Out of the Canadian sports media we get this compelling question I pass on to you:
American swimmer Amanda Beard recently posed nude for the July 2007 edition of Playboy Magazine. The 26-year-old, three-time Olympian's decision to drop her drawers comes at a time when women's sports look to be on the rise in terms of both visibility and popularity. Is this bold move a step in the wrong direction for women's sports, or is it simply an athlete marketing themselves and their sport to a broader range of fans?
The question, for some of us was answered a long time ago with our answer confirmed by the Mary Jo Kane study I wrote about some time ago. But the emergence of Beard's photos brings the debate to a wider audience, I suppose, than an academic study.
But Ethan Todras-Whitehill at the Huffington Post has a different take on Beard's Playboy spread saying that the feminists who judge Beard for taking off her clothes and essentially cashing in on her looks while she still can are out of line. Why? Well in part because even if female athletes got together and made a pact not to take off their clothes, Todras-Whitehill argues, they wouldn't change the status quo that exists in sports where women are either sex objects or lesbians (he doesn't say lesbians--he says men). He advocates for the Jackie Robinson approach where you wait patiently winning over fans and once you are in good standing start to change things from within. Unfortunately, taking off your clothes doesn't really get you into the establishment as a person who will ultimately have the power to effect change. And we know from the Kane study that it does not win over people who were not already fans. And finally, Todras-Whitehill assumes that women athletes who do cash in on their sex appeal really are out to make change anyway. Part of the change we are trying to effect is the desexualization of female athletes by the media and, by extension, challenging the hegemonic femininity that imposes the sex object/lesbian binary. I don't really see Beard leading that charge.
I can't possibly comment on all the commentary out there so I'll just post some links for anyone to check out:
- Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com. Also at the site is an ESPN interview with Beard
- The Bleacher Report out of California that pits Amanda Beard against "the feminists."
- From Foxsport.com not only support for Beard's "choice" but a poll so you can weigh in on what other female athletes you think should pose for Playboy.
Of course any blog search will bring you countless posts and numerous comments. What's interesting is that some commenters talk about how ugly she is and refer to her as a he/she which just confirms the idea that no matter what female athletes do--even the ones presumably deemed hot enough to appear in Playboy, they will always have detractors who will work whatever angle is required to devalue athletic women.