Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New book alert!

Katie Hnida was on the Today Show this morning. I only caught the last bit of Meredith Vieira's interview with her so I cannot comment on whether Vieira actually said intelligent and non-offensive, stereotypical things which is too bad because I so enjoy commenting on such things.
But I did learn that Hnida has written a book about her experience, Still Kicking: My Dramatic Journey as the First Woman to Play Division I College Football. No excerpts that I could find on the Today Show website but it may just be that they are not posted yet. But I am still very excited to read it.
Hnida's story of harassment and sexual assault has been pretty well covered but her own take on it will be interesting and I am sure there will be many incidents and conversations from throughout her career that never made the news.
After I read the book I will weigh in with my thoughts.
[Note: the above picture was one of the few that I could find of Hnida in action--most are her in uniform (though not the whole uniform--often missing shoulder pads) but in a posed position. This is the norm for images of female athletes. All smiles and no action.]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stop shining those breasts in my eyes

I found this product on one my favorite women's athletic wear sites, lucy.com under the accessories section. I was aghast. In part because I read the product name first: Low Beams and then the catchline at the bottom: Headlights are for cars and ended with the smallest font that actually told me what the product was: Nipple Concealer Adhesives.

The product itself is not inherently bad--I think. I haven't really thought through if women should be wearing bandaids over their nipples. Are we trying to pretend that we don't have them--especially when working out? Are we only supposed to have nipples when we have no clothes on?

What is more troublesome is the way the product is advertised: equating breasts/nipples to car parts. I expected more from a women-centered company. Unfortunately I saw the product only after I had placed my order. But I do plan on getting in touch with their Customer Service department and letting them know the product is offensive and not what I expected from them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fandom and masculinity

Despite my guilty conscious I am still reading Harper's. But I am way behind and so was just finishing up the August issue last night and skimming through the Findings section that is on the back page of each issue. Findings is a compilation of the results of various studies--some are quite scary, others amusing--and covers issues like the environment, disease, human behavior, etc.
Last night I read one on fan behavior, something that has piqued my interest lately. But this "finding" was somewhat obvious. I don't have the exact wording but I think my paraphrase is pretty accurate: Male spectators who act rowdy at sports events are compensating for their perceived lack of masculinity.
Someone did a study on that? Doesn't that seem pretty obvious? Men watching sports are often witnessing displays of hypermasculinity and the only way they can "compete" is by being hypermasculine in their fandom.
This is why I stopped going to men's professional hockey games (pre-strike)--the guys there are just crazy, and in their exuberance they spill beer on you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

William and Mary vs. NCAA

This post is long overdue and for that I apologize but I believe it is still interesting. The NCAA ruled over a month ago that the College of William and Mary could keep their nickname, Tribe, but had to abandon their logo which is two feathers. [The picture is a mat for wiping one's feet on which is only slightly better than the UFlorida seat cushions upon which one can plunk his derriere on Chief Osceola's face for ultimate comfort during football games.]

I found the NCAA decision to be quite fair. They took a pretty liberal stance on the use of Tribe as a nickname which school officials defend as "reflect[ing] our community's sense of shared commitment and common purpose." [from President Gene R. Nichol's October 10 letter to the WM community]

I am not an expert in Native American history in the state of Virginia and specifically with W&M but I am guessing "community" was not always an inclusive term. And "common purpose"? Both the commonness and the purpose are worthy of some scrutiny from an historical perspective. But the NCAA chose to review its present-day connotation and deemed it not hostile.

Not so the two feathers. This aspect of the decision did not go over well with the W&M powers-that-be. [I could make a pun here about ruffled feathers but because the story is so old, it's been done and I don't want to appear hackneyed.]

Nichol's letter is a two-page diatribe about why the NCAA is wrong about the two feathers being "hostile and abusive" (NCAA's words) and also why the school, despite its strong convictions that the feathers do no harm, will not appeal pursue legal action (the only option left to them because they already appealed the NCAA's initial decision against the feathers). The letter is a fairly self-righteous take on the school's and athletic department's policies and a condemnation of those of the NCAA. [I am not going to reprint the letter in its entirety but I am happy to send a copy to anyone who is interested.]

Here are some excerpts:

I am compelled to say, at the outset, how powerfully ironic it is for The College of William & Mary to face sanction for athletic transgression at the hands of the NCAA. [...] It is galling that a university with such a consistent and compelling record of doing things the right way is threatened with punishment by an organization whose house, simply put, is not in order.

I am one of the first to criticize the NCAA's leadership, policies, and procedures. But here we have the proverbial pot calling the kettle black scenario. W&M is not as pure and holy as the letter (which mostly cites high academic standards and graduation rates) lets on. Remember those are two feathers on their logo--not a halo. So how "compelling" is W&M's record--perhaps in regard to Title IX?

I was pointed towards some interesting research which found that as of the 2004-05 season W&M was within 6% of substantial proportionality. This is pretty good. But the numbers show that before they achieved this mark, W&M added 100 opportunities for their male athletes (in the late 1990s). This was impossible to sustain and their current proportionality is a result of cutting almost all of those spots throughout the past few years.

I find this, to use Nichol's word, "ironic" given that letter takes a (again, self-righteous) martyr-like tone when Nichol states that he has chosen not to pursue legal action because of the cost to the entire university. It seems that sustaining the Tribe athletic "community" financially was not as successful, especially if you were one of the 100 male athletes who became victim to the university's faulty economic model.

But because Title IX is not just about participation opportunities I will throw a few more of W&M's numbers (as of 2004-05) out there for your consideration: Female (team--they could be either male or female) head coaches receive, on average, approximately $24,000 less than male (team) head coaches. Women's teams received only 38 percent of the total coaching budget. They also received about 38 percent of the recruiting budget.

I am happy that W&M stresses academic excellence among its student-athletes, in spite of lax NCAA standards. But high graduation rates do not provide freedom from sanctions when an institution uses offensive (and often historically inaccurate) cultural appropriations of Native American imagery.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Allez, Pride!

Sadly, Amelie Mauresmo lost today's WTA Championships to Justine Henin-Hardenne. She had to fight so hard on her serve and although she was able to break HH a few times it just was not enough.

It does not, in my mind, mar in any way her amazing year. And I think that JHH would probably give Mauresmo this win for say perhaps Wimbledon.

But what really excited me about the match was the rainbow flag two fans were waving throughout the match on which they had written AMELIE. And what was amazing was that the camera repeatedly panned to it. Hmm...is this the product of Versus, the channel formerly known as OLN, that aired the championships? Not sure but I was excited since the commentators rarely mention her sexuality (which is both good and bad).

I am not a huge rainbow flag-waver fan but in the context of women's tennis it seems fairly monumental.

The tournament was held in Spain which may have something to do with the presence of the flag in the first place. In most US venues security rarely let past a banner or flag no matter the color(s). And though I see many gay women at tournaments and watching Mauresmo I have not seen "gay" cheering as such in the form of rainbow gear. And even if it did exist I have to wonder if stations that usually cover tennis (ESPN2, USA, NBC) would show it on the air.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This is not equality

The year-end WTA championships are going on right now in Madrid. The matches are being aired on Vs (formally OLN--the network that covers the Tour de France and NHL hockey and whose owners/execs made it very clear that OLN was all about masculinity; not sure if there is a new vision for Vs).
So I was watching some of the coverage yesterday, not very closely as I was trying to multitask. That was why I was shocked when I heard the commentators say that male models were serving as the ball boys for the tournament. Over a hundred tried out for the gig usually filled by local teenagers.
Madrid is the same location where a men's Master's event that used female models was held a few years back.
Here is what the reporter of the above linked article wrote:
To be fair and equal, this year the women's championship tournament decided it would employ male models for certain ladies matches in the tournament.
This not a model of fair and equal that I would like to see perpetuated in sport.
Unfortunately the players have bought into this model of equality with Sharapova, Clijsters (my esteem for Kim has dropped dramatically), and even Henin-Hardenne all being excited by the idea.
Only Elena Dementieva has expressed some misgivings. She said the models have been focusing a little too much on the players and not enough on their jobs.
An exec at Hugo Boss noted that the models are not there "to outshine the players." But why the hell they are there is never explained.
This is just a gimmick to increase the audience which is sad because this IS the year-end championship and the number 1 spot is at stake and several of the players are back from fall injuries.
I want the audience for women's tennis to grow as well but having male models as ball boys is not the route the WTA should be taking.
[Note on the photo: this is the only photo I could find of the male model ball boys. When the Madrid Master's event of several years ago had female models there were far more pictures and their outfits were, of course, much more revealing and thus much more sexualizing. This man, though attractive, does not necessarily read as "model" the way the female models did.]

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sexy yoga, eh?

[NOTE: I am not making fun of Canadians here. I happen to love the “eh” that comes at the end of their sentences. I find it much more appealing than Americans’ “huh” or “whatever.”]

The other morning in my Vancouver hotel room I was surfing through the channels. It was very early and a Sunday so I wasn’t expecting to find too much. What I did find was a lot of yoga instruction.
The first show I saw seemed typical to others I have seen on television or DVD. An instructor doing the poses and two others following. She stressed going at one’s own level and the “followers” exemplified this through their abilities to reach various stages in the poses, though they both seemed to be regular practitioners. I thought it was a good demonstration of individuals’ limits no matter their level of practice. So kudos to that program. But I was not really in the mood to practice or watch yoga so I kept flipping.
It was then that I came across a very different type of yoga program. This one also had three practitioners--but all were women and none were the instructor. Rather there was a voiceover done by a woman speaking very sensually calling out the poses. And the voice matched the women who were all very thin and toned (the picture is of one of them) and were wearing very little clothing. All their midriffs were showing. They all had these pleasant looks of calm on their faces. It was like Stepford yoga. A little research and I found out that this program is called Namaste (not very original) and here is the description from the CityTV website:
This innovative series combines sensual, stunning photography and original music with authentic Hatha yoga practice. Namaste is designed by Kate Potter, one of Canada's leading instructors and yoga therapists. Kate's "Hatha Vinyasa" style is both dynamic and gentle. Shot in High Definition in exquisite settings, each episode teaches a unique flow sequence and inspires viewers to begin or continue their yoga practice.
Despite the description I did not find it very accessible. The show would appeal to two populations: 1) people who are already fairly well-versed in yoga and thus probably have enough money to go to an actual studio rather than do it in front of the television on a Sunday morning; and 2) horny people--seriously it was all very sexualized; the sensual/sexual divide is pretty thin in this case.
What was most curious though about the program was the aforementioned "photography." Basically the scenery kept on changing. The women would continue to go through the poses but their location was switching. Sometimes they were outdoors in a park, other times they looked like they were in a studio, sometimes in the loge or under the arch of a stone building.
This was odd but not especially troubling until the women were transported to one particular scene: very industrial, alley, dark and rainy. Basically a place no woman would dare to venture because she has been taught that such places are dangerous. It was certainly not a place women would be doing yoga. What was this scenery saying? That yoga is so empowering you can do it anywhere without fear of physical or sexual assault?
I am not sure exactly but the whole thing was very surreal and troubling and not very empowering even when they were practicing in a nice green outdoor space.