendency to roll her eyes at the American obsession with football, baseball, and mainstream culture in general. Moreover, sports always struck me as a boy thing—after all, popular professional sports in the United States are played by men and their fans are also, stereotypically, men.
In recent years, I’ve warmed to the idea of sports—the older I get, the more I understand that there might be something to universally-beloved mass cultural events—but didn’t get cable until earlier this year, and still struggled to find a sport I consistently enjoyed watching, aside from American Ninja Warrior. Something that attracted me to sports (and for that matter, cooking shows and Keeping Up With the Kardashians) is that unlike the majority of television, it’s something you can have on in the background while you do other things.
I was excited to watch the Olympics this year—in 2016, I was hypnotized by men’s and women’s gymnastics, so I (correctly) assumed that this year, I’d feel the same about figure skating. But as the figure skating playing in the background came to an end, and the next events appeared on my screen, I was surprised to find myself engaged by ice hockey and curling, sports I would’ve previously dismissed as “boring” or “not my thing.”
The common thread between the Winter Olympics events I was drawn to? Women were competing.
I can’t quite suss out the exact reason I was mesmerized by watching women’s ice hockey, but found the men’s tournament to be a total snooze, aside from the fact that like the women playing, I’m also a girl. I’d be lying if I said the South Korean women’s curling team’s sense of style didn’t factor into the joy I felt watching their unexpected victories. Nicknamed the "Garlic Girls" after their hometown, famous for its garlic production, each team member has her own food inspired moniker. I was captivated by the impassioned yells of team captain Kim Eun-jung, also known as “Yogurt,” who looked spectacular in her FILA tracksuit and trendy glasses. Her outfit reminded me of, well, me. It was something I’d wear.
All this is a testament to the power of representation, and when it comes to professional sports, women are systematically underrepresented. A 2017 article on HuffPost titled "Why Representation Matters," describes a 2012 study about the effect television has on the self-esteem of children that “found that TV made subjects feel good about themselves ― if those subjects were white boys. Girls and boys of color, on the other hand, reported lower self-esteem as they watched.”
“We feel pretty comfortable that it’s this lack of representation that could be responsible for this effect,” Nicole Martins, a media professor at Indiana University who co-authored the study, told HuffPost.
The Olympics is one of the few popular mainstream sporting events that includes women at all, and watching these incredible athletes compete makes me wish for a world where women’s and men’s sports existed on the same plane, a culture where, for example, WNBA games drew the same fanfare as their male counterparts.
In this year’s Olympics, the women of Team USA drummed up the same amount, if not more, excitement than men's—the women’s hockey team won a thrilling gold medal game against their longtime rivals, Canada, while the men didn’t even make it to the bronze medal game—and that’s the point of representation. Not only did these women fucking thrive, they got me to like sports.
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