Friday, August 27, 1999
Pass Her the Ball
Members of the U.S. National Women's Soccer Teamelite athletes who are also mothers, college graduates and women pursuing successful careerscaptured the hearts of all Americans over the past summer in a way that few teams of either gender have. "Wow, that Mom rocks," shouted one father, as he watched Joy Fawcett, mother of two, head in the game-winning goal during the U.S. quarterfinal victory over Germanyno doubt the first time that exclamation has ever been heard at the Washington Redskins' Jack Dent Cooke Stadium.
As gender stereotypes and barriers continue to crumble, thanks in large part to shots like Fawcett's and critical saves like those made by the University of Massachusetts' own Briana Scurry, athletic glory is no longer the exclusive domain of boys' dreams. Brandi Chastain's game-winning penalty kick in the World Cup finals joins such singular moments as Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and Doug Flutie's 1984 "Miracle in Miami" in the annals of sports.
These women have enlightened us to a reality that has never been acknowledged enough: athleticism knows no gender boundaries.
This success and the surging popularity of all types of women's sports over the last two decades is a tribute to Title 9, the landmark federal law that mandated equal opportunities for women athletes in high schools and colleges. Title 9 turned 27 last month, the same age as star soccer forward Mia Hamm, and there couldn't be a more fitting celebration than a World Cup victory.
When President Nixon signed the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which authorized the Title 9 program, about 300,000 American girls were participating in high school sports. Today, that number is nearly 2-1/2 million. Two years after Title 9 was enacted, an estimated 50,000 men, compared to roughly 50 women, attended U.S. colleges on athletic scholarships. Today women receive about one-third of all athletic scholarships, giving many women opportunities for higher education that they may not otherwise have been able to afford. In addition, because of Title 9, the salaries for coaches on women's teams have increased.
Yet, the impact of gender equality in sports goes far beyond figures and numbers from playing fields, TV ratings or ticket sales. Eighty percent of women identified as key leaders in Fortune 500 companies participated in sports growing up.
Moreover, extensive research has shown that young women who are active in sports are more likely to have greater confidence, higher levels of self-esteem, and more pride in their physical and social selves than girls who do not. Just as importantly, they are less likely to experiment with drugs, less likely to get pregnant, and more likely to graduate from high school. This is why protecting Title 9 is so important.
It is unfortunate that any man would feel threatened by the growing popularity of women's team sports. Whether it be a WNBA game or the Women's World Cup finals, these men decry the "feminization of sports" and go to great lengths to point out that women are inferior to men in strength and speed. They then draw the conclusion that women just can't be as good at sports.
Would these men pit middleweight Sugar Ray Leonard in the boxing ring against heavyweight Mohammad Ali, who outweighed him by 60 pounds? Both men were great champions, but they deserved to fight different classes. Similarly, whether played above or below the rim, elite men's and women's basketball games can and should be appreciated for their unique qualities and style.
Fortunately, the recent successes of women on the playing field are a hint of what all American women can achieve in the new millennium. Each and every young girl who painted her face red, white, and blue and cheered in raucous celebration for the Women's World Cup victory now has an even greater chance to grow into a woman with unstoppable confidence and dreams, planning to make her mark in the 21st century.
U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan represents the Fifth Massachusetts District in the U.S. House. He is a member of the House Women's Caucus.
Have you been to the Burlington Mall recently? At one time there were three bookstores to browse in. Now there are none. Across the street from the Mall, on the Middlesex Turnpike, there is now a Barnes & Noble Superstore comprised of multiple floors, a large music department and even a coffee shop. Wal-Marts are popping up all over New England, threatening small-town business districts. Huge Target stores are opening to compete with Wal-Mart. Home Depots are threatening small and not-so-small hardware stores and lumber companies. A few weekends ago we visited the new Jordan's furniture store in Natick. As you enter, you find yourself on a street resembling the Vieux Carré in New Orleans complete with a live Jazz combo. A Kelley's of Revere Beach is also in the building to satisfy your hunger pains. The furniture showrooms appear to go on forever. One could spend hours and still not see all the goods on display.
Back in the 1950s, Pete Seeger sang of "ticky-tacky little boxes," referring to the large tracts of simple houses, all looking alike, that were built just after World War II. In the 1990s he could sing of the "Big Boxes" of merchandising large warehouse-type buildings filled with goods and requiring few employees. Even grocery stores are being affected by this phenomenon, such as the Super Stop & Shops and membership clubs like Costco and B.J.'s. In the electronics field there is Best Buy and Circuit City. Outlet stores are proliferating and outlet malls are appearing. This summer we came across a new outlet mall in the Berkshires town of Lee.
I look upon all this as another example of the depersonalization of our culture. The merchandise carried in the "Big Box" stores is not consistent. They concentrate on items which have a fast turnover and quickly discard items that move slowly. So, if you see something you like, you had better buy it because it may not be there when next you return. In the case of the outlet stores, the merchandise may not be exactly like what is being sold in the same company's retail store. Some items are sold only in the outlet stores, or may be of lesser quality. And there is no guarantee that prices will be lower in the outlets or the "Big Box" stores. I have been told by an employee of one of these stores that the local manager sets prices, taking into consideration the location of the store and its competition. Prices may, therefore, not even be consistent from store to store.
What can we consumers do about this trend to "Big Box" merchandising? Realistically, there is little we can do. Obviously we can try to support our local merchants, but sometimes the price difference will be as much as 50 percent. At Costco, for instance, most paperback books are under $4 although the selection is very limited. The thought of not being able to browse in a well-stocked book or music store disturbs me greatly, but such stores may all eventually be replaced by the likes of amazon.com and everycd.com. Surfing the Internet, perhaps an advantage in finding obscure merchandise, is just not as satisfying to me as a leisurely afternoon spent walking through an interesting store. This probably just reflects my advancing age and nostalgia for the past.
One does wonder what the future of merchandising will be. Will shopping malls and "Big Boxes" also become extinct?
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito