Thursday, November 19, 2009

The ponytail epiphany

I hesitated to write this post because I did not want to be part of the continuing media coverage of the BYU/UNM soccer game in which rough play all around and particularly that of defender Elizabeth Lambert has gotten a lot of negative and other suspect attention.
But this article, not a big one in the grand scheme of media coverage, set me off and lead to the above mentioned ponytail epiphany. It's not what was in it, as it was not adding anything particularly new; it was the title: "On the Lambert scandal."
Scandal? It's a scandal now? Christian politicians living in communal environments in DC and sleeping with mistresses on the side engender scandals. Hiding information about alleged threats of terrorism from elected officials and the general public is a scandal.
A collegiate soccer player engaged in on-field acts of violent behavior is not a scandal.
So once again I was forced to ask myself, "What the heck is up with this story?" Seriously, when I was sitting in a Canadian bar two weeks ago and saw the infamous montage, I thought it would make a good post and get a little bit of press and thus engage a healthy discussion of gender and sport. Oh, the naivete.
But I have decided, just 'cause I can, that this was all about the ponytail. Lambert gave a good interview to NYT writer Jere Longman the other day and basically said that a lot of the stuff she got caught doing, was stuff that was happening throughout the game. She takes full responsibility for the actions, but notes that it all looks a little bit worse strung together like it was.
But it was the ponytail pull that really set things off. It clearly evoked girl-on-girl fighting that either titillated or terrified. This is my explanation as to why this story has gotten more play to that other women's sport moment of bad behavior this fall: Serena Williams at the US Open. And let's not forget to interrogate the racial aspects of this. Lambert is being read as white though she herself has never identified her race. White girls are supposed to play nice. The racism engendered by Williams's behavior in September was obviously problematic. But I wonder how much the stereotypes of black women as animalistic, uppity, angry contributed the quick demise (comparatively) of the story--while unfortunately reifying stereotypes of black womanhood that many already held. The expectations of white womanhood have gone unexamined in the case of Elizabeth Lambert but they are certainly there to be interrogated.

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