Lack of perspective on men and women in sports
A very sad example of how easy people lose perspective can be found in a recent debate in Sweden:
In a short time-span male soccer player Anders Svenssonw and female soccer player Therese Sjögranw set new records for most games played in their respective national team. The former was rewarded with a car; the second was not. The predictable Swedish sexism debate started…
What few people considered was that the female soccer players are on a very different level from male players when compared on equal levels of “numerical” accomplishment. Its not just a matter of men being bigger or having other physical advantage—but the competition in and development of women’s soccer is far weaker. Women should have equal pay for equal accomplishment—not for a considerably weaker accomplishment.
For instance, the Swedish Wikipedia page on women’s soccerw:sv claims that women make up 29 % of all Swedish players. In other words, there are more than twice as many male players and the competition for spots on the national team is more than twice as hard. (Factoring in that men tend to be relatively more competitive and women relatively more interested in playing “for the fun of it”, the numbers likely understate the difference on the level of the national team.)
According to the same page, only one in 12 (10 million out of 120 million) players is a woman world-wide. This has at least two important implications: Firstly, women’s soccer is not competitive with men’s soccer even after correcting for physical differences between the sexes. Secondly, the far higher proportion within Sweden puts the successes of the female national team and individual female players in perspective: They are internationally successful because the rest of the world lags in the relative size of the women’s soccer sector—not because they would be truly great players.
However, women’s soccer trails men’s soccer by even more than these numbers imply: Watch a few games and compare the way the play, even natural physical differences aside. To say that there is a difference of one “league” would be extremely kind, even in Sweden two or three could easily be the case—world-wide there is no comparison. In contrast, female tennis players often have a technique and “feel” for the game that is comparable to male players, losing ground through their smaller stature, weaker arms, etc. Conversely, male athletes in sports that are considerably smaller globally than soccer are still more accomplished: In a match-up facilitated by magic, the Swedish national team in bandyw would likely have an easy time against the women’s national soccer team.
To take another perspective: Cars cost money. Which of the two is the better money maker? (And therefore the more reasonably rewarded from an economic point of view.) Comparing individuals could be very tricky; however, if we look at groups we can get at least a good indication. In 2012, the highest Swedish men’s divisionw:sv had a per game average number of visitors of 7210; the highest women’s divisionw:sv just 836.
Very recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s most successful soccer players in recent years and the team captain of the Swedish national team, spoke out about this affair, correctly pointing out that women’s soccer is not comparable to men’s and that there is no unfairness in giving only the male player a car. He also correctly points out the absurdity that he is internationally compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo but nationally to female players of a far, far lesser calibre.
The result (and what prompted me to write this post): He is attacked from every direction and seen as a sign of how unfairly maligned women’s soccer would be or how much undue prejudice there would be. (Cf. e.g. one of many Swedish news itemse). In the defense of his detractors, he could have formulated himself more diplomatically; however, that does not change the underlying issues or that he is correct in these underlying issues.
This debate points very clearly to some recurring problem with the current Swedish attitude towards “gender issues”:
Actual accomplishment and equality of opportunity is less important than equality of outcome and a highly subjective and extremely superficial take on “fairness”.
There is little will and/or ability to actually think an issue through. Instead reactions are based on emotions, what people want the world to be like (as opposed to how it actually is), simplistic assumptions, …
Criticizing attempts to create or assert pseudo-equality borders on a crime—even when the criticism is objectively justified.