Feminist scholar and activist Dr. Gail Dines has been receiving some vicious hate mail after her appearance on CNN's Paula Zahn Show. She recounts and analyzes the past few days in an article at Common Dreams.
Dines, a sociologist, was asked to comment on the Duke lacrosse case and the media coverage of it (her area of research is racism and sexism in the media). Her five-minute segment has generated many emails from disgruntled men attacking her and her views and defending the members of the lacrosse team, presenting them as the victims of the black female "stripper."
At the end of fall semester, a female student at University of New Hampshire (my alma mater) wrote a letter to the editor of the university's student paper, The New Hampshire, that a poster on safe sex, displayed in her dorm, was offensive.* It featured a male pitcher and a female catcher with the tag line: "whether you're a pitcher or a catcher, always wear a glove."
The student made this comment about the ad:
“To consider, the act of sex as a subject/object encounter, as this advertisement does, where a woman’s role is to ‘catch’ a man’s ‘pitches’ is degrading, disgusting, and completely beyond the type of behavior I expect from an institution of higher learning.”
For this the student received rape threats and other threats of violence that numbered in the hundreds. It was disgusting.
And the problem is that other incidents like these seem to not be as uncommon as we might like to believe.
But what I found curious about the UNH incident at the time and now about Dines's situation is that no one who has commented on them mentioned the role of sport in these controversies.
Dr. Dines's situation is ongoing so I do not know what further comments/analyses will entail. The role of sport is certainly more obvious. But it is present in the UNH case as well. Many of those who attacked the letter writer's opinions cited her ignorance of sport (saying things as banal as "well, dur, the pitcher pitches and the catcher catches").
Neither woman explicitly attacked sport, but both critiques challenge white male privilege, challenge the naturalness of male domination, and challenge American society's acceptance of male superiority. And in both situations sport is the means through which domination is reified. Sport is crucial in constructing hegemonic masculinity. When a feminist analysis--however indirect--questions the role of sport in constructing male privilege, a backlash such as that experienced by the UNH student and Dr. Gail Dines explodes. And it isn't the analysis that is challenged--it is the feminist herself. Domination must be preserved and so the feminist receives death and rape threats--threats that convey the message "I am a man and am bigger and stronger than you and I can rape you any which I want and I can even kill you if I so desire."
This is unfortunate but not necessarily surprising given the (seemingly) innate role of dominance in hegemonic sport. It has become more difficult to openly criticize a liberal position on equality and equal access in sport--epitomized by Title IX and a "separate but equal" philosophy. But anything that resembles a questioning of male physical dominance is a no-no.
Feminist sport scholar Nancy Theberge aptly referred to sport as a "male preserve" and as more women gain access to sport and to the strength (both mental and physical) it can engender, the need for men (and their allies) to preserve sport and the dominance it provides them becomes more and more urgent. The backlash against both these feminists unfortunately illustrates just how much fear and urgency exists.
*All the links to the original letter are gone. But you can find more information and commentary about the incident at I Blame the Patriarchy, Feminist Law Profs, and Pandagon. Thank goodness for feminist blogs.