Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Overt Sexualization of Female Athletes

I have tried to distance myself from the debate over the sexualization of female athletes primarily because I am just not sure where I stand on it. Historically, the fear of sexualization of female athletes, especially young females athletes, has been used to limit women's sporting opportunities. The argument that men would leer and lust after girls in skirts playing basketball (when they wore skirts to do so) didn't seem to me a very good reason to keep girls from playing--I think paternalistic is the right word here. Allowing girls to play might actually demonstrate that they are more than sex objects; or at least make the leering men forget that for 40 minutes or so.
But while opportunities have increased (because of legislation mostly) the leering men seem to still be around. So the strategy that showing the world that women are athletes has not successfully mitigated their status as sex objects. Part of my ambiguity over the debate though stems from the fact that many of these athletes enter "willingly" into some of these photo shoots (i.e. Brandi Chastain, Anna Kournikova). While I believe societal pressure to prove femininity often coerces these women into posing in the first place, I also believe that they are not completely without agency. They do make choices (for whatever reason) and I hesitate to outright condemn them.
But now I wonder if the agency some of these athletes exert is giving carte blanche to today's version of the leering men: namely those who post on the internet. Looking for some info on Misty May and Kerri Walsh the other day I found an appalling blog. It's devoted to May and Walsh but not in a very celebratory way. Close-ups of wedgies and lewd captions about May and Walsh rolling around in the sand together dominate the site. And to add insult, there are hundreds of comments that support this guy's view that May and Walsh's primary role is to provide fantasies for men rather than to actually play volleyball.

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