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A Brief Shining Moment and Then Those Heels…

3 Dec

Despite my issues with the NY Times sports pages (see Female Factor), I went to the site to see what travesty of reporting on female athletics was posted, hopeful that women were more than just a factor last Monday.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the top story was about female athletes.

Then I saw it was about synchronized swimming.

My shoulders slumped.

Synchronized swimming is high on the list of sports society finds it is acceptable for women to play.

Still, it’s the top story, and I was hoping to be enlightened to the dangers and athleticism required of the sport.

While yes, it was mentioned that synchronized swimming is risky, the theatrical element of the sport was emphasized over the athletic requirements, something that caused trouble with the retired Olympians who decided to synchronize swim in Vegas.

And, inevitably (at least in my increasingly cynical opinion) the overreaching message was a disappointment.

Case and point: the main picture of a story was of women’s legs sticking out of the water.

They were all wearing bright red high heels.

That’s right. These athletes not only need to wear a thick layer of make-up to perform compete, but they swim in uncomfortable footwear.

This just enforces the cultural necessity that women must achieve physical perfection at all times.

Gussy up at the pool.

Smile brightly as the water fills your lungs.

It’s sickening.

And if that’s not enough, female athletics got no other mention on the sports page of Monday’s Times.

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Who Gets to be Protected by Feminism?

12 Nov

You may remember the incident in 2009 regarding sports journalist Erin Andrews being filmed nude without her knowledge. To be honest, since my interest in sports was limited, it was a blip on my radar of important events at the time.

I revisited that story, perhaps looking for impressions on it, definitely looking for a banded together feminists voicing their outrage that such an event happened.

That is not what I found.

First of all, I Googled Andrews and some of the first hits were links to view the video. After some scanning, I saw and article that began with the words “Bitter Feminist.” Could this be what I was looking for?

Well, not exactly.

What I found was Debbie Schlussel’s article “Bitter Feminist USA Today Sports Columnist: Erin Andrews Deserved It (the Peeping Tom Video).”

Schlussel discusses her outrage that USA Today columnist Christine Brennan believes that Andrews deserved what she got. She shouldn’t have been “playing in the frat house.” That’s a poisonous opinion. Though Schlussel pretends to take the high road and suggest that Brennan is completely incompetent as a writer and human being, she seems to agree with Brennan. Schlussel points out several times that Andrews is “dumb and unnecessary…picked solely for [her] looks.”

This made me wonder, are beautiful women unprotected by feminism? Does a woman have to be ugly to be professional? And if the answer to both these questions is “yes,” where to we draw the line? Who gets to be protected by feminism?

A Woman, An Athlete

12 Nov

A woman’s body is capable of doing amazing things. Childbirth, for example, shows the strength and power of the female body. As extraordinary a feat as giving birth is, it troubles me that this act takes the foreground in female athletics.

Regardless of the athletic prowess of female athletes, their femininity, or lack thereof, often take center stage in their coverage. If a female athlete is a mother, her parenting skill are brought up. If the female athlete is beautiful, she is sexually objectified.

Take, for example, the March 23, 2009 issue of ESPN magazine, featuring Candace Parker.

Parker has been portrayed as a beautiful athlete, and it’s true, but at the time of the article, she was pregnant. Usually pregnancy is emphasized to ensure male readers that the archaic patriarchal expectations of a woman being labelled as a mother and little more still exist. In this case, however, Parker’s pregnancy is treated somewhat negatively, probably because her sexual objectification asserted her womanhood, and since she was pregnant, she could not be a sex object anymore. In the article, the author tried to maintain Parker’s sexuality (of course not so much her athleticism) and framed the pregnancy as a negative thing.

“Candace Parker is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup she is proud of but never flaunts…She is a woman who plays like a man, one of the boys, if the boys had C cups and flawless skin. She’s nice, too. Sweet, even. Kind to animals and children, she is the sort of woman who worries about others more than about herself, a saint in high-tops.

…unprecedented combination of game, generosity and gorgeous…6’4″ stunner…perfect, white teeth…

…a more accomplished Danica Patrick. Patrick is nowhere near the best in her field, but she doesn’t need to be, because she is hot enough to pose for Maxim. While that works for her, Parker wants more.

[Regarding her pregnancy] “I was lucky…I didn’t start to show until after my commercials were shot.”

Likability. Sex appeal. Parker, says her team, is the total package, an advertiser’s dream: attractive yet benign enough to reflect any fantasy projected upon her. Like Jordan before her, Parker is a cipher of sorts, nothing outsize or off-putting. Nothing edgy.

A hip male greets her with a simple “Candace,” as if she were one of the guys, albeit with flat-ironed hair and pink lipstick.”

It is worth noting that when Parker’s athleticism was finally mentioned, she “plays like a man, one of the boys.” Similar statements were made elsewhere in the article. It is so frustrating to see such blatant sexism in a society that claims to be equal. So deeply ingrained are these beliefs that most people don’t even recognize them when they happen.

This kind of press for female athletes makes me fear that I will not live to see the day when someone is accused of “playing like a girl” and that person will be proud of it.

A Common Stereotype

28 Oct

While conducting research for a study on cultural definitions of female athletes, I found one of the most common misperceptions of female athletes is that they are all lesbians. This belief is fueled by the cultivated idea that female athletes to too aggressive, too muscular, too masculine. Essentially, female athletes are accused of suffering from a severe case of what is typically called “penis envy” because they play “men’s games.”

It’s no secret that men and women are not treated equally in athletics, but why has our culture decided that the sexuality of female athletes is an important mode of defining the female athlete as a whole? Sexuality is rarely, if ever, part of the media coverage male athletes receive.

The way I see it, the stereotyping of female athletes as (again, stereotyped) lesbians is a way of explaining  and dismissing their talents. The idea of a woman being gifted athletically is waved away, since now, instead of their talent being attributed to hard work and dedication, it is their closeted masculinity that makes them great.

Sex is All They Get to Be…

15 Sep

I like a challenge. That’s one of the things I like about blogging a required 3 times a week.

Will I have enough to say?

How much research will I need to do?

The answers?

Probably.

And practically none.

I wanted this post to talk about a female athletes’ abilities, targeting one or two in particular and putting them on a level playing field with male athletes.

But as you may remember, I don’t really know sports.

I don’t really know athletes.

Google to the rescue! I type in “female athletes.”

The top four hits are all lists of the hottest female athletes. Most (but not all) on the lists were shot in minimal (if any) clothing and provocative poses.

So, the message this sends to little girls? Big girls? Basically any girl or woman who ever dreamed of being an athlete?

F*** athleticism. Just look good dry-humping a Porsche in a bikini.

Hypersexualization of Female Athletes

9 Sep

Doing the readings for my Sports Reporting and Writing class led me to the Sports Illustrated website. Still a sport novice, I decided to browse the sight for some insight into this still enigmatic world. During my perusal, I found a link titled “Athletes in Swimsuits.

Of the 25 photos, only one had any indication as to what that female athlete does, and I felt only one athlete was portrayed in a non-spread-eagled, pouty lipped, busting- from-your-top light (pun intended). For this, I now say I am a fan of Steffi Graf, whatever she does. (Just kidding, she’s a tennis player, but I would never have known had I not Googled her.)

These portrayals made me wonder why these powerful athletes are framed in such a light. I came up with three possibilities.

1.) By making these world-renowned athletes seem highly sexual, they become (sexual) objects of men, thus defending the idea of male dominance and that women don’t have to be taken seriously in a man’s world.

2.) The athletes themselves use their sexuality to show that they are, indeed, women dominating in the athletic community and by doing so refuting the idea that one has to reject femininity to succeed.

3.) The athletes just wanted public exposure, even if it meant being publicly exposed.

Sports and Sexuality

3 Sep

When I say “naked athletes,” do you think of men or women? Women, right? The media is notorious for hyper-sexualizing female athletes. Below is a picture of Brazil’s 2002 women’s soccer team.

Do you think this picture is a good representation of these women’s professions? Because to me it looks like some sort of masturbatory aid.

Throughout the remainder of this blog, I will be comparing and contrasting media portrayals of male and female athletes and investigating the reasoning behind reducing these professional athletes to looking like a different kind of professional.


Photo courtesy of nerve.com’s “The 12 Best Nude Athlete Pictorials Ever.”