Monday, November 09, 2009

10 lesbians walk into a bar...

...and naturally frivolity ensues. (You thought I was going to make a joke, right? Nope; just getting your attention.)
And then when we see the sports network covering women's soccer on the plasma televisions scattered around the bar, our heads snap up eagerly. Because we like women's soccer and we like it when sports shows cover it.
And then we see the coverage is of University of New Mexico player Elizabeth Lambert and the egregious fouls she committed in a recent game against BYU. And we sigh because this is, after all, a group of critical, feminist sport scholars at a conference on sport and sociology. But because we have been thinking and critiquing for days, and because the segment ends quickly, we go back to our fun and games.
Alas here I am back in the real world and these are things I think about.
Said conference was in Canada, but I imagine American media covered this story as well complete with the repeated shots of Lambert's actions in which she 1) elbowed a player in the back in retaliation for a shove she received, 2) pulled an opponent to the ground by her ponytail (makes one think about cutting her hair!), 3) exchanged midair blows with the same elbower, and 4) tripped a BYU player.
Lambert has been suspended indefinitely for her actions for which she said she is deeply apologetic and regretful.
Interestingly, Lambert received only one yellow card during the game.
So what's going on here?
Well many of the comments on the above-linked article talk about the women's game and sportsmanship. Someone wrote that it was the worst display of sportsmanship she/he had ever seen in the women's game. Well why are we talking about only the women's game? And does this mean we have different standards for men and women?
Her aggressive tactics were discussed and of course there is that ever-so problematic relationship between gender and aggression and what counts as permissible. And soccer experts and fans have all said that even in women's soccer there is a lot of physical contact. And if one thinks that female soccer players don't play dirty, think again. Yes, Lambert's actions were particularly egregious and seemingly out of proportion to the jabs and shoves she herself was receiving. But I am not liking how this whole incident is being framed.
For example there was this video of the events titled "Cat fighting gets ugly during BYU vs. New Mexico women's soccer match." I just hate the term cat fighting--especially when it is applied to women's sports.
I also remain irked by the term sportsmanship. Maybe Lambert did not behave in a sportsmanlike manner because she is not a man! OK probably not but I find it intriguing that the behavior she displayed and this sportsmanship discourse are being invoked in a gendered context without any kind of problematizing of the standards we hold female athletes to versus male athletes.
And finally, I wonder if Lambert was a victim of technology in this situation. It seems the referees did a lousy job keeping some of these behaviors from both BYU and UNM players at bay. But maybe they really missed the ponytail pull or other things. (She got the yellow card from the trip late in the game.) I don't know who pulled these clips first, but when they got out (i.e. on You Tube and sports shows), she got in trouble. (Again, not that she should not have.) She had the unfortunate (and somewhat ironic given the dearth of television coverage of women's sports) experience of playing in a televised game that put her actions under the various lenses of surveillance in the 21st century. And now she will pay the price. Though given that UNM lost the match which ended their season (it was playoff) one wonders what an indefinite suspension actually entails.


Unknown said...

I suspect you were talking about my post, and if so, feel free to invoke me by name. I said 'in the women's game' because I've seen worse in men's sports, although not much. If you *were* talking about my post, you will know that I fall prey to none of the sexist issues in coverage that you are talking about. At this point, although we can complain about how sexist the *response* was, I fail to see how the behavior can possibly be seen as anything ordinary. It was horrific. It would have been equally horrific if a man had done it. It goes well beyond issues of sportspersonship.

Unknown said...

Indeed, in some ways my post was similar to yours in the sense that I also focused on the problematics of the response. I agree that the ref was partly to blame since he should have red-carded this player immediately for the first infraction. But I feel strongly that we have something here that transcends the stupid things the media says about it and stands on its own, much as Serena's yelling at the ref was truly inappropriate, despite the racist reactions to it afterward. I wanted to acknowledge that from the start.

ken said...

I actually did not read your post until after I had written and posted this. (I would certainly not hesitate to respectfully disagree with you by name.) I think we were on the same page with the exception of the invocation of the women's game. I did like your commentary on the titillation factor.

Dr. Pants said...

Haha I thought this post was going to be about something else, and I thought we agreed what happened in Ottawa bars stays in Ottawa bars. :)

I tried to get my gender students to see the incident in this context, but they kept trying to say Brandon Spikes got the same treatment in the media that Lambert did.

I disagree.

Diane said...

This really is similar to the Serena incident, for which it was next to impossible for people to comprehend that more than one thing at a time could occur regarding an event. A player's behavior can be inexcusable, but there can still be issues of sexism and/or racism that play into the response to that behavior.

I all but gave up trying to get people to understand that putting down Serena (or the lineswoman) because of her gender, putting down Serena (or the lineswoman) because of her race, or holding Serena to a different standard because of her gender--are flat-out wrong. And that they are legitimate parts of the discussion.

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