GVSU study reveals men and women still aren’t equal

Pete Barrows

Evolution requires millions of years to transgress nature, but in sports, an evolution has transpired right in front of our eyes over the course of 40 years.

Made effective June 23, 1972, the infamous Title IX is an educational amendment that guarantees that no person on the basis of sex shall be excluded from participation in any activity receiving federal financial benefits.

Today, women comprise 42 percent of high school sports participants, 43 percent of intercollegiate sports participants, and most assume that this is only the beginning for women in sport.

A recent study conducted by the associate professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University, Robert Deaner, cautions against that assumption.

Inspired by Deaner’s observation that there’s a strong belief governing our policy that’s at odds with evolutionary theory, the study is predicated off of three extensive surveys.

The study, titled “A Sex Difference in the Predisposition for Physical Competition: Males Play Sports Much More than Females Even in the Contemporary U.S.” was published by PLOS ONE.

“I keep an open mind, but I don’t expect we’re ever going to find in our lifetime that women’s interest is really as great as men’s in competitive sport, especially in the so-called masculine sports with the direct competition that might involve physical contact,” Deaner said.

The conclusion: that on average, American men actually play sports about three times as often as American women and that it’s no accident that they do. In what Deaner describes as the evolved male predisposition hypothesis, he discusses evolutionary factors that predispose males toward sport and dispels the notion that men and women only differ because of the social environments that shaped them throughout their lives.

The question is does Title IX need to be adjusted?

“I think it does. I’m not a law expert, but I’ve read quite a bit on the topic and for the most part the policies (are) implemented under the assumption that men and women, in general, have equal interest and our research shows that’s not true,” Deaner said.

Deaner said the study was not done to undercut women or their rightful place in sport in anyway.

“I want to make it clear that the study is not claiming that there aren’t any women who are deeply interested and really proficient at sport – of course there are and the idea is not to demean them or take away their opportunities,” Deaner said.

GVSU has built a reputation on hosting one of the most well-accomplished and equitable athletic programs in the country. Most agree that there’s a clear balance in resources allocated to each gender and that both sexes train and prepare to equal extents.

“In both men’s and women’s sports, you see individuals that are just more competitive than the rest of them and I don’t think there’s any difference there,” said GVSU athletic director Tim Selgo. “I think there are more similarities than differences.”

Some, like Jerry Baltes, head coach of both the men’s and women’s track and field and cross-country at GVSU, were even optimistic for further growth.

“As we’ve seen since the seventies, the gap has come much closer together,” Baltes said. “It’s probably not going to be as a great a rate over the next 10 years, 20 years, but I would think it would continue to inch closer as more woman have participated and do encourage their children and grandchildren to partake.”

Whether or not a plateau in sports gender equity has been reached remains to be seen. Is it evolution or social norms that have a greater impact?

GVSU currently is able to fund scholarships to the fullest extent allowed by the NCAA for all of its women’s programs, but cannot do the same for men outside of football and basketball, although men try-out and walk-on in more frequency.

“In a context of intercollegiate varsity sports, we at Grand Valley have 11 women varsity sports and nine men’s,” Selgo said. “That’s a reflection of 60 percent of our student body is female. That is something that I think Grand Valley has always taken pride in, that we’ve sponsored a number of sports for our women that are reflective of the student body, interests and abilities.”
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