Monday, February 13, 2006

Smile for the patriarchal, homophobic masses

Maybe that title is a bit scathing for what follows but what the heck.
So, if I truly am an academic I will be able to turn my few observations/anecdotes into a theory about which I can write and publish a paper, which will lead to a job, which will lead to tenure, and so on and on...
But for now here is something to ponder.
Watching the two games the US hockey team played this weekend was pretty interesting. Of course the games--handily won by the US--were exciting (OK not so much exciting as fulfilling to someone who never gets to see women's hockey anymore living out here in the midwest.) But, as always, commentary is the topic that draws my attention.
Cammi Granato is doing the studio coverage of the hockey tournaments with some dude (S.D.) I have never seen nor heard of. Another guy was interviewing players between periods. They were pretty good interviews actually, but S.D. seemed to be more interested in how the players looked without their helmets on. He commented on the wonderful smile of Helen Resor and then on Granato's wonderful smile and how the women (he may have even said girls) were just so pleasant and smiley.
Seemingly minor, the smile talk reminded me of a former spin instructor who told us once that someone had commented on that fact that she didn't smile enough while she was teaching. And these incidents together got me thinking of a discussion about the directive for women to smile on a listserv to which I subscribe and the general perception that feminists and other serious women are frigid and have no sense of humor.
Why are athletes supposed to smile? Are only certain athletes supposed to smile--perhaps the ones that engage in historically masculine sports? It seems to be a device to make these women, who play an extremely aggressive sport, more palatable to the general public. Heaven forbid girls should appear too serious about a sport. Lighten up, baby, and give us a big smile.


Amateur said...

I will say that CBC has been pretty good about that. I have not watched every minute (the Canada games have been dull) but I have not heard the announcers comment once about a player's appearance.

Anonymous said...

ken I think you're on to something and should do more research on this.

I recently read a bunch of articles about how the media covers women sports (many of which actually focus on Olympic coverage, which usually affords side-by-side comparison between the coverage of men and women competing in identical contexts)

I read that male sportscasters are anxious/threatened by women's athletic success, so in order to protect the hegemonic masculinity of sport, they tend to infantilize, humorize, or sexualize women athletes. The smiling thing seems to be a little bit of all three.

Of course, that idea only works in the context of how our culture has decided to read smiling. Showing your incisors could just as easily connote being out for blood, a connotation that would be far more compatible with hockey.