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Sports, Women, and Damn Patriarchy

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is finally a full-time coach with a NHL organization who is female. She is a skating coach but it is still better than nothing. It also goes to show how much further professional sports, including hockey, have to go when it comes to valuing women altogether. The NBA has two full-time female assistant coaches, Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs and Nancy Lieberman of the Sacramento Kings. While Lieberman has not coached a game yet, Hammon will be entering her third season on the Spurs staff and has been praised from day one for how good she is as a coach.

It should not have to be news when a female becomes a coach for a team, but it seems that it is rarer and rarer that women go into coaching because of the time it takes to be a good coach. I am not talking about the years and years of practice needed to become an elite level coach. I am talking about the actual hours needed to be effective at the highest level. Hours of video, game preparations, and dealing with injuries to key players amongst other duties. Being a coach is a time-consuming occupation at the highest level.

There is a good reason that we see more men as professional coaches and it has nothing to do with pay and everything to do with what we expect of each gender. It is normal for people to expect women to cook, do household chores and tend to any offspring a family might have while the man is expected to simply work and pay attention to his children periodically. While this is not the case in many households nowadays, it is still the perception by many on how things are supposed to be. I remember for years when I was growing up (and I am born in 1993 so this isn’t that long ago) feeling the need to explain to teachers and classmates that my dad was the one who made supper most nights because he got home first. It was a simple, logical conclusion to “who should make supper” because we needed to eat and dad could make that happen faster.

The expectations on women versus men when it comes to their families is a lot deeper than just what people expect of housework, it is also how we look at parenting. When you decide to have children, you decide it together usually. That means that you are equal partners. While women have the burden of bearing the offspring for 40 weeks, the men are equal partners in the agreement. While many men and women abide by this idea and are wonderful parents in their own way, men are overly praised for doing simple things like making breakfast, changing a diaper, picking their kids up from school, and doing their kids hair. These are simple acts that all parents probably have to do at some point or another and both parents should be praised for their efforts to raise offspring who are fine members of society.

How does all this go back to the lack of professional coaches who are women? If so much is expected of them domestically, it is hard for them to take a profession that would cut into their time with their family, time that they have been taught since they are babies is vital to them being both a women and female. We are supposed to be the carers and the ones who kiss all the booboos better. This is the expectation. This should not be the reality.

My mom worked for years as a volunteer with Water Polo Canada. This took her on a few trips. She never worried about my dad being able to take care of me and my sister. Instead, she made sure all three of us knew how to do the laundry because when one parent is away we had to help out around the house more and went on her way to England for a week. She had a job to do and she was going to do it because it was important to her. This does not mean that she did not miss us. In fact, my parents usually tried to find ways to let me and my sister come with them on water polo trips, turning some trips into road trips with the understanding that most of our time would be spent at the pool.

The sad thing is these thoughts are so engrained in our thinking that even being aware of them means that you have to consciously remind yourself that it is no better that a dad is out with his kids rather than a mom. They are both doing the same thing by parenting. Again, this is tied into sports and specifically how we talk about women versus men who compete. When a women competes and she has children the sacrifices she makes in being away from her family is played up. We are constantly reminded that she is not able to perform motherhood the same way mothers at home are. Yet when a man is both an athlete and a father we do not play up those same sacrifices that are made. Both parents have to give up something to compete and yet we only play up the fact that women miss key developmental moments or have to leave behind their children to go to the Olympics. We do not talk about how men have to do the same and how hard that can be for them. Fathers are just as important to their offspring as mothers and the sacrifices made by both parents is vital. There might be promotions spurned by the spouse who does not compete because that promotion would cut into valuable family time or make it harder for the other one to travel and compete.

This all applies to women who want to go into coaching like this: We expect them to be present for their kids always. Full stop. 2. We expect coaches to be able to do the job competently. Full stop. Sometimes that means having to work late and miss the odd soccer practice. That should be okay. My dad was the one who drove me to swimming for years. He was great at it. My mom was the one who worked late because of the fact that school administrators have to work longer hours then teachers and she loves her job. She started doing that when I was three and my sister four. Funny that we are both a-okay even though my mom was not present for everything in our lives. If we allowed for women to be able to travel without questioning how much they loved their children and also allowed for men to parent without praising them for the simplest of tasks we would be better off.

I have made a mistake though; I have only talked about the idea of women coaches who are parents, with a partner, and have children. What about those coaches who are with partner, but no offspring or with children, but no partner, or neither? Along with all the other expectations set on females, one major part of being a girl involves the idea that you will have children one day. This alone is dangerous because it sets the expectation that the only way you can have a fulfilling life is if you care about a child full-time. This is not a way to have happy, healthy people because happy, healthy people are people who can live their lives in a way that is fulfilling to them. When they are judged for their decisions they might start questioning who they are and why they think the way they do.

The ideas of what makes a good partner/mother/women needs to change. Instead of one gender having to perform their role in a relationship a certain way. This is a basic tenant to women moving up in male dominated fields. Until gender norms are changed to reflect the fact that the way our world works now creates the need for more fluidity in tasks performed, we will always have women who struggle to “have it all” and men who get praised for simply being there like a parent should be.

It is fantastic that we are now seeing female coaches in men’s leagues. It is wrong that it has taken this long, but that is our own fault. In a world where we expect women to be Superman, we expect men to simply be Man. Yet we refuse to praise men who perform the same tasks as women, but without the child-bearing burden or women cut down women who are not Superman and refuse to see that having an equal partner is just as praise-worthy. Female coaches can become a norm in pro-sports, even men’s leagues, as long as we adjust our expectations for the burden they carry at home to be more along the lines of 50-50 or even 40-60 for them to achieve their dreams while performing the role of “female in society”. It is time to stop thinking that children will be damaged if either parent is present at practice for anything. It is time to stop thinking that women have to “have it all” to be successful. And it is time to stop thinking that men are not capable of performing the same tasks as a women when parenting. It is 2016 after all.