Monday, April 5, 2010

Sports Fans Comment on NBA's Girl Dancers

Being the diligent radical leftist gender warrior that I am, the first item of note I noticed about a recent Roller Derby bout that I attended was its subversion of stereotypical gender roles.

Thousands of people attended this bout wherein female athletes engaged in a sporty, aggressive contest that was refereed by both male and female officials. At "halftime," male and female dancers of various sizes and (apparent) sexual orientations took the stage and performed brilliantly.

Through this subversion, the gender roles within the larger, dominant, male-dominated sports' world are underscored. Unlike at this Roller Derby bout, in the male-dominated sports world, it is very clear that it is men who the spectator watches "do" sports, and women who the spectator "does" after the game. The "spectator" in the preceding sentence, of course, is the male sports fan.

According to commonsensical folksy folks wisdom it is (heterosexual) males only who are Real Sports Fans. And, the women watch sports only watch them, not for their own pleasure, but out of a desire to win points from their male romantic partner. These are the assumptions that the male-dominated sports leagues make and on which related commercials and commentary are based.

Whereas a Roller Derby bout de-centers men from their position as ultimate (and only) important actors in the world, male-dominated sports keep men stubbornly fixated there. Many male sports fans want to keep it that way. Recently a reader sent me this article, posted at ESPN, wherein a male writer tiptoed on eggshells suggesting that maybe just maybe the NBA's habit of sending "half-naked gyrating women" out on the court to dance at halftime might tell women that NBA basketball watching isn't really for them.

Not surprisingly, the article was quickly and overwhelmingly besieged with mansplanations as to how it's not sexist to watch "girls" dance, insinuations that the male writer was gay, and even more mansplanations that the "girl" dancers- none of whom are under 18 by the way- deserved the right to make a living too. Like little boys hammering a "No Girls Allowed" sign on their treehouse, many (most?) male sports fans are utterly resistant to making Their Beloved Sports more welcoming to women. Presented with a woman explicitly telling them that the NBA sends clear messages that "the NBA is not meant to be 'for [her]'" their dudely response was basically one big "so fucking what?"

Yet, aside from this narcissistic view that the world is solely the man's oyster, it is perhaps most apt to observe the labeling behavior demonstrated by almost every single male commenter who mansplained "girl" dancing to be non-problematic to female sports fans. In this behavior, lies the problem, to us girls that is. For, almost every single male commenter infantilized and Hefner-ized the female dancers by calling them "girls." Commenter "carrot1307" did this the best, probably saying out loud what every other dude knows to be true:

"A lot of the girls do it for fun and a lot of men find it entertaining, I know I do." (emphasis added)

Item of note: Despite his silly name, carrot1307 is a man, an adult. And to be a man means something Very Important. It means that the things he watches for fun and entertainment are girls, who are neither men nor fully mature adults.

In this way, does he make clear that men who watch men do sports are doing real, important, grown-up things. When the girls do the dancing, they are just doing something they find to be "fun." Like a hobby. The sports is what is vital, but the girls, you can pretty much take them or leave them.

Except, of course, if the presence of these girl dancers bothers women. Then, the presence of these girls is absolutely vital. The presence of girl dancers reminds men that they are men. When put that way, the role of girl dancers suddenly becomes very significant.

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