Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Compulsory Femininity in Lady Sports: Basketball Edition

Writing for Slate, Hanna Rosin observes the sports industry's obsessive agenda with marking female athletes as sufficiently feminine. During the NCAA tournament, ESPN played "get-to-know-you" segments that went something like this:

"Each bio clip unfolds like fairy-tale dress-up: A player appears in her daytime clothes, and then—with the help of some presto twirl magic—in her basketball uniform. Stanford's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude is "something like a diva," she says, giggling and vamping in her flirty fuchsia dress. Her teammate Jeanette Pohlen says she "owns over 90 colors of nail polish," and Cardinal center Jayne Appel confesses that her favorite day at the sorority house is "sandwich day." Baylor's Morghan Medlock, dressed in a pink stripy tank top and headband, says she likes to shop."

Whereas the sex and gender of male athletes is rarely articulated, as sports is defined as male, the media and many female athletes display insecure femininity that demands that viewers view sportswomen as female athletes, as opposed to just athletes. Rosin then observes the treatment of star player Brittney Griner, who is 6'8", dunks in games, and doesn't wear the costume of femininity.

It is here that, while Rosin's piece starts out well, her article takes a turn for the worse starting with her casual denigration of women's basketball. She writes, "True, these women do not play nearly as hard and fast as their male counterparts." Balderdash. They may not be as fast men, as male sports fans never get tired of reminding the uppity sportsladies, but women do play as hard. That, however, is just a small criticism in light of things to follow.

See, instead of noting that it is nail polish, "flirty fuschia dresses," and diva-wear that comprise the costume known as Lady, Rosin suggests that it is Griner and her unadorned, un-make-upped, natural style that is somehow "freakish." Without the feminine costume, Griner has a deep voice, wears pants and t-shirts, and thus "can easily be mistaken for [a] guy" from far away. Further:

"As a star, she registers less as the perfection of the norm than as totally aberrant. Around the other women players she looks like a different species, with her endless limbs and her high center of gravity. This might be because she's a freshman and not yet in total control of her body, or it might be because she is just unusual. What she looks most like is a Na'vi, with her braided hair and a way of moving that's less fluid than swaying. The NCAA, and later the WNBA, may succeed in bringing fans out to see her. What they will never know is if it's amazing skill the fans are coming to see, or a freakish one-off."

How bizarre (and racist/sexist) to compare a tall, braid-wearing African--American female athlete to an alien race. Perhaps what Rosin should have said is that compared to the female athletes around her, Griner looks like an athlete.

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