Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Ponytail Posse

(with thanks for Ebuz for inspiring this off-the-blog research).
The Ponytail Posse is the official fan club of the US Women's National Soccer Team. I truly am a fan and a supporter of women's soccer, but I cringe when I hear the term Ponytail Posse. I know the women on the team are strong and confident and leaders but ponytail posse sounds a little childish to me, and thus a little demeaning for the sport. But I had never really sought out the origins or the rationale behind the name. So yesterday I went to the club's website and looked at what the mission statement says about the ponytail:
Yeah, yeah, so the whole ponytail thing...well, it's meant to convey the
combination of femininity and athleticism that is inherent in putting your hair
up in a ponytail.

Oh, no, no, no. This is so problematic. Why do you have to continue to convey femininity (or at least pay lip service to it) if you are a female athlete? And what does this alleged femininity look like? Soccer is one of those sports (like softball) which is accused of harboring closeted lesbians. The Ponytail Posse seems to be another marketing tool trying to show the world just how heterosexual and "feminine" soccer players can be. And of course it continues to contribute to the false binary of masculine and feminine--descriptors which, in reality, describe no one. (For all you educators/leaders of children out there, I know a great exercise for helping students see how masculine and feminine don't correspond to actual men and women. Let me know if you want more info.)
Also, I worry about the players, ponytailed or not, that don't fit this prescribed definition of femininity. Abby Wambach is on the site sporting a Posse t-shirt (which so makes me want to order one--damn these principles!) her hair not quite long enough to be in a ponytail. Wambach is interesting because rumors abound that, despite her amazing skills, she was overlooked, during recruiting, by soccer powerhouse UNC because of her perceived homosexuality. The Ponytail Posse seems to give people like Wambach--whether gay or not (and I am certainly not outing anyone here)-- "outsider-within" status. This is a term used by Patricia Hills Collins and other feminist and postcolonial/third world theorists to explain when a minority is let in but never really accepted. Now granted Wambach doesn't seem to be suffering too much. But she is often described as aggressive and noted for her contact play which, in women's sports, is code for, at best, not feminine, and often implies lesbianism.
I don't believe the straight players on the women's soccer team have any problems with gay players. Maybe this is naive, but I believe them when they say they are a group of really close friends. So perhaps it is now the straight players' responsibility to examine the rhetoric they put out there about their sport and how it creates outsiders-within both on their own team, but, perhaps more importantly, in the larger world of women's sports. If they can win gold medals and World Cup titles then I am sure this will no problem for them!

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