A Long Way, Baby

(Don't worry guys, we'll get around to sports in a second...)

The push for equal rights for women started, one might argue, way back in 1792 with Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft, English by birth and female by the grace of God, was, for her time, a radical thinker who penned Vindication (in a mere six weeks), in part, as a response to Swiss writer/philosopher/pre-Marx communist Jean Jacques Rousseau's argument that women only existed to please men.

In general, Wollstonecraft's treatise argued for women to have the same quality of education as their male counterparts so that "they {women] would be more respectable members of society, and discharge the important duties of life by the light of their own reason. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves," she writes in chapter four, entitled "Observations on the State of Degradation to Which Woman Is Reduced by Various Causes."

For some crazy reason, Vindication was never popularly embraced by the movers and shakers (men) of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Even the proponents of women's rights that followed her failed to associate themselves with Wollstonecraft's work. (This was largely due to her sketchy, swinger-type reputation that didn't mesh with the starchy-stiff attitude of the Victorian era.) Consequently, she was not widely read.

Nonetheless, American women, like those around most of the globe, owe a lot to Mary Wollstonecraft. Almost everything from female suffrage to Virginia Slims' "You've Come a Long Way Baby" has to do with Wollstonecraft's courage.

What Wollstonecraft has to do with sports is Title IX.

As a reminder, Title IX is a 1972 Congressional Amendment that makes illegal gender discrimination in the multiple facets of the educational arena, thus giving women equal opportunity to participate in the extracurricular athletic arena(s).

Title IX had an amazing and immediate impact on women's sports. Before the legislation, only 1 in 27 women participated in organized athletics. Now the ratio is 1 in 2. Women are serious. So serious that Sports Illustrated even has a magazine exclusively dedicated to female sports, cleverly named Sports Illustrated For Women. (Curiously, though, SIFW doesn't publish a swimsuit issue; it appears that women really do read it just for the articles.)

As a natural extension of the gargantuan growth of women's college athletics, professional athletics for women have flourished.

Initially, only individual sports - such as golf and tennis - had leagues; the LPGA was formed in 1950 and the WTA in 1970. But now, several professional women's sports leagues are around.

The WNBA is most notable of these. Built by the marketing muscle of its big brother, the NBA, the WNBA's popularity has grown so much since its inception in 1997 that it is adding expansion teams. Further evidence of its pull is that the league's April 20 draft will be carried live on ESPN2.

Another women's league that will likely do well is the new WUSA - Women's United Soccer Association. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, soccer is the only team sport that grew in participation in the 1990s. But what should make this league instantly popular is its self-made stars; the eight-team WUSA will feature almost every member of America's still-popular 1999 Women's World Cup-winning team.

The inaugural game, April 14 on TNT, will pit the Washington Freedom and Mia Hamm (the one with all the goals in international competition) against the Bay Area CyberRays and Brandi Chastain (the one without a shirt in international competition).

A third pro league for women's team sports is the WPFL. The WPFL is the mostly unknown Women's Professional (tackle) Football League.

My guess is that the 11-team, first-year WPFL is mostly unknown for a reason - no male support. Let's face it, the only time most guys would want to watch women tackle each other is if they are wearing bikinis and covered with mud - and if that's the case it doesn't matter whether there's a football - or any other type of ball, for that matter - involved.

And the ladies of the WPFL are probably not that strain of women.

Now, having never seen a WPFL game, I may be somewhat rash in the above presumption(s) and for thinking that the league will never last. No offense, but I'm guessing that most people who have seen it have only seen it once out of curiosity... one that wears off quickly.

But Sports Illustrated doesn't seem to see the WPFL as only a novelty. Its web site has links to WPFL articles and chat boards in its "Women's Sports" section.

Interestingly, though, the website has no links to auto racing information on its Women's Sports page.

That is a shame, because auto racing too is now a women's sport - one the most remarkable female athletes out there runs cars.

Her name is Sarah Fisher, if you didn't know, and last Sunday (April 8) she finished second in the Indy Racing League's (IRL) Infiniti Grand Prix 300 in Miami.

Second place is historic - the highest finish ever for a female on a major racing circuit. Plus, Fisher is only 20 and was the youngest rookie IRL driver in history - female or male - when she started making left turns on the big ovals back in 1999.

In sixth place with 53 series points, the 5'3" Sarah stands tall among her male counterparts. And also among her fellow female athletes. Because unlike them, she doesn't compete against other females. She's the only woman in this otherwise all male sport, and what's more, she's (almost) winning.

Therefore, she most epitomizes the "You've Come A Long Way Baby" slogan. But burning rubber instead of cigarettes.

Putting a positive connotation on the phrase "female drivers."

And making Mary Wollstonecraft wish she had a V8, 3.5 liter, 32-valve dual overhead cam, 650 horse power, methanol-guzzling monster to race around 1792.


Hello, Dolly

Lexington's own Hello Records just keeps getting bigger and bigger. In a deal that positions Hello Records as a formidable player in the world of independent music, the Lexington-based record label has teamed-up with Koch Entertainment, the world's fourth largest independent label. Often referred to as a "major independent," Koch is based out of New York, NY.

The agreement is to release the first three records by the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, including former Jayhawk Mark Olson and his wife, Atlantic recording artist, Victoria Williams. These records include their self-titled debut, Pacific Coast Rambler, and Zola and the Tulip Tree. Recorded between 1997 and 1999, these albums were never truly "released," but were merely sold by mail order from the couple's home with fragmented distribution to only a handful of specialty record shops.

While Olson was initially happy selling his records from home, he has since decided to release their fourth record on a bigger label, with My Own Jo Ellen released on Hightone Records, in an effort to reach a wider audience.

Olson continues to pursue music further away from the big wheels of the music industry. But having his music fall on a few more ears would certainly make him a bit happier. And us, too. - Chris Webb

Doctor, Doctor

It's a wonderful feeling when the University of Kentucky gets things right. Thus we couldn't have been more pleased to learn that, when handing out this year's round of honorary doctoral degrees, ACE Model of the Year / poet / and all-around community leader Frank X Walker was one of the recipients.

"Walker served as the program coordinator for UK's Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center and currently works for the Kentucky's Center for the Arts. Both an activist and an artist, Walker is linked with the Roots and Heritage Festival, the Bluegrass Black Arts Consortium, the Living Arts & Science Center, the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center, Message Theater and the Affrilachian Poets." To which we would also like to add he's strikingly hot, having been nominated a Most Eligible Bachelor in People Magazine, thanks in part to ACE.

With all those affiliations, it makes you wonder how he ever manages to squeeze his beautiful poetry in.

The other two doctoral degree recipients were Peter P. Bosomworth, former chancellor of the UK Medical Center, and Linda Challis Gill, whose donations are helping build UK's new heart institute.

Frank X and the others will receive their degrees on May 6th, 10am, at the 134th commencement in Memorial Coliseum. -RB