2017 June 06 : Guardian (UK) article by Anya Alvarez : Golf. Men are stronger than women. But that doesn't make them better athletes.
I'm not particularly interested in golf (the game), but I am interested in how people talk about golf, especially the differences between "women's golf" and "men's golf". I'm interested because if I can understand the differences (and the similarities) between how women and men use their bodies and minds to their best advantage, I believe I'll be better at designing appropriate practices for improving our kendo skills - for women kendoists yes of course, but for men kendoists too. I read these golf/tennis/cooking/art articles mainly because they're so much easier to find than anything featuring similar discussions about kendo, and there are always plenty of parallels for me to learn from.
At the highest levels of competitive kendo, it's fairly obvious that the men are faster and physically stronger than the women. But in what ways are women kendoists more [ XYZ ] than men? And how can we further develop these strengths, not only in women, but also in men?
After seeing the top-level women competitors at the World Kendo Championships back in 1997 (Kyoto), I returned to Hawaii feeling very excited. Although our men's team was definitely a big step down from the elite men's teams (Japan, Korea, etc.), I didn't feel the same way about our women's team. Although our women's team did lose to Korea (three person team: 2-0-1), one of our women (chuken Lisa Hui) dominated her Korean opponent, who only narrowly escaped with a tie. After seeing this, I felt like there was a possibility that maybe Hawaii could develop our women's team to be among the best in the world.
I wondered, how could I - not a woman - make a contribution to this objective? For myself, I noticed that I wasn't as fast and strong as the best men at the competition (obvious!), but physically I did match up fairly well with the women. (What?) Although the Japanese women's team, for example, decisively defeated their opponents, they weren't doing it with speed and power. Physically, they didn't seem "special" at all - they were just better in other ways. In fact, even I - completely average in comparison to the other male competitors - was perhaps a little larger than the women on the Japan team and maybe even a little faster and stronger. (This was a long time ago; this is no longer true!). Of course the Japanese women were better than me, but better how? Better at spacing and rhythm? Technically better at executing their waza? Better at competitive decision-making? Better at controlling their emotions? I thought that if I could improve my kendo in these ways, eventually I could turn myself a good practice opponent for our women competitors. I didn't see a future for myself as a top-level male competitor, but I felt like if I tried hard to improve the other aspects of my kendo, maybe I'd be able to help Hawaii's women advance their competitive potential.
Anyway, when we returned from Japan, I asked the other male competitors if they'd be willing to commit to this idea. I did this for about ten years and literally no one was interested. Actually some of the men found the idea insulting or nonsensical.
It's twenty years later and now I'm less focused on competition. But the very basic question of "What makes a good kendoist?" - female, male, whatever - is still fundamentally important. And these male vs. female golf / tennis / cooking / art articles make for convenient points-of-departure. I like the word "flourish" in the last sentence of the article.
Meikyokan is meant to be experimental in nature. We should keep testing ideas in order to find ways to understand ourselves, and to develop clear perspectives and means of how to freely express ourselves.
Golf. Men are stronger than women. But that doesn't make them better athletes. Anya Alvarez (Guardian UK)
"It’s not sexist to say that male golfers can drive the ball further than women. But suggesting that makes females lesser athletes is ridiculous."
. . . . .
For someone who stands 5ft 2in, I hit the ball pretty far. During my professional golf career, I was one of the longest hitters on tour. I averaged 270 yards off the tee, and I consistently outdrove competitors by 30 to 40 yards. When I played in pro-ams (mostly with men) I’d be told I “hit it far for a girl.” To which I would retort, “Yeah? Well, you hit it short for a dude.”
But the truth is, I did hit the golf ball far for a woman, and particularly for someone my size. Recently, PGA and Champions Tour veteran Fred Funk came under fire for comments about the length of modern courses. “I feel like I should be on the ladies tour right now,” he said. “I didn’t mean that in a derogatory sense, not at all. Just because Annika [Sorenstam) outdrove me [in a recent skins game], I’m a little bitter.” The USA Today columnist Christine Brennan called Funk’s comments sexist. In her article, she called into question Funk’s views of women, “This was a man who sounded quite comfortable delivering a snide remark about women’s golf.”
This sparked an interesting debate about the difference between men’s and women’s golf, and in particular, about female and male athletes. It’s tough to dispute that, on average, men are stronger and faster than women. Look no further than stats for driving distances among PGA and LPGA players. The women on tour swing their drivers on average at about 95mph. The men? 113 mph.
Does this make men better golfers? No. And recognizing the differences in our bodies should not take away from acknowledging what makes male and female athletes great.
Let’s look at scoring average on each tour: currently LPGA player So Yeon Ryu has averaged 69.21 this season, compared to Jordan Spieth’s 69.41 on the PGA. Those figures are far from an anomaly – averages across both tours are comparable. And there is a case that women could be considered superior: Dana Finkelstein on the LPGA is ranked No1 in driving accuracy, hitting 88.2% of fairways this season. Her counterpart on the PGA, Steve Stricker, hits 72.85%. In addition, Lexi Thompson leads the LPGA with an average of 79.8% of greens in regulation this season, compared to Dustin Johnson, who is No1 on the PGA tour with 72.6%. Looking at these stats alone, women are more accurate than men. What they lack in power, they make up for in finesse.
The former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, said as much last year. “I especially like to see [women] hit shots with hybrids. It’s a joke how talented they are with those clubs. I’m actually prepared to believe that Lydia Ko is better than the vast majority of male pros from, say, 200 yards out. She is ridiculously good. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the top women players consistently hit closer to where they are aiming than do the top guys,” Ogilvy wrote in an article for Golf Australia.
So while Brennan found offense with Funk’s comments, I only saw him pointing out something that most of us know: men in professional golf hit the ball further. It’s not sexist, but a fact. Acknowledging what makes men and women distinct – for example, male players’ huge drives or female players’ unerring accuracy – should only highlight the very things that make professional athletes so extraordinary.
What we should take offense to is when people think that women are not elite athletes simply because their bodies do not perform in the same way as those of their male counterparts. And what most critics of women’s sports should take into account is that any weekend warrior, male or female, could never get close to matching the performance of a professional athlete of any gender.
As a sportswriter, I hate differentiating between male and female athletes. I feared that by writing this article I would only be playing into the internalized sexism I’ve been raised to believe about women in sports growing up: that women aren’t as good of athletes as men. But my case is that female athletes are just as exceptional as their male counterparts, but are skilled in ways that men are not. Accepting this and embracing this provides a foundation for women to continue to flourish in their sports.
- Anya Alvarez
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