Donna Lopiano had a message to share, and she was not going to back down.
The current president of Sports Management Resources and former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation entertained and informed a small crowd within the Fuller Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10-11:30 a.m. with her presentation, “An Antidote to our Sexist Media Culture.”
Lopiano served as the closing keynote speaker for the Symposium on Girls and Women in Sports during Homecoming Weekend. The symposium was held to celebrate 50 years of women’s varsity athletics at Springfield College.
Events for the symposium began on Friday with a welcome at 10 a.m. Phyllis Lerner (’71), a Springfield College graduate, gave an opening keynote presentation titled, “Revolution, Evolution, and Solutions,” that same morning.
There were then three breakout sessions throughout the day, followed by an evening social at the Hilton Garden Inn. Lopiano’s presentation concluded the symposium on Saturday morning.
Lopiano began by delighting the audience with a personal tale of how her dream as a young girl was to become a pitcher for the New York Yankees. The first step to achieving that dream was to play Little League ball. Lopiano’s dreams came crashing down when her parents read her the rules: no girls allowed. Rules like this were constantly enforced before Title IX came into effect in the 1970’s.
Despite the positive effect that Title IX has had over the years, Lopiano shared how women and girls are still regarded in a different light than men and boys by today’s culture.
“One of the things we know about our media culture is that girls are bombarded by messages telling them that they should be thin and sexy and attractive and conform to a body size that most of them are incapable of reaching,” Lopiano said in an interview.
This inaccurate set of ideals is ingrained into girls’ brains from an early age because on average they watch television and are on the Internet for six hours and 20 minutes a day. This amounts to watching approximately 250,000 commercials by the time that most women are 17-years-old, many of which tell them what they should look like.
“One of the few antidotes to those kinds of messages are sports,” said Lopiano. “We know that girls who play sports are less likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy, they’re less likely to be sexually assaulted, we know that they’re more self-confident, have higher levels of self-esteem…there’s all kinds of good data about the positive effect of sports participation.”
Due largely to the effects of Title IX, there has been an improvement in women and girls’ participation in sports across all age levels. Today, there is a 43 percent participation rate of women in college athletics, a vast improvement from pre-Title IX numbers.
Lopiano stressed that it is society’s job to become better informed and promote a more positive message for girls to counter the sexist messages coming from the medial culture that persists today.
The simplest way to transform this sexist message is to encourage girls and women and open up avenues for them, such as sports. The message for girls and women should be an unwavering, “Yes you can,” according to Lopiano.
What better way to promote that message than by celebrating 50 years of women’s varsity athletics at Springfield College?