Ever since its spectacular victory against the Pak team in the ongoing ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, the Indian women’s cricket team has become a much of a sweetheart for the euphoric Twitterati clan chirping joyously with celebratory tweets replete with charming appreciation. The public was ecstatic – social media mentions sky rocketed, and many celebrities and cricketers expressed their pride. However, the lull on social media prior to the India-Pak match despite consistently spectacular performance by the Indian women’s team references to the possibility of the praises arising due to the typical pseudo-nationalist fluff that surrounds the narrative around any confrontation with Pakistan. The appreciation for the exceptionally talented Indian Women’s cricket team came as a warm relief that the players had perhaps been longing for. But the timing chosen by many to break their silence raises suspicions as to whether there is an honest intent to recognize the undeniable capability of Indian sportswomen, or to use it as an opportunity to belittle players from another country (especially in the wake of burns suffered due to defeat in the men’s department earlier last month), or perhaps even both.
The Indian women’s cricket team has had to find its way around several major obstructions through the years. These hindrances have sadly been largely disappointing, yet extremely unsurprising. In a patriarchal society that, regardless of what real-life encounters must teach us, continues to force women into stereotypical boxes labeled fragile, sensitive, weak, incapable, sports – which demands aggression and competitiveness – becomes an unlikely match. This false dichotomy between the inherent nature of women and sports permeates our society. The domino effect is that stereotypical patterns of thinking generate a lack of interest in sports involving women players which in turn has an adverse effect on viewership and ratings. This has severe outcomes for the pay received by female sportswomen; the pay disparity between men’s and women’s teams remains an aching issue.
The merit of the Indian women’s team is self-evident. The Indian women’s team’s captain, Mithali Raj, is on the verge of becoming the highest run-scorer in women’s ODI; she is only 33 runs behind the current world record holder. Under such an immensely talented leader, it is not surprising that the team’s performance in the ongoing Word Cup has been highly commendable.
While a direct comparison with the men’s team might not be very fair to the athletes, the Elo ratings scale has been helpful in providing a comparative analysis of the two teams as against their respective demographic. The Elo rating puts the Indian men’s team in the fourth position, while the Indian women’s team ranks third. Since the last two years, the ratings of the women’s team have seen a gradual increase, while the ratings for the men’s team have seen a sharp decline.
Despite unfavorable circumstances, the indomitable Women in Blue have been able to fight the odds time and again. The immense level of global coverage awarded to the Women’s World Cup 2017 has been a significant progression at the international level.But back at home, circumstances remain still, rotting with time. Its unwavering determination might have bought the team some brownie points for such a “spirited effort”, as Virender Sehwag proclaims in one tweet, but the recognition remains akin to a pat on the back of a toddler trying its hand at something that the well-meaning grownups have decided, is beyond the naive child’s capability.
Sexist remarks and patronizing comments have not been an exclusive forte of individuals; the traditional media’s approach has been unsatisfactory in doing justice to its social responsibility in this regard. Just recently, Indian captain Mithali Raj was asked who her favorite male journalist is; Mithali was quick to ask back – “Would you ask a male cricketer the same question?”
While proud exclamations proclaiming their love for women’s cricket have recently become somewhat ubiquitous in the virtual space, the dialogue remains cloaked in a veil of anonymous, insincere tweets as none of that growth has been translated into either quality media coverage, or strong viewership. The public opinion is such that most remain unaware of the developments in sports played by female sportswomen, while most of those aware remain disinterested. It is rather shocking that a country habitual of placing cricketers on pedestals would be so gendered in its support, deny women the opportunity to prove their mettle in a sport the country has grown to love, and patronize them even when they do.
-Contributed by Pragya
Picture Credits: streenews.com