Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gentlemanly Conduct

This week's campaign to entice more women into Olympic sports seems, like the Orange prize, odd to me as one who grew up under a female prime minister and a single mother. It's never really seemed to me that women need any special help.

It would be daft to ignore the matter of psychology, though. Women are rather more conscious that competition is artificial: that it's only really important within its own context. In the wider scheme of things it doesn't matter whether you get gold or bronze. Your mortgage still needs paying, your windows still need a wash, you still need to send your dad a birthday card... nothing outside the competition has really changed, and I suppose it's difficult to persuade a woman who's never tried it that it's worthwhile. Female sportspeople train no less hard to win but once the race is over, it's really over - watch the athletes at the end of a track race or a triathlon: the women smile, hug each other and say 'well done'. They're pleased with what they've accomplished.

Men, on the other hand, just scowl. Even when they win they're still angry, still competing - they might shake a resentful hand or two but they glower as if ready to kill someone. They look as if it isn't over for them, merely a skirmish in a longer war, trapped in the context of competition.

Dwayne Chambers is particularly prone to this sort of thing, which may explain a lot. He finishes his races with a face like thunder, punching the air in its imaginary testicles and shouting incoherently. Even winning isn't enough for him. No wonder footballers seem to have so much trouble socialising, no wonder their fans keep stabbing each other. It'll never be enough, even to win everything. They'll never be satisfied.

It would be easy to think that this rabid drive to win makes men better competitors, but even this doesn't stand up. Paula Radcliffe is hard as nails, a trait seemingly common to our female athletes - Jessica Ennis has managed to pull a Radcliffe recently by training herself into a stress fracture, and Steph Twell is already legendary for her scary self-discipline - but no matter how hard she trains, how far she pushes herself, how many world records she breaks, she has never been anything other than nice about it. It's weird, isn't it, that women are more sportsmanlike than men?


Kavey said...

Mmm... very interesting hypothesis (or is it a theory? Since it's hard to quantify or test, I'm not sure).
I'm certainly not very competitive and where I do get into the spirit of competitive games it's always in good fun and without any desperate urge to win.
Looking at my social group, which generally consists of rather atypical individuals as far as most of societies habits, preferences, tastes and hobbies go, I'd say that most of the men I know aren't very competitive either, though certainly a handful of them are a little more so than I am. But most aren't.
The two people I know who, when playing board or card games in a purely social setting, clearly feel a desperation to win, exhibiting impatience and mild agression during the game, with little space for jocularity and silliness and with much soreness on losing, are both girls!
But, I think when applied to the broader population, the "average Joe public" (or Jane for that matter) your suggestion seems to hold much water.

Kavey said...

Eeek, I hate it when I spot errors in something I've posted.

Can I correct "societies habits" to "society's habits" please? LOL

;) Don't worry, I'll live with it!