Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Reaction to Amanda Beard in Playboy

Amanda Beard's photo spread in Playboy has been in the works for a while but the issue must be hitting newsstands soon [UPDATE: it came out June 7] because it seems there has been a surge in press coverage of the issue--and not just the actual magazine issue but the issue of female athletes posing nude or near nude for alleged publicity.
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 Also at the site is an ESPN interview with Beard
  • The Bleacher Report out of California that pits Amanda Beard against "the feminists."
  • From 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.

1 comment:

Diane said...

The only counter-feminist argument that ever gets any respect at all from me is that if a woman is proud of her body and uninhibited, she has a right to enjoy posing nude.

On the face of things (no pun intended), that sounds okay. But everything in the entire world has a context, and any woman who poses nude is doing so in a context of deep, abiding misogyny--in every culture I can think of. Most of the men who see Amanda Beard's photos will not think "Oh, how nice that she's so proud of her body." And many of them will engage in verbal fantasies about her that involve her submission, humiliation and even physical pain.

If Amanda Beard wants to be painted in the nude or photographed by an artist in the nude, I have no problem with that at all. But Playboy--the empire that has done everything from giving women fake "gynecological exams" to harrassing feminist leaders--does not care about the aesthetics of her body.

As a woman and a feminist, I am very disappointed that Beard has done this.