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The Subtle Prejudice of Inflated Expectations

A discussion has taken hold in the diaries about the relative enjoyability of watching men's basketball vs. women's basketball and the general consensus seems to be that, while everyone's supportive of the Lady Horns, watching the games themselves are "boring" and the players are "awkward."

I don't necesarily disagree with these sentiments, but wondered why it's such a common sentiment about women's basketball, but not about women's softball or women's volleyball.  I think the answer lies in expectation level.

Think about video games for a second.  When all we had was Tecmo Bowl, no one cared that Bo Jackson could run around for an entire quarter without getting tackled; we loved it.  And yet, these days, when we're playing Madden, if the slightest unusual thing happens where the computer breaks a tackle he shouldn't or makes a catch he shouldn't, we get pissed.

The reason is that the closer some approximation of the "real thing" comes to that "real thing," the more attuned we are to the differences between the two.  The soda debate is between Coke and Pepsi because, unlike say Coke and Dr. Pepper, Coke and Pepsi are so similar that they invite such a comparison.  Softball, while utilizing the same basic structure and rules of baseball, is nonetheless so different from baseball that it doesn't invite the comparison between the two.  It's more or less a different sport.  No one says that women's softball looks like a JV version of men's baseball (54b, you insensitive football player you).

With volleyball, I think the difference is not that the women's game is so different from the men's game, but rather that, because of their reactions to Title IX requirements, most universities don't have men's volleyball programs beyond the club level, and thus the women's game is the baseline off of which our other perceptions are based, unless you're someone who played men's volleyball growing up or something.  Women's volleyball is the "real deal" and we judge men's volleyball based on the differences between it and the women's game.

So I think it's actually somewhat of a paradoxical compliment to the women's game to compare it unfavorably with the men's game on such a detailed level.  Notice the complaints aren't about the women playing something barely recognizable as basketball, but rather are about the quality of basketball that they play -- they're not quite as coordinated or athletic.  That means that the women play essentially the same game as the men, but just slightly different enough to invite a negative comparison.  They're the Pepsi (rather than the Dr. Pepper) to Coke, the Madden (rather than the Tecmo Bowl) to football.

So the next time you're dissing women's basketball and someone calls you a misogynist, tell them that it's actually a compliment!  Works every time.