Women's cricket deserves independence from Men's cricket

share this article

Whether due to anxiety about the erosion of male power, or through politically-correct clichés, or benchmarking it to the men's game, the treatment meted out to women's sport continues to perpetuate the male-centric world.

There is no reason to think that men’s cricket is ‘better’ than women’s sport. Women’s cricket has to be understood on its own terms. | AP

So far, the 21st Century has been an era of great advancement for women’s cricket in particular and women’s sport in general. In cricket, wealthy cricket boards have offered elite women players professional contracts. Professionalisation has meant that standards have improved in women’s cricket. Contemporary women cricketers are fitter, stronger, more skillful and arguably more experienced cricketers than their predecessors from the 1960s and '70s. They tour more often and more widely than ever before. They draw talent from more competitive domestic leagues than ever before.

This advancement is a sign of the times. Nearly two hundred years of vital and relentless intellectual and political activism in our industrial age has driven social change, especially in the world’s democracies and in the erstwhile Second World. This has lead to an increasingly prominent role for women in public life, be it politics, other professions, business or sport. Men have been threatened by this advancement. For one thing, it has meant that they face greater competition for their positions in public life. Many men resent this. For another, their conception of women — half the human species — has had to change. What’s more, what they think of women matters less today than it did before. This erosion of male power (the male chauvinists would call it ‘authority’) is resented by many men as well. While it is true that many men have wholeheartedly supported and in some cases even championed the struggle against male chauvinism, these men form at most a significant minority among all men.

 

Women’s cricket has to be understood on its own terms, independent of Men's cricket template. This requires watching it with an open mind and a generous, intellectually sincere imagination. Lazy observation followed by formulaic clichés simply will not do.

The solid majority of men — who seem to think that women’s advancement is either much of a muchness or consider it some kind of affirmative action program designed to prop up the weak and dismantle their meritocracy — are on the defensive these days. Most of them watch what they say out of worries about “political correctness”. Political correctness refers to the idea that some things which are true and well-founded can no longer be said because to do so would offend some increasingly powerful people and marginalise oneself. This is of course not true. For the most part, these things are neither true nor well-founded. They’re old prejudices. And this bogey of political correctness is basically a passive-aggressive cudgel raised by defeated men who do not yet acknowledge that their prejudices are, in fact, prejudices.

Consider the flurry of commentary about women’s sport in recent months. John McEnroe took exception to the idea that Serena Williams is the greatest tennis player of all time by suggesting that she would be 700th at best in the men’s rankings. The women’s world cup, and the women’s game more generally have brought about two types of commentary. The first kind is involved in benchmarking the women’s game on the men’s game. The second kind suggest that they've always covered the women’s game. Needless to say, both classes of commentary is committed by men.

The first kind of commentary either takes McEnroe’s line, suggesting that women will never be as good as men, or it takes a more technocratic line, asking, as Tim Wigmore did in a recent essay for The Cricket Monthly “How far can women’s cricket go?” (The answer:much closer to men’s cricket than it is today.)

For an example of the second kind of commentary, consider this set of events. Boria Majumdar, who is Sachin Tendulkar’s biographer among other things, was recently shown up wonderfully by the former India and Maharashtra cricketer Snehal Pradhan on Twitter.

In a report for the Economic Times, Majumdar’s first paragraph ended with the sentence “While not many had given them a chance, the eves made the final ending up runners-up to the hosts.” Majumdar was writing about the 2010 Women’s World T20, a tournament whose final India did not, in fact, reach.

It might have been considered a simple factual error and corrected. Instead, in a series of tweets, Majumdar denied that he wrote what the report plainly shows that he wrote (the online version was later revised to correct the factual error) and went on to explain gratuitously to Pradhan what he really meant to say. Merely admitting the error would have meant that Majumdar did not recall who played the final of a tournament which he claimed to have covered. This would be a remarkable oversight. Less charitably, it would suggest that Majumdar had paid no serious professional attention to the 2010 Women's World T20, but tried to parade an interest in it given the current public prominence of the ongoing Women’s World Cup. After all, women’s cricket is more fashionable now than it has ever been. Perhaps Heinlein’s razor applies here.

Cricket journalists' patronising attitude is revealed too in the age-old way of referring to the women’s cricket team as the “the eves”. I will stop considering this to be pathetically sexist the day I see a report by a male cricket journalist which refers to Kohli’s team as “the adams”. This obsession with placing everything about women’s cricket (and women’s sport) in reference to the men’s game, be it with honest attempts to compare the women’s game to the men’s game, or patronising attempts to give importance to the women’s game by making a grand show of Olympian male journalists paying attention to a women’s tournament, are both symptoms of the same malaise. This is the malaise which places men at the center of the world.

It is not really about the men. There is no reason to think that men’s cricket is ‘better’ than women’s sport. Men are bigger, heavier and faster than women. But it is not as though men do anything special in their life to become physically stronger than women. The average male couch potato is bigger, heavier and probably stronger than the average female couch potato. Given how society is organised, bigger, more powerful, bodies simply come up with the rations for men, don’t they?

It is not surprising therefore that they can fling a cricket ball faster than women. Formula One cars are vastly faster than touring cars. But even Michael Schumacher wouldn't race one of his sublime Ferrari F1 machines in a rally.

 

There are studies which compare how the difference between men’s and women’s sporting record has developed over the last 50 years. In sports which depend on power, the men are predictably ahead of women by a greater difference. But I’d wager that on a speed-per-pound-of-body-weight basis, Florence Griffith-Joyner was probably faster than Ben Johnson in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Comparing the male competition in sport to the female competition in the same sport makes about as much sense as trying to compare Einstein and Darwin as scientists and deciding who was the ‘better’ scientist.

 

Women’s cricket is not the same as Men’s cricket. But it is equally cricket. Similarly, Women’s tennis is not the same as Men’s tennis, but it is equally tennis. If the two were the same, they would not be two separate sports with their own tournaments and touring schedules. As a comparative fact between two things, equality would be trivial if the two things were the same. It acquires significance precisely because the two things are not the same.

Women’s cricket has to be understood on its own terms. This requires watching it with an open mind and a generous, intellectually sincere imagination. Lazy observation followed by formulaic clichés simply will not do. The sporting contest in women’s cricket is bound to have aspects of significance which are different from those found in men’s cricket. Instead of applying the template of the men’s game to the women’s game, it is necessary to try an understand what women’s cricket is about independently.

The fact that we currently seem to think women’s cricket has some obligation to aspire to the “level” of men’s cricket reveals the poverty of our imagination. It reveals nothing at all about women’s cricket. If we bother to learn about women’s cricket, we might, in turn learn more about ourselves as people. But this won’t happen until we let go of the worldview which makes men the point of reference of everything.

share this article
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor