Before the main post of the day, note to those planning on getting a chinchilla: plan on huge air-conditioning bills. Pasadena Water & Power charged us almost $500 for keeping Matilde cool these past two months. She's worth every penny, of course, but unlike most pets, energy costs are the primary expense.
Oh, and I'm not a furry rodent anymore! I've been upgraded in the blogosphere:
Anyhow: The Seattle Storm won the Women's National Basketball Association title last night. What made the win particularly noteworthy was that it was the first time in the history of American professional sports that a team with a woman as head coach had won any sort of championship. (All of the previous WNBA titles had been won by teams coached by men.) The winning coach, Anne Donovan, said:
"Yeah, it's something that we've been striving for. I think there are a lot of great women coaches out there. In order to get to the next level of respect, we have to win championships."
One long-standing controversy at the high school and the college level has been the role of male coaches in women's athletics. Though women have won championships as coaches in these amateur levels, the greatest success in recent years has been by men. The marquee sport of women's college athletics is surely basketball; the three-time defending champions are the Connecticut Huskies, coached by Geno Auriemma. The head coach of the 2004 gold medal winning women's softball team (made up of former college stars) was Mike Candrea, head coach at Arizona. And by far the most successful coach in the history of women's soccer is the controversial Anson Dorrance, who coaches the North Carolina Tar Heel squad. (Controversial due to widely documented evidence of a pattern of "consensual" romantic relationships with certain of his players.)
To be sure, there are highly successful female coaches in women's sports as well. In addition to Donovan, Tennessee's remarkable Pat Summitt and UCLA's own Sue Enquist have had great success in basketball and softball, respectively; one could name many others. But there are no women serving as head coaches of men's teams at any major university or in the professional ranks. This raises a question for feminists: should the sex of the head coach matter in women's athletics?
Though it is difficult to prove, it seems clear that at least some young women are "more comfortable" being coached by a man. This may be a matter of acculturation, or perhaps some sort of internalized misogyny. It can also be homophobia: the fear of lesbianism is widespread, particularly among conservative families looking to send their daughters off to college to play sports. (One of the reason why the most successful women's coaches, like Summitt of Tennessee, bend over backwards to project a "feminine" and "heterosexual" image). In a world where women are so infrequently seen in positions of authority, a male coach may be seen as intellectually and athletically superior. For some, male coaches may add undeserved legitimacy: "we know it's a serious sport because a man coaches it!" (This reminds me of the students who tell me they took women's studies with me because they thought I would be "less biased" than a woman. Talk about unwarranted male privilege!)
Of course, the motives and skills of male coaches are regularly questioned. Men who choose to coach women's basketball, for example, are presumed to have "tried and failed" to coach men's teams -- and are only choosing women's sports as a consolation prize. On the other hand, occasional reports of sexual harrassment of female athletes by male coaches leads others to assume that men who coach women often have a predatory motive. (The ambiguous, border-line behavior of legendary figures like Anson Dorrance doesn't help). But despite all this, there can be little doubt that men have had great success coaching women in recent years.
The most controversial suggestion is to insist that athletes be coached by members of their own sex. Some have asked that the NCAA encourage that member institutions hire only women to coach women's teams. Think of it as a particularly aggressive form of gender-based affirmative action. Given that women coaches clearly have the talent to lead, and given the enduring cultural obstacles that keep them from leadership, isn't it time to demand that if only men are coaching men, only women should be coaching women? Isn't this the best and quickest way to increase the number of female coaches?
Obviously, I don't like that idea. (What would it mean for my work as a women's history teacher?) Still, I'm immensely sympathetic to the overall goal. The answer, I think, is to encourage more women to coach their daughters' soccer teams in elementary schools. When I look at kids playing sports in parks, I see more fathers than mothers barking instructions and running up and down. These girls are being taught that leadership comes from a man; mom may drive them to soccer practice, but dad coaches the team. Any lasting changes will have to come on a very early level. We must teach our girls that women can lead and coach. We must do everything possible to get more women into coaching at the elementary and secondary levels, and then I think we will see far greater success for women in the colleges and the professional ranks.
The Women's Sports Foundation issued this statement a few years ago on the subject. It does a nice job of analyzing the myths and obstacles that surround the issue of women in coaching; it's short, so have a look.
So congrats to Anne Donovan, congrats to the Seattle Storm. And while you're thinking about it, go and find out who's coaching the women's teams at your local high school, college, or alma mater.
UPDATE: I've been given false information. The Times said this morning (scroll to the bottom for the quote): Not only is Seattle's Anne Donovan the first woman to coach a WNBA champion, she's the first to win a title in any U.S. women's pro league. But Julie at No Fancy Name corrects both me and the paper here:
Anne Donovan wasn't the first female head coach of a professional championship team, because Marcia McDermott coached the 2002 WUSA champions, the Carolina Courage. Hey, it was a professional league, they had tons of money (that they spent inappropriately), so it should count. I didn't check other leagues' history, so I'm not saying that McDermott was the first, just that Donovan wasn't...
I stand corrected. Shall I email the LA Times?
Further Update: the Seattle Times makes the same mistake: Last night, Anne Donovan became the first woman to coach a team to a professional sports championship in the United States, as she intellectually and emotionally directed the Storm to an overwhelming 74-60 victory over the Connecticut Sun last night at KeyArena.