Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SpOrTs LaDiEs BeHaViNg BaDlY

The mainstream media and sports news outlets love covering ladies in sports. When they're getting into catfights that is!

Unfortunately, sports outlets and the media still don't deem female athletes to be all that worthy of coverage. When female athletes are covered in the mainstream/sports media, at least one of three truths will come into play: (a) The coverage will consist of a gimmicky article about how a particular lady athlete has behaved badly, (b) If the coverage is a feature story, it will be of a Hot Lady Athlete even though she has peers who are similarly, if not more, talented, and/or (c) Following every online article featuring a female athlete or team, male commenters opine upon the general overall suckiness of lady sports.

Today's article falls into the first category of truths. There are many ways that ladies can behave badly. One way is to behave like how men behave. Now, generally, males learn early on that it is not entirely acceptable for them to display a wide array of human emotion. The one exception to this, of course, is anger and aggression. Boys can't cry, but they can get really mad about stuff. Girls, on the other hand, learn that while it is okay for them to cry, it is not okay to express anger or to display any semblance of aggression.

This Female Anger Taboo holds true in sports. Whilst it is not at all uncommon for male athletes to trash talk, to get into bench-clearing brawls, and to throw 90-mph hour fastballs at each other's heads, such behavior is generally found to be especially unbecoming in lady athletes. Now, I do realize that dude athletes who behave badly are sometimes punished. My point here is that when a female athlete acts like how male athletes act all the time, sports reporters clutch their pearls in horror and wonder how on earth anything like hyper-aggression in lady sports could possibly happen.

Observe, the amplification and exaggeration of a SpOrTs LaDy BeHaViNg BaDlY:

For yanking an opposing player's ponytail, making "hard tackles, and engaging in other aggressive behavior during a soccer game, University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert became "an Internet sensation for unsportsmanlike behavior." Now, I watched a video clip, on ESPN I believe, of her "aggressive behavior" and it was rather ugly. Yet, I also know that soccer can be pretty physical and aggressive; so, I found it strange that the video was edited to show only Lambert's actions as though she was not provoked in any way and as though no other lady on the entire field was even making contact with anyone else. Aside from the ponytail-pulling, I didn't see anything all that unusual. I have seen athletes, men and women alike, get away with similar behavior, or worse, many times.

What is bizarre, but not surprising, is that Lambert's behavior has turned her into an "Internet sensation." Had Lambert been a man, I seriously doubt that the behavior would have even been noted. I say this as someone who has been involved in various athletic endeavors for pretty much all of my life. Personally, I remember the frustration I felt many years ago as a high school basketball player after fouling out of a game once on really "iffy" calls. The next night, I watched a boys' game and, flabbergasted, observed Popular Dude Basketball Star elbowing and pushing guys on the other team while the home team and his coach cheered him on. No calls were made on him. Boys will boys, after all. That was perhaps my first conscious introduction as to how standards of aggression differ for males and females.

Lambert, for her part, has said that she regrets her behavior but also thinks that the responses her actions caused were exaggerated because she's a female:

"I definitely feel because I am a female it did bring about a lot more attention than if a male were to do it. It's more expected for men to go out there and be rough. The female, we're still looked at as, 'Oh, we kick the ball around and score a goal.' But it's not. We train very hard to reach the highest level we can get to. The physical aspect has maybe increased over the years. I'm not saying it's for the bad or it's been too overly aggressive. It's a game. Sports are physical."

Good for her. It takes maturity and strength for a person to publicly regret their actions and to also acknowledge sexist double standards in sports. Sadly, not enough influential female athletes do the latter. Oddly though, Foxsports titles its article about her thusly:

"Hair-pulling soccer player both sorry and defiant"

I found defiant to be an interesting choice of words as it generally means something along the lines of "resistant to authority." Lambert's words, one a statement of regret and the other a statement of fact, were not overt statements of defiance. Tellingly, from the negative attention she's already received from the incident, she has likely learned that her actions during the soccer game were gross acts of defiance of the Female Anger Taboo. Via this article, I wonder if someone is trying to teach her also that she is out of line to acknowledge that such a taboo and double-standard even exists.

While I would like sports to be a little more sportive and less aggressive, I do wonder if all of this attention is meant to keep lady athletes in line and to scare women into not questioning "truths" about females' capacity for anger and aggression. We are taught, even in sports, that the expression of male anger and aggression is a god-given entitlement that everyone else in society just has to learn to deal with. Likewise, we are taught that the expression of female anger and aggression is a Really Big Deal and Completely Unacceptable.

Interesting, isn't it?

Is it any surprise that so many women live in fear of what a man might do to them?

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