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“granny style”: basketball, rationality, patriarchy, and hegemony

July 3, 2016
        The Big Man Can’t Shoot, which is the latest episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, opens up some interesting angles on the question of why people don’t adopt good ideas. Along the way, it makes a powerful point about the effect of patriarchy on our society, although Gladwell doesn’t quite connect the very apparent dots.
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        As for sensible ideas, his primary case in point is the underhanded free throw, which Rick Barry used throughout his hall of fame career to amass the 7th best free throw percentage in the history of US professional basketball. Yet almost nobody else has used it. Wilt Chamberlain did for a little while, including the day he set the record for not only most points in a game (100), but also most free throws, going 28 for 32 from the line. This is notable because Wilt had been a terrible foul shooter. And also because, even after that game, he went back to shooting overhand and, thus, terribly. Why?
        Chamberlain himself said, in his autobiography, that shooting underhanded made him feel like a sissy.This is a 7’1″ man who weighed 275 pounds. The guy who scored those hundred points while hungover because he had picked up a woman and went carousing the night before. The same guy who would later boast that he’d slept with 25,000 women. You’d think he wouldn’t be too worried about being called a sissy, but he was. So was Rick Barry, in fact, when his father suggested he shoot underhanded, but he got over it because it worked. Almost nobody else, however, has been able to apply rational thought in order to overcome that gendered fear. Not even women, as it turns out.
        At least, that’s the anecdotal conclusion of the podcast’s visit to the Columbia College women’s team, where one player explains that they can’t take the “granny shot” seriously. And who could, after Will Ferrell lampooned the style in Semi-Pro? (Or did anybody actually watch that?) I find it to be compelling evidence for the way that prejudicial social constructions manifest across identity categories, even those whose members are arguably most directly harmed or at least constrained by their propagation. In a word, #hegemony.
        Worth further reflection is the contradiction embedded in this scenario for proponents of gendered archetypes. In Jung’s framework, for example, intellect and rationality are masculine traits, while intuition and sensuality are feminine. The same holds in the world of the tarot. If our patriarchal society privileges masculine archetypes, so that even women must emphasize them in their public persona in order to find success, then one would think that adopting rationally beneficial ideas would be the norm. Chamberlain would be more of a man for choosing the successful strategy. That was the reasoning that Barry’s father used to persuade him, but it’s obviously a very minority position. Why? Is the system of gendered archetypes wrong or do other archetypes override the privileging of rationality in this case?
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