Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Performing Gender in Sports

Previously, I wrote this post about Lady Bowler Kelly Kulick's historic win over male bowling champs in the Tournament of Champions and then this post about male sports fans who commented that bowling wasn't a real sport anyway.

Patriarchy tells us that women, by nature, are weak and passive. Thus, when women demonstrate strength and competence, patriarchy has a ready-made answer.

Via shakesville, via Rick Reilly at ESPN, sportswriter David Whitley has summed up patriarchy's answer to women who are good at the things that men do:

"Rule No. 1 in determining whether an activity is a sport: If the best female in the world can beat the best male in the world, it doesn't qualify."

He was being serious.

In Whitley's world, the definition of sport is not a fixed category. Sports is gendered as male, and its nature is capable of changing whenever a woman beats the "best man" at a particular activity. In this way, by definition, no woman can ever be "the best" at a sport, no matter the activity or skill required to participate in it. If she is better than a man at something, it is an "activity," never a sport.

Here, in addition to a comical display of incredibly insecure masculinity, the arbitrary and farcical nature of "male" and "female" in a patriarchal system is revealed. Do you see how quickly and easily male can be redefined if a female demonstrates that she can do male better than the "best male"?

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