Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Every Girl in this League Is Going to be a Lady

I think I have just stumbled across one of the funniest items on the internet. Who needs youtube when remnants of the long-dead idea that "female athletes are ladies first and athletes second" are posted? Okay, so maybe that concept isn't "long dead," as we learned in my article regarding make-up application workshops for WNBA players.

While perusing the site of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, made famous by best-movie-ever A League of Their Own, I found posted in the archives text taken from the charm school guide that the players had to attend. As a disclaimer, what follows is in no way intended to disrespect the women who played for the AAGPBL. I admire these women very much for breaking barriers in sports, for not conforming to society's expectations of them, and for having the courage to follow their dreams.

Okay, now get ready. This is good.

As an introductory note, you will quickly notice that the guide regularly refers to the women as "girls" throughout. Whether the context is the Playboy mansion or women's sports, I personally find the infantilization of adult women to be a creepy phenomenon. Whenever I hear someone insist on calling women "girls" it pretty much immediately tells me that I'm dealing with a person who refuses to take women seriously.

But putting that little rant aside, the guide explains to the players that its purpose is "to help guide you in your personal appearance. We ask you to follow the rules of behavior for your own good as well as that of the future success of girls' baseball." Note how helping the players' personal appearance is vital to the success of "girls' baseball." Now that the league is defunct, I suppose we can conclude that the girls just weren't pretty enough, eh? Okay, seriously though, the idea that female athletes must be pretty in addition to being good at sports in order to be successful or popular is an idea that is unfortunately still with us.

The guide is full of helpful baseball-related tidbits like what the contents of your All-American Girls Baseball League Beauty Kit should be (cleansing cream, lipstick, rouge medium, cream deodorant, face powder for Brunette, hand lotion, and hair remover). You can see that rouge should be medium, this is probably to avoid "the risk of attaining gaudiness." After all, the balance between hussy and lesbian is a delicate one. Speaking of the queer scare, the "rules of conduct" are also notable for having included prohibitions against players wearing un-feminine clothes and "boyish bobs."

Additional tidbits include explanations regarding the importance of removing hair from the legs (and arms!), cleaning one's teeth, regularly manicuring one's nails (playing ball is a dirty sport), maintaining the hair, and not getting lipstick on one's teeth. All ladies in the audience today should take note of how to retain that sparkle in the eyes: "Turn your eyes to the corner of the room for a short space of time, then change to the other corner, then gaze at the ceiling and at the floor alternately." Duly noted.

And don't forget, legs together left over right, a lady reveals nothing.

The etiquette section of the guide reveals proper behavior for a lady. What I find to be the most interesting characteristic of a lady is that "there is nothing more vulgar than bragging about personal possessions, accomplishments or achievements." I wonder if bragging is as vulgar in men as it is in women?

Okay, so I know this manual is funny to us now. But from a cultural standpoint, it is extremely interesting to observe from afar the clash of two competing worldviews. On the one hand, the very implementation of the AAGPBL promoted the idea that women could be serious, competent, and "real" athletes. On the other hand, it was operating during a time when, due to the unrealistic idea that women embodied exaggerated feminine characteristics, the role of women in the public domain was much more limited. For women to break into the male dominated terrain of professional baseball, of course it would entail imposing codes of "proper" conduct on women that necessarily were not imposed on men. In short, the league seemed to simultaneously coddle the women, via the use of team "chaperones," while also trying to restrict their behavior and expression. This paradox demonstrates that while women, by virtue of their "femininity," supposedly needed to be protected they were also not allowed to present themselves as anything other than feminine. It is readily apparent how not allowing women to display "masculine" characteristics traps women into a false "need" for protection.

That being said, I would simply love to see the rules of conduct imposed on men in professional baseball around this time and do a side-by-side comparison. As athletes are in relative role-model-y positions, it is understandable for leagues to impose standards of conduct on players, but somehow I doubt that the rules imposed on men are or have been as obsessed with the physical appearance and "proper behavior" of the players as the rules for women were. Men, as "masculine" creatures, require neither protection nor prohibitions on behavior that is too masculine. Rather, male athletes have the burden of not being able to express "feminine" characteristics.

To end, it is absolutely laughable to imagine such a code being imposed and enforced upon The Great Bambino. Such a thought experiment invokes the double-standards at play for male and female athletes.

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