Recently, Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a Professional Bowlers Association Tour title. Congratulations to her. Unfortunately, Rick Reilly, in a typically feckless and self-serving attempt to position himself as the arbiter of all that is true, just, and righteous in the world of sports, has declared this accomplishment to be “The greatest moment in women’s sports.” His sole criterion for making this ridiculous assertion seems to be that Kulick beat men to do it. And he apparently has no idea how condescending, patronizing, and downright sexist that logic is. Fortunately, I do.
Let me start with a premise that I don’t think any serious feminist or physiologist would disagree with: On the scales of potential physical strength and speed, the distribution of men is centered around a higher mean than that of women. Put another way, ceteris paribus, men are likely to be faster and stronger on the whole than women. Put a third way, elite male athletes trained to achieve their highest potential physical attributes, are faster and stronger than elite female athletes trained the same way. That difference in potential physical capacity, is, I think, one of the only non-debatable differences between the sexes.
Now, bowling is a sport in which that difference does not figure strongly, if at all. The ability to roll a 17 pound ball at bowling speed is a feat well within the physical potential of probably the upper 80th or 90th percentile of all women. I’m no bowling expert, but it seems to me that pure physical strength and speed take a back seat to technique, repetition, timing, muscle memory, and some endurance. I think most serious people would agree that men and women are fairly equal in terms of their potential when it comes to those attributes. So why is it shocking at all that a woman could beat a bunch of men in a bowling tournament? Well, it’s not, unless you’re a twit sports writer that wants to hawk magazines by giving women a pat on the head, while simultaneously reinforcing the dominance of patriarchy by making women’s achievements meaningful only in reference to men.
The history of sports is replete with examples of accomplishments of women that are great for their own sake, and not because they were compared to men. Steffi Graf’s 1988 grand slam, Kerri Strug’s injured olympic vault, Mary Lou Retton before her, Mia Hamm leading the US to a World Cup, FloJo and Jackie Joyner Kersee on the track are all examples that come to mind of women achieving greatness through years of dedicated training, and in the face of unimaginable pressure. Kulick’s achievement should be viewed through that lens, and her accomplishment not minimized by giving it meaning only because she competes with men. Come on Rick Reilly.
Editors Note: I hope our regular readers will forgive this brief foray into feminist theory. I’m certainly no feminist, but I’ll do whatever is necessary to end Rick Reilly. Please feel free to insert your own driving or neuroses jokes at your leisure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make sure the girl I brought home from the bar last night is doing my laundry correctly. It’s so hard to find good help these days.