Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ireland misses the point about FSU's "dress code"

Hard to believe that once upon a time, the National Organization for Women was considered radical. That a lot of the popular sentiment that said the American women's movement of the late 60s and 70s as man-hating and radical came from the very visible actions of NOW.
But today, and even back then to a certain extent, it's just a lot of the same liberal status quo junk; the "you go, girl" empowerment rhetoric that has not a lot of substance behind it.
So my disappointment upon reading Patricia Ireland's (former NOW president) opinion piece on Florida State University women's basketball team's new snazzy website was palpable but not surprising. A few weeks ago, there was some chatter on teh internets about said website with people weighing in on the potential homophobia and certainly heteronormativity that underlies this website which features players dressed in evening wear. Blogger and sports writer Jayda Evans wrote about the FSU site as well as the overall promotion of women's basketball.
Pat Griffin responded to Evans's piece and offered some insights and history on media guides and the sexification of female athletes. The issue also promoted some talk over at Women Talk Sports.
And most people understood the slipperiness of this slope and the nuances of this issue even if not everyone agreed with everyone else.
Patricia Ireland doesn't seem to understand any of it:
There is nothing wrong with being glamorous -- but everything wrong with placing women in a box where they're expected to conform with someone else's expectations. Women fought long and hard for Title IX so we could put on a uniform and compete on the court -- without having to sacrifice being women.
“We didn't fight against dresses, but did fight against the fallacy that said if you wore a dress, you couldn't be a competitor. To now suggest the opposite -- that if you play sports you shouldn't wear a dress -- is the same kind of backward thinking that in the past attempted to block women from full equality.

No one suggested the "opposite"--that you couldn't play sports and wear dresses. People did however, note how sometimes people athletes are compelled to do so to prove their femininity in order to be able to put on that other uniform. And Ireland assumes that not being able to wear dresses is a sacrifice; something that denies our allegedly inherent womanness, I guess.
There is a longstanding belief that feminism and sport--even women's sport--has a problematic relationship. Reading Ireland's piece, I can see how this belief is perpetuated. It does not appear that she has a great deal of knowledge about the current state of women's sports other than the fact that Title IX has increased opportunities. Just as I exhort athletes to become familiar with feminist principles, I now exhort feminists* to become aware of some of the issues around and within women's sports.

*Realizing, of course, that some athletes do identify as feminists and some feminists are women's sports advocates and knowledgeable about related issues.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I was a NOW member (in Kim Gandy's chapter, in fact) back in the good days, and yes--NOW has changed, though the organization still does some good work. I can no longer be part of it, though--despite its sometimes overlooked achievements.

I, too, think Ireland is misguided, but I also think I understand where her thinking originates. There was a lot of pressure, after the Second Wave, to stop putting down homemakers by implication. The women's movement then made a point of saying that the idea wasn't to get women to have careers, but to let women have a choice.

I imagine Ireland is using that mindset, and it is a mindset with which I agree, except, of course--as you pointed out--no one has said that athletes shouldn't wear dresses. Ireland is completely missing the problem here--that the culture is desperate to glam up female athletes for reasons that are obvious to some of us.