washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Columnists > Sally Jenkins

He Saw, She Saw

By Sally Jenkins
Saturday, January 29, 2005; Page D01

A lot of men and women will watch the Super Bowl next week, some of them together. It's a perfect opportunity to use humans as lab mice, which after all is what sports are really good for. While the game's on, ask yourselves this question: Do men and women see games differently, and if so, does this mean they have different innate abilities?

The president of Harvard asked a question sort of like this recently, for which he was beaten about the head and shoulders with a lot of handbags. Larry Summers was addressing the question of why women are underrepresented in the upper ranks of science and engineering, when he wondered aloud if one of several possible factors might be that they are genetically different in their aptitudes. I'm going to risk being smacked with the same handbags, when I tell the following story.

____ Super Bowl XXXIX ____
 Super Bowl 39
Sunday's Super Bowl has turned into a showcase for some of the game's top coordinators.
Michael Wilbon: Take the Eagles on a wing and a player.
Notebook: David Akers and Adam Vinatieri are men with the golden boots.
Gameday: The key questions and matchups.
Paul Tagliabue said the league is considering changes with their plans for television.
Boston sports fans have rediscovered their swagger.
Terrell Owens remains a popular topic of discussion.
It seems everybody has a prediction for Sunday.
Donovan McNabb and the Eagles inspire many area fans.
Good Eating: Recipes and ideas for Super Bowl parties.
Tony Kornheiser: The pageantry, the tradition ... the smell? A Jacksonville Super Bowl.  Reaction?

_____ Basics _____
When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday
Where: Alltell Stad., Jacksonville
TV: Fox
Latest Line: Patriots by 7

_____ On Our Site _____
 NFL gallery
Photos
Bracket
Trivia quiz
Interactive guide, including lineups, profiles and photos.
Discuss the game.
Super Bowl XXXIX Section

____ Audio ____
Owens says he'll be ready.
Belichick gives Eagles their due.
Andy Reid on getting the Eagles ready.
Corey Simon credits the Patriots' offensive line.
Patriots QB Tom Brady stresses the need to perform.

_____ Super Bowl Memories _____
 Super Bowl
Thirty-eight games. Some good, some clunkers. Look back at an event that has grown into one of the largest one-day spectacles in sports.
Here are our favorite Redskins Super Bowl moments.
What's your favorite?
Super Bowl XXVI, the last great hurrah for Redskins fans.

_____NFL Basics_____
Scoreboard
Standings
Statistics
Team index
NFL Section
_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
2004 NFL Payrolls (washingtonpost.com, Jan 28, 2005)
Patriots Get Bang for Their Buck (washingtonpost.com, Jan 28, 2005)
League's Best Coordinators to Face Off (washingtonpost.com, Jan 27, 2005)

Sportscaster Larry Merchant once took a date to a Philadelphia Eagles game. As the couple sat in the stands waiting for the game to begin on a beautiful fall afternoon, the Eagles ran on the field, in their dazzling green and white uniforms. His date regarded the players as they jogged through their pregame exercises in unison.

"Dandelions," she said.

"No, Love, the Eagles and the Steelers," he said.

"Dandelions," she said again. "Look. They look like dandelions, running around, blowing in the wind."

Merchant gazed at the field. He saw the tiny figures of the Eagles in their greens, and the Steelers in their yellows, dancing across the dappled grass. She was right, he decided. They looked like dandelions.

Now, you can do one of two things with that story. You can find it comical and interesting, or you can find it threatening. If you're threatened by it, it's probably because you're worried it suggests women have an inferior understanding of football.

But what if we simply watch different things? A few years ago I raised this question with Joe Gibbs. "Women appreciate the game," Gibbs told me, "but they see it differently."

It's a fact that women are now enjoying games in almost the same numbers as men. What's less clear is whether we are having the same experience while we watch. There are lots of reasons why women would observe games differently and feel differently about them. Women of a certain generation view sports from the outside in, intellectually and emotionally, because they were forced to watch them from the periphery of male-only enclaves. For another generation of women, sports may be about subversion, a conscious or unconscious rule-breaking experience that helps tear down old cultural constructs. For still others perhaps it's about the acquisition of power and credibility. And for others maybe it's simply a gratifying escape. You could even say the progression of female sports observance, over time, has gone from self-defense to self-satisfaction.

But it's also perfectly reasonable to ask whether pure genetics may have a role.

In viewing the Super Bowl, a contest that is partly about spatial tasks, and about aggression, keep in mind some of the following:

• Gender is the single greatest difference in the human species, much bigger than race. MIT biologists have found that men and women differ genetically by 1 to 2 percent -- the same amount of genetic difference that separates humans from chimpanzees.

• Studies show women's brains are smaller, but more symmetrical. They also tend to have a larger corpus callosum, the structure that enables communication between the two brain hemispheres.


CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company