Tuesday, March 30, 2021

What does female political recruitment and the Women’s NCAA Basketball Teams have in common?

Women’s Basketball within the NCAA is the latest organization to raise the cry for gender equality. On March 18th, University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince posted a video on TikTok showing the women’s weight room: six pairs of weights with half a dozen yoga mats next to it. She then showed a video of the men’s weight room which looked like a traditional Vasa or Planet Fitness. The TikTok video blew up on social media, sparking national outrage at the gender difference between the two teams. As of March 30th, the video has 44.7 thousand retweets on Twitter and 103 thousand shares on TikTok.  Other female basketball athletes were quick to add fuel to the gender-equality fire by posting pictures of the meal differences between the women’s (small pre-packaged meals) and men’s (hot buffet style) teams and the swag bags the women (mediocre) and men (overflowing) received. Those images, a variety of “budgetcuts” only imposed on the women’s teams, the small amount spent on advertising – despite the revenue the women's team is reportedly bringing in – and the fact that the NCAA specifically reserved and applies the term “March Madness” for the men’s teams, turned the video into an overnight explosion.

As I was researching the upset, I found that it very closely paralleled the female political recruitment process and even the female’s pass policy. I will admit that the NCAA women’s basketball and the female political recruitment process does not perfectly parallel one another; however, it does provide an interesting insight into what happens within female political recruitment and paints an interesting lens on the NCAA women’s basketball scandal that might be insightful moving towards better basketball gender equality. 

To understand how political female representation is possible, one must first look at how the recruitment process begins. Research shows that most women who achieve political office… tend to have family ties to prominent male politicians. In the same way, female athletes likely have a former-athlete family member who encourages the pursuit of a sport. Like the political pure recruits – those who responded that they had never thought seriously about running until someone else suggested it, young female athletes don’t consider playing at the collegiate or professional level until a mentor, coach, or scout suggests the option. Contrast this with male athletic counterparts who dream of playing pro from a young age. A study conducted in 2013 found that male student-athletes have developed higher perfectionist orientations in the sports realm than females because of their attainment for higher performance standards in a highly valued discipline. In other words, since there is a higher likelihood of a professional career after high school for males, they tend to dedicate more time and perfectionism than female athletes. 

Additional research found within the political recruitment pipeline shows that ordinary [female] Americans’ consideration of whether or not to pursue political offices relies much more heavily on their personal and family circumstances than previously found; [thus] ordinary women have greater need of support from their families, friends, and coworkers to balance the demands of candidacy with their other responsibilities. This support can be emotional, verbal, or even financial. Though the research was for female politicians, it applies to female athletes as well; one article wrote that most professional women basketball players, in order to make a sustainable income playing basketball, need to compete in numerous different national leagues, [creating] an extreme physical demand on the athletes by not having an off-season

The mechanisms of candidate section [can] often determine what kinds of women are elected and has a large impact on the change female politicians can create within office. Researchers found four possible scenarios that could happen if more women were elected into legislative chambers; only two were completely applicable to both female politicians and athletes, though the other two are interesting applications. 1) a rise in the number of women may influence men’s behavior in a feminist direction. 2) the increased presence of women may provoke a backlash among male legislators, who may employ tactics to obstruct women’s policy initiatives and keep them outside positions of power. I think these findings help paint a vivid lens of what could potentially happen if more advertising was spent to promote the women’s basketball team; simply change out the word legislators for NCAA officials and apply a mentality of college athlete to the two scenarios. In other words, either both male and female collegiate athletes would begin pushing for gender-equal treatment or the NCAA would try to block the push; because of the national attention and support this issue has gotten, an obstruction would not be a good political move.

Research found that the biggest way to have more female recruitment in the political pipeline was through a focus on “(1) increasing the supply of female candidates through active recruitment and (2) stoking demand for female representatives by emphasizing a norm of equality.” In much the same way, the number of collegiate female athletes can increase with a higher supply of younger student-athletes being mentored, coached, and encouraged to continue within the athletic pipeline, instead of stopping after high school. The same research found that when political parties recruited more women, it played an important role in increasing women’s representation. Similarly, the demand can be encouraged through social movements that petition for treatment equality between sexes – including advertising budgets, pay, facilities, and financial rewards for the winning schools (like the men’s team have).

In conclusion, both sports and politics are a highly masculinized space where women are still viewed as intruders whose presence disrupts the traditional order. While more needs to be done on the path to gender-equality, research has found that voters’ willingness to support female candidates has significantly increased over the last few decades which also reflects female sports viewership and support. The biggest way to promote change within the NCAA, politics, or anywhere else is through research conducted on traditional lawmaking actions: for women, unorthodox lawmaking has better results than traditional. It doesn’t matter if it’s incorporating language into an omnibus legislation or using social media to spark a worldwide movement, women in politics and in sports are changing the way gender equality is done in the world. 

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