Right Field

Jessica Valenti: All-Women Sports-Talk Shows Don’t Promote Real Equality

First Valenti wrote that nail polish designed to detect date-rape drugs encourages “rape culture,” and now she writes that CBS’s new sports-talk show featuring only women somehow ”provides the illusion of equality,” not real equality:

Is CBS Sports’ new ladies’ talk show really an excuse to push women aside?

Giving women separate shows while failing to address gender disparities in existing programming just provides the illusion of equality

We need more women in sports and more female-anchored television news shows — the current lineups on most of them are mostly pale, all-male and correspondingly stale. But creating separate spaces for women’s ideas and commentary isn’t equity: it’s table scraps.

For instance, when launching an all-female sports show, don’t name it something that sounds more like a voyeuristic break-up reality show than a sports program. We Need to Talk, an hour-long primetime show that will premiere on CBS Sports this fall, will feature solely women commentators and be produced and directed by a female team. But this feels more like giving up on women viewers – and sportscasters – than “girl power”.

Giving women their own separate shows while failing to address the gender disparity in existing programming simply provides the illusion of equality: companies get kudos for supporting women without the hard work of creating systemic change.

Besides, is there something so different about women’s commentary and ideas? Will female pundits have some particularly gendered view of sports that isn’t acceptable for CBS’s run-of-the-mill shows? By creating “women’s programs”, what we’re saying is that the male perspective is the normal one. The real one.

The rest here.

She’s right and she’s wrong on both issues.

On an op-ed page or in a lecture hall, she makes sense. Women shouldn’t have to live in fear of date-rape drugs. Women should be considered equals when commenting on sports. This is life in the theoretical. 

But we don’t live on op-ed pages or in lecture halls. Women do have to worry about scumbag men drugging and raping them. Audiences for sports-talk on television and radio do get to choose who they listen to, and might choose, for example, a man who has played in the NFL instead of a woman, no matter how insightful, who’s never taken a snap. This is life as it is.

We really need both the theoretical and the real. While Valenti focuses on the the op-ed/lecture hall aspects of pursuing equality, she’s missing positive changes. Inventors developing products to make women safer and programmers airing media formats that give women a voice are good things.

There’s also no downside for the examples listed above, even if the ideas are total flops. What if nobody buys the nail polish? At least the topic of men assaulting women is being talked about, and in a new way that’s getting it op-ed space in the Guardian. And what if the CBS show fails? Again, Liberals like to assume, like in the movie A Field of Dreams, “if they build” a show, viewers/listeners “will come. ” That’s not how it works. You start small, build an audience, prove yourself, and then get the big job. Take Michael Strahan as an example. There’s not a person who would have predicted that when Strahan retired from the New York Giants, he’d eventually replace Regis Philbin. None. I’m still surprised he’s on the show. But, hey, it works. Viewers love Live! With Kelly and Michael, and now Strahan is appearing on Good Morning America as well.

But where did Strahan start his career in broadcasting? It wasn’t with Fox and the NFL, but with the DIY Network and a home improvement show in 2007. He started on Fox in 2008, and didn’t break out as Regis’s replacement in 2012. 

CBS is giving women journalists a platform to, at worst, begin to build an audience that they will carry with them in their careers. That’s good news, not simply window dressing. 

Of note, Valenti is criticizing this CBS show before it’s even aired: 

“By creating ‘women’s programs,’ what we’re saying is that the male perspective is the normal one. The real one.” A single episode of this new CBS show has yet to air.

Maybe we should watch an episode first before declaring it a failure, no?

And I can’t let this one pass: Valenti tries to paint sports-talk programming as “pale.”

Well, if we’re using the Guardian as the benchmark for our pale-o-meter, I think people of color in sports media are doing pretty well. Here are the five columnists featured on the top of the Guardian’s ”Comment” section of their U.S. website. . .

And here are their pictures . . .

These writers can use a little sun I think. In the spirit of equality, of course.


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