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Archive for Saturday, May 31, 2003

Let women compete wherever they can

May 31, 2003

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What I know about golf could be printed on half a Post-it Note with room left over for the Bill of Rights.

So you'll forgive my being befuddled by the recent fuss over Annika Sorenstam. Last week, she apparently became the first woman in nearly 60 years to joust the men at a PGA event. And killer monkeys came flying out of the sky.

At least, that's what you'd have thought. My local all-news radio station issued the kind of urgent hourly updates that are usually reserved for the outbreak of war. Some men protested so vehemently you'd have thought the woman's name was Annika bin Laden.

As I said, I'm a golf idiot, so I asked the guy at the next desk, an avid golfer, to explain. Ray told me that physical strength is a big factor in the game, so there's some objective basis for believing women golfers wouldn't be able to compete with men. He also outlined the arguments some of the male golfers were making: they are not allowed to participate in women's events and Sorenstam was taking a spot that could have gone to a man.

But Ray doesn't think any of that accounts for the vehemence of the protests. He believes -- and I had intuited the same thing -- that the men in question simply felt threatened. Nobody wanted to be the one who got beaten by a girl.

As everybody surely knows, the "girl" didn't win, but didn't embarrass herself. She finished behind a bunch of men, ahead of some others. My all-news station reported this in yet another breathless bulletin. And maybe the coverage was warranted after all, given the emotional investment some men had evidently made in Sorenstam's exclusion and some women, in her success.

It all took me back to an argument I had years ago with my stepdaughter. We were down in Key West, Fla., when we got into this dust-up about the possibility of a woman someday playing in the NBA.

My daughter knows less about basketball than I do golf, but that didn't stop her from contending that it was only a matter of time before some woman suited up for the Lakers. She took violent exception to my saying such a thing was highly unlikely. I tried to mollify her. I even allowed as to how maybe, conceivably, just at the far edge of possibility, a woman might someday be found who could play guard; guards tend to be smaller and the position less physically demanding.

But, I said, it was inconceivable to think of a woman ever playing forward or center, down in the paint where the monsters bump and grind and the mesomorphic (look it up) Shaquille O'Neal is considered the gold standard. Shaq is 7-feet-1, 338 pounds of brute force. There are not, I said, many men capable of challenging him, much less women.

The daughter wasn't buying it. She berated my sexism up one side of the island and down the other. At the time, I thought it was because she was a teenager, and thus, passionately impatient with unfairness, real and imagined. But I later told that story in front of a women's group and the room became cold enough to store ice cream.

I didn't understand it then. Don't understand it now.

Women are, in the aggregate, less physically strong than men. Why should that fact be so threatening to supporters of gender equity? It doesn't make women inferior. It only makes them -- and thank Heaven for this -- different.

By the same token, people aren't aggregates. People are people. Individuals. And if an individual woman is able to compete in some male-dominated field, why shouldn't she have that chance? Why should the tenderness of the male ego prevent her from being all that she can be?

In that spirit, let me offer this olive branch to my daughter:

I still don't think there will ever be a woman who can play center in the NBA. But if and when such a woman does come along, I'm all for giving her a shot. I say this because, believe it or not, I do support gender equity.

Also, I wouldn't want a woman that size mad at me.




-- Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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