Monday, May 26, 2008

Danica Patrick's Skillz

Kudos to sportswriter Ian O'Connor for saying this:

"Danica Patrick will not change the world by winning the Indy 500. She will change it by becoming an agent of reform, by using her victory to convince men to start measuring a woman by her skill instead of her bra size."

Alright, so O'Connor's quote reflects a concept that many female athletes and their fans have been saying for years. But I'm glad the boys are finally picking up on it. For, if if this concept is to become a reality, it is a necessary step for male sportswriters like O'Connor to begin writing as though women are, in fact, legitimate athletes.

See, while O'Connor speaks the truth in the quote that follows, what is largely missing from his piece is an acknowledgment of the responsibility that the sports' media has in insisting that female athletes be measured by their skills rather than bra sizes:

"[I]f Patrick's first post-race move is to jump her barely dressed self into every magazine that hasn't already packaged and sold her killer bod, she will be sending an awful message to young girls and the young boys raised to equate their worth with their sex appeal."

Patrick does have a responsibility not to market her sex appeal if she's going to be seen as a legit athlete. While men have the luxury of marketing both their skills and their bodies while still being seen as legitimate athletes, women do not. Would the same numbers of men, for instance, read a Sports Illustrated article about Patrick that did not include photos of her in swimwear? I want to think so. But I don't know so.

Furthermore, while Patrick certainly bears much responsibility for the photo shoots in which she participates, agents, editors, photographers, and sportswriters have responsibilities as well. After all, someone who knows the average American male mind came up with the idea to package Patrick's "killer bod" and I'm betting it wasn't Patrick. And I'm certainly betting that it wasn't the idea of bikini-clad women to create the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Those in the sports' media have a responsibility to demand more from their male readership. They have a responsibility to show that women are more than their sex appeal- that women too can be athletes.

The industry sees a beautiful and talented woman and they see dollar signs. But at the same time, O'Connor's right. Too many successful female athletes play right into this market. As these athletes are in a no-win situation, it's hard for me to fault them too much. If they refuse these shoots, will they still get the big bucks? Will they still get the ads, the articles, and the photo shoots that men have been getting for years?

It's hard to say. But it's time they start demanding more. It's also time that publishers start giving us more and that male readers started demanding more. It's time to start valuing women for their impressive accomplishments more than their beautiful bodies.

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