Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Little* annoying things

1. The University of Utah gymnastics team held a "pink out" during a recent meet where they encouraged attendees to wear pink to raise awareness about breast cancer. Those wearing pink got in for free but were asked to donate the usual price of a ticket ($4) to the representative of the American Cancer Society who was at the meet.

I've said before that I think such events are part of some weird form of activism (because just wearing pink isn't really doing anything at all especially when only $1 of that shirt you bought for $20 in Target is going to an organization you don't even know the name of let alone what their practices and politics might be) that plays on gender stereotypes. I find it problematic that when women's sports teams engage in such events it's seen as something they're supposed to do. The Utah coach said "since we're a women's sport, it seems like the right thing to do." When men's teams use pink equipment (like hockey sticks or baseball bats) to raise awareness the focus is on how these manly men are doing such a great thing for a women's cause by taking on this feminine color.

Also I am starting to question the whole "raising awareness" rhetoric. There are very few people in the United States who are "unaware" about breast cancer. What they lack awareness about is the overt capitalism, the hypocrisy, the racial disparities in occurrence and level of care, and the many other crimes and misdemeanors committed in the name of raising awareness of the disease. What many are unaware about is that breast cancer isn't even the number one killer of women--heart disease is. And yet you don't see nearly as many races to cure heart disease, or red hair straightening irons on Walmart's shelves, or yogurt lids that you send in that give about 2 cents to the American Heart Association.

But I am sure the Utah gymnastics team looked stunning in their specially designed breast cancer themed leotards.

2. Ann Bartow over at Feminist Law Profs has a quick post on a recent NYT article about the sexualization of teenage male water polo players. Pictures of various players have been posted on gay male pornography sites and are often found next to pictures of naked men. According to the article, "some of the boys were traumatized and sought counseling." I agree with Bartow that it's wrong when anyone's image is sexualized in a way they never intended and beyond their control. She encourages us to remember the case of high school pole vaulter Allison Stokke whose image was plastered all over the internet often alongside comments of a highly sexualized nature.

I thought of Stokke immediately when I heard about the pictures of the water polo players. I don't want to belittle their situation but my first thought was: things like this happen all the time to young female athletes. Stokke's situation made national headlines only after months of such harassment. Don't forget either how adults--bloggers, the press, photographers, editors at her local paper--all participated in the continuation of her sexualization or "pornification" as some have referred to it.

The story about young boys becoming sexual objects for gay men made headlines immediately. And the implication is that the trauma is greater for young male athletes when they are sexualized by other men than when young female athletes are sexualized by adult men.

3. The word wussy. I hate the word wussy. I cringe when someone says it and if the someone is a person with whom I have a good relationship who won't accuse me of being a 1) feminazi, 2) member of the thought police, or 3) an overly sensitive woman I usually point out the problems of the word. And I have been able to convince some to eliminate it from their vocabulary.

Wussy, you see, is not just a demeaning term but one that has its roots in the degradation of women. It is a combination of wimp and pussy.

And it is especially infuriating to me when wussy is used in a sporting context. For example, I used to take a spin class with an instructor who regularly "encouraged" us work harder by telling us not to be wussy or wusses.

And then the other day I heard a runner describe someone who initially appeared to be competing with her on an adjacent treadmill by increasing his pace to hers for a bit but then abruptly slowed down much to runner 1's chagrin because, runner 2 explained, he was doing a training workout in preparation for a marathon. Runner 1 noted that only in "[town where I currently reside] are the men so wussy." I am not so pleased that women are throwing around this word so carelessly and with so little thought as to how it only serves to further their own oppression. Men use the word all the time, too: stand on the sidelines of any football practice (from Pop Warner through the NFL) for a mere few minutes and I am sure you will see what I am talking about. It's wrong to hold women to a higher standard when it comes to discriminatory language and I am disgusted whenever anyone uses the word--regardless of gender. Everyone needs a little consciousness raising on the issue of derogatory language, I just am so much more disappointed when I hear it come from women--especially female athletes.

* I don't really mean little when I say little. Mostly I am referring to smaller incidents (versus larger controversies or ongoing stories) that actually can reveal a lot about sport and culture.

1 comment:

Diane said...

What a great post! "Breast cancer awareness" is America's latest feel-good campaign, despite--as you point out--the main killer is heart disease, and no one bothers to see where her donations go. There is also the issue of rampant animal abuse, which is involved in much of the breast cancer organizations' spending.

It is obscene what Stokke had to go through because what happened to her was pereived as business as usual (it made me think of Steinem's essay on Linda Lovelace), but readers are up in arms about the exploitation of boys.

And the terms "pussy" and "wuss" and "wussy" are extremely offensive to women and girls, just as saying someone "has balls" means s/he has courage. Same goes for calling someone a "douchebag."