Friday, June 27, 2008

Models at the US Open

The US Open starts its second round today in Edina, MN. A local television station in Minnesota covered the event by doing a story about the trend many female golfers seem to be setting and/or following: self-sexification.

Seven of the women who qualified for the Open recently signed contracts with a NY modelling agency. And it has some people--players and fans alike--a little ticked off.

Lorena Ochoa, not one to create controversy, said that being feminine helps to draw fans (ick!) and that there are different ways to go about it but that modelling is not for her. She wants to make her mark on the course.

Apparently there was an incident during a practice round Wednesday when fans cheered a pretty bad tee shot Natalie Gulbis--who is the oft-cited example of the sexification of golf--just because she's Natalie Gulbis. Another player (who no one seems to be naming) admonished the fans for cheering for, basically, cheering for a face rather than talent.
But an issue that I feel is being overlooked here is race. Sure women's golf has always had its issues with image and those "non-feminine" women. But those women were always white. With the huge surge in popularity of the sport in Asia, this is no longer the situation. So when the leaderboard after the first round of the US Open is full of names of players from Asia, American tournament organizers and probably people within the LPGA must just panic. Because golf is marketed to white, middle and upper class people. And there are a lot of people in that demographic who, in addition to not wanting to see lesbians, probably are not so keen on seeing Asian women who are clearly not falling into their two basic conceptions of Asian women: servile or erotic/exotic.
I know a lot of the top Asian players are very popular in their respective countries, but they are not being marketed in the US/North American the way other players are. And you have to wonder why and whether someone will wise up and see that putting less-talented white girls in bikinis is not really an effective way to market your sport.


Diane said...

Well said. Venus and Serena aren't supposed to be playing tennis, either. Non-white women (pardon me--"girls"), "non-feminine" women and lesbians just keep getting in the way of American sporting values, don't they?

Shame on Ochoa.

And speaking of Ochoa, have you ever noticed how the golf media lays it on really thick about her? How she is such a "well-mannered young lady"? That is sexism, for sure, but I wonder if there is also an unspoken second part of that phrase.

ken said...

Absolutely there is so much stuff going on in the media discourse about Lorena Ochoa. They seem to present her as some kind of rags to riches story because, of course, every Mexican must be dirt poor. (Ochoa seemed to grow up in a middle class environment.) And they are presenting her as a "good" Mexican for probably a number of reasons. There is only one of her; i.e. there are not a lot of Mexican golfers trying to take over (like the Koreans!) Also she has great national pride so she's not one of those immigrants trying to become an American. And she's very feminine and thus likely more associated with a Spanish heritage (like certain Mexican women always have been) rather than an indigenous one.