Wednesday, July 28, 2010

OK, fine, I'll talk about cheerleading

But I'm not going to like it. [Because I seem to be talking about this a lot lately and am truly tired of the virulent reactions to this issue.]
So in case you missed it, a federal judge ruled last week that the competitive cheer team that Quinnipiac University attempted to elevate to varsity status after cutting its women's volleyball team was not a sport.
Let's just be clear, overreacters, that this ruling only applies to QU. But, yes, it has implications for current and future competitive cheer teams. And it should. Because people--and not just me and a few select others--should be thinking about these things: what counts as a sport, who gets labelled an athlete, how are labels applied and what are their effects, how does an activity's history factor into these things, how do our paradigms change, what does equity look like going forward.
I do hope the QU case engenders some discussion about these things, but what I have seen thus far in the media is not particularly introspective or thoughtful about these larger issues. I see a lot of things like "well they tumble and do a lot of hard things--things that judge can't do!" or "it has a higher injury rate than football." Well gosh, then let's put football players in skirts and halter tops on the sidelines then since it clearly is not as dangerous!
Not convincing.
Even Frank Deford's commentary this morning on Morning Edition was pretty weak. His position as a former (one-time) judge of a national cheering competition didn't give him much insight. His last line was particularly egregious: "But here is one hard and fast rule I would make: Any college that is put on any athletic probation — like the University of Southern California — for violating NCAA rules should not be allowed to have cheerleaders at any of its games. No cheerleaders for cheaters."

The fact that Deford thinks of cheerleaders as a reward is part of the problem here and reveals two issues.
The most obvious is that you can't be a sport if one of your integral duties is to support another sport. So those sideline cheerleaders with pompons and short skirts are not going to be the varsity cheerleaders. This makes me wonder if schools--whether through athletics, or student activities, or rec sports--will continue to fund both a competitive cheer team that only competes against other competitive squads in addition to sideline cheerleaders whose purpose is to...well lead the cheers.

And this segues nicely to my second issue: the name. The newly formed organization, the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association, made up of administrators and coaches interested in establishing a model for competitive cheer that would meet Title IX requirements (and, I would guess, they hope to encourage the NCAA to add it to the list of emerging sports) have not used the word cheerleading in their title. University of Oregon also does not include the word either. Stunts and tumbling seems to be the generic--though not universal--replacement. And they should be altering the model. Because the manifestation of cheerleading that would allow it to be a sport under Title IX regulations does not involve any kind of leading of cheers.
So you want to make stunts and tumbling a sport by developing a competitive model and rules and regulations and subject it to the same rules and regs other intercollegiate sports abide by? Go ahead. I have little doubt this will happen in the relatively near future.
I still think it will be difficult to break the association with cheerleading though and cheerleading will undoubtedly continue. And as long as a version of your activity exists, as it does in college, high school and even youth sports, to support a sport--this version will not be considered a sport. So will there be stunts and tumbling and cheerleading? Will little girls* aspire to be stunts and tumblers or cheerleaders?
But here's the thing. I don't actually think cheerleaders want to give up the cheerleader label. They just want people to think differently about them, to recognize that this is not the same cheerleading of yore. But all physical activities change. Look at tennis. The game played today is not the same one played even 30 years ago.
I recognize the athleticism required for cheerleading. Athleticism does not equal sport.
But this could be a careful what you wish for situation, too. There are a lot of rules around intercollegiate sports. Rules about when you can have practices, rules around recruiting, number of competitions, academics, travel. In other words, there is oversight. Cheerleading, until now, has kind of been free to do as it pleases. This will change.
And maybe it should. Varsity sport status also gives you access to medical personnel, which is clearly needed.
The fight will not be over for these women though even if they do get the legitimacy they desire by being deemed a sport. Remember Title IX is quickly approaching the 40-year mark and women's sports and female athletes still do not receive equitable treatment.
What I told a competitive cheer coach recently was that I can support the elevation of the activity to sport status if they can get the proper structures in place and deal with the whole name thing, but that I am holding him and other proponents responsible for joining women's sports advocates in the fight for equity for all women's sports once they get there.

*Note that if stunts and tumbling becomes an intercollegiate sport it will almost certainly be a women's sport only because of the need for most schools to add women's opportunities in athletics. Non-varsity cheering, both sideline squads and those that compete (or do both), can continue to include men.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A man won the Tour de France

In case you missed it, a dude won the Tour de France keeping alive the tradition of dudes winning the grueling, multi-week bike race.
There were ladies involved, though. How could you miss those stunning outfits on the women who flanked the jersey winners? Kiss kiss and some pretty poses and smiles and a couple of very poofy white dresses with big red polka dots (for the king of the mountain jersey). (Apparently it's a pretty good stepping stone gig. American cyclist George Hincapie married one of the podium "girls" he met during the 2004 tour. He was "mesmerized" by her.)
It was a watershed year for women in the Tour, though. For the first time ever, a woman rode on the back on a motor scooter and held up the time (written on a blackboard) for the cyclists. There was even a special segment on her during the last day of Versus's coverage of the tour.
The one comment on the You Tube video which showed her getting ready appropriately sums things up: "oh goodie. what a slow and long road to equality."
Yes, far longer than the distance covered over the past several weeks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jennie Finch retiring

American softball player Jennie Finch announced her retirement from softball last week. I have to say, I'm not too sad about this. I was never a fan of the pretty face version of softball she--and others--were promoting.
Though it will be a real loss for the game as all those men who tuned in and came out for games to see Finch and her "toothpaste commercial" smile will now abandon the game as it loses its sexiest star. Oh appeal doesn't sell women's sports...never mind. Maybe the loss of Finch will make the game a little less heterosexual?
People are hoping that Finch will stay involved in the fight to get softball back into the Olympics, thinking, I would presume, that her "pretty face" will have some kind of wooing effect on the male-dominated IOC. Let's note that softball didn't get cut from the Olympic roster because the players were ugly. It got too closely associated with baseball and did not--allegedly--have enough of an international presence.
We'll have to see if Finch can fit it into her new schedule which will include expanding her current family. She has a husband and a son; I assume the expansion will include more children and not more spouses--but the article did not specify.
Regarding said expansion and how it relates to her retirement the article's author notes:
"When star male athletes retire, it is usually at the end of their road and it usually comes with a declaration that they "want to spend more time with their family." In women's sports, that last part really is true. Because of that, careers are cut short."
So when men say it, it's a cover for "I'm so effin' tired of putting my body through this shit" and when women say give this rationale it is more "I need to put my body through some more crazy shit and push out some kids before I can't anymore"??
Also implied is that one cannot do both. Note that Finch has done both. She had her child arguably at the prime of her career. And there are many other female athletes who have done the same. So the motherhood and athletics debate continues.

PS Check out Dr. Pat Griffin's column at Opposing Views on Finch's retirement in which she discusses the pretty factor and feminism in women's sports.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Commentary continues as Semenya resumes racing

I have seen several articles/editorials since Caster Semenya has resumed racing. But this one is by far the best. (I won't even link to the really problematic one from a male sportswriter from Kenya who seemed to have some sympathy for Semenya's situation but in the end he deemed Semenya not-quite-woman and stated that she should bow out gracefully from her competitive career.)
I recommend the above-linked editorial from the New Statesman in which writer Laurie Penny starts with Semenya's racing kit last week (it was pink!) and shares some (rumored) information about the extent of the testing Semenya was forced, by the IAAF, to undergo. If you have to look that hard and take pictures...guess gender isn't that obvious after all.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In golf woman=old person?

Just a little anecdote for this Sunday morning.
Was out shopping for golf clubs Friday evening (well I was tagging along on said shopping trip mostly as a info-gathering session). So my shopping friend was looking for a rescue club and was asking the salesperson at Dick's about various brands. When she asked about Callaway, the young man said he didn't have any women's Callaways at the moment. But he did have the rescue clubs Callaway makes for seniors and noted that they are very similar to women's clubs.
Snarky me said (aloud) "'Cause being old is just as bad as being a woman." Young man mumbled something about the flex being similar.
For the record, I don't understand much about golf club technology. I assume, like in tennis, there are a myriad of new materials and composites and even gimmicks. I liked the rescue clubs because they are more lofted than their comparable irons (I guess I sound like I know a little bit).
But technology isn't being applied only to women's clubs. Or to seniors' clubs. Everyone benefits from things like graphite shafts.
So why the gendered and aged categories? If the only difference between some men's and women's clubs is shaft length then why not categorize them based on height? If some clubs are better for beginners or for people who want to add control to their drives--why not just market them that way? Why is it only women who are looking for distance off the tee? Doesn't golf pride itself on the possibility of anyone being able to play against anyone else because of the handicap system? And yet clubs are categorized in such a way as to say that women and old people cannot hit as far or need different accommodations. Tennis doesn't do this. Rackets are not gendered. You buy your racket based on your game: your swing speed, your desire for control versus power, your body (i.e. are your prone to tennis elbow?), baseliner versus all-courter.
Men, women, and old people doesn't seem a very effective system for marketing equipment in a game as nuanced as golf.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Smiles all around at Oakmont

Saw just a little bit of the US Women's Open yesterday and had seen the headlines about Paula Creamer making a strong run toward her first major title. But she has, um, choked in the past. And I am not a huge fan of Creamer anyway (way too much pink!) so I opted to get to my softball game on time and miss her winning putt on 18.
I do admire her comeback from injury and playing with a thumb that is only at 60 percent (how do people figure these things out anyway?) and the way she kept her cool in the last round. Still--she wears all that pink and seems a little too sickly sweet.
But I imagine the LPGA must just be nearly orgasmic with Creamer's win. A white woman wins a major and it's the US Open. (That's two majors in a row; Cristie Kerr won the LPGA Championships last month.) She speaks fluent English, looks very heterosexual, and has that pretty and winning thing going for her (versus someone like Natalie Gulbis). I mean just look at the head shots of her from the Open yesterday. I was struck as I saw the cameras focus on her as she walked or waited to tee off by the very pink (yes, I have said that already) polo shirt, the US flag pin on the color, and the jeweled cross hanging around her neck. How very all-American girl.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

One step forward...

It's not an inaccurate characterization to describe me as a little bit cynical. I know it's a turnoff to some. I do have my hopeful moments, however, and I am not, despite recent opposing beliefs (can you tell I'm still not quite over this, yet?!) an extremely bitter, angry person.
But I have to say when I read a column like this about Lebron James's teasing of the media, fans, and general public (hard to avoid this story if you have even a smidge of access to media) regarding where he will be playing next year (it's Miami, in case you missed it!), I do get a little more cynical about things.
I couldn't care less about how and why James is making his announcement. Anyone who is shocked that there is so much hoopla about this one player...well, just shouldn't be. And now the backlash has begun about the prime time, ESPN hour-long announcement. And people are right to be critical and question aspects of this media extravaganza and ESPN's apparently enabling behavior.
But Deadspin writer Drew Magary's response is inexcusable. We only have to look at the title, "Lebron James is a Cocksucker" for a clue. It gets worse from there. This is the second paragraph:
It doesn't matter where he opts to go. If he goes to Chicago, he's a cocksucker. If he goes to Miami, he's a cocksucker. Even if he goes back to Cleveland, he's a goddamn cocksucker. He's a self-aggrandizing sack of shit, and ESPN is a bunch of pussy-whipped enablers for giving him a free hour of airtime tomorrow night and inevitably using 55 minutes of it to let Stu Scott give him a rimjob.
So that's three mentions of James being a cocksucker. One pussy-whipped cable network and a commentator who gives rimjobs.
The villainization going on here isn't just of James; it's of gay men and women. It's a homophobic and misogynist rant. James is gay; Stu Scott is gay, and ESPN is a bunch of passive, effeminate men which is, as we know, a slippery slope towards....yep, GAY!
I look at a piece like this and I think, "wow, we just haven't made any progress at all in combating the homophobia and misogyny in sport cultures." And I know this isn't entirely true, but it's still demoralizing that the knee-jerk reaction when a male athlete does something we don't like is to basically call him and anyone associated with him, a fag, a pussy, a homo, a cocksucker.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Semenya cleared to race

What seemed like endless tests and discussions over the gender of South African runner Caster Semenya have apparently come to an end with the IAAF (the international governing body of track and field) ruling that Semenya can continue (after the imposed one-year hiatus) to race against women. I guess that means the powers that be decided she was a woman. The findings will not be released of course because of confidentiality reasons--not that the whole thing was super secret to begin with. I believe confidentiality has already been pretty much blown apart. So the IAAF has deemed her eligible but they cannot say why (not that they should) but the attention they brought onto Semenya isn't likely to dissipate with her new clearance.
This Salon column on the news notes not just that Semenya came under suspicion because she defied gender norms, but that the attention that her story garnered because of her non-conformity is similar to the stories from women's sports in the past few years. The biggest news getters are the stories about female athletes engaged in non-conforming behavior, mostly violent behavior. There was no violence in the Semenya situation (except the violence against her), but the author is quite right in that this story is very similar to the others. And all this while other stories about female athletes, like the ones featuring their skills and accomplishments, receive much less press.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I threw up a little inside my mouth...

...which is not very feminine, I know. But I washed up and put on a skort and went to work out and I felt better!

Yeah, right.

But according to this article, putting on a skort and doing a workout should make me feel super duper feminine. But the whole thing caused the above-mentioned gag reflex. I have been sitting with this article for a while now and I still cannot figure out how to make sense of it. (I've also been kind of busy hanging in the miserable rathole with the other radical feminists, too; so that kind of limits my time). But I decided to try to take it point by offensive and misinformed point.

First, in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I do wear skirts when I play tennis--though not exclusively. And I wear skirts in everyday life (though not every day). And yes, I probably do fall on the femme spectrum somewhere. And yes I have those yoga pants that are tight in the ass. But I also have baggy gym shorts and grey t-shirts. And baseball caps--not the pink ones! And the other day one my spin students mistook me for a hockey player. That made me very happy. In other words my performance of femininity is varied and often situational. And in the gym you never know what you're going to get with me. Except you know you're not getting a skirt. OK sometimes I pull a skirt on over my bike shorts to drive to the gym. But I take it off once there.
Enough pseudo apologies. I'm not the one engaging in apologetic behavior anyway.
Let's start here: "mannerisms are defiantly mannish." This is a no-win situation for female athletes. Let's not forget that sports have been played by men for years and years and years. And in the modern Western world men have had far more participation opportunities. And so sports themselves are "mannish." Not always; not universally. But why do we not use the adjective when describing the way men play them? Because men are supposed to play sports and no one questions their mannerisms when they do them--unless they're feminine (a la Johnny Weir). Of course if female athletes attempt to bring a non-mannish touch to their sport-playing, they are not taken seriously. This position is acknowledged by triathlete Nicole Deboom who is the creator of Skirt Sports (the name is pretty self-explanatory but here's a visual just in case). But we also have to recognize that what gets deemed mannish and/or feminine is a social construct. So in the case of this article the author has decided that the behaviors of female athletes are mannish. Not that they are sporty, or athletic-like--but that these women have adopted male behaviors--though we don't really know which behaviors she is speaking of as she does not give examples.
Next: "The defeminization of women in sports became so pronounced that in recent years, international sports bodies such as the Olympics have struggled with how to actually implement testing to ensure that the women are biologically female."
Wait, let me check my calendar...OK, yes, yes, it does appear to be 2010. I felt like I was reading something from female physical educators in the 1950s who worried that sports would masculinize their students and thus make the menfolk take away their sporting opportunities (few as they were), but no. This writer thinks that contemporary women have become so masculine through sports that the IOC is gender testing them now. One, mandatory gender testing is over. Yes, it's still pretty lousy that it gets implemented in suspect cases--i.e. some woman who appears too masculine. But part of the whole gender testing thing was making sure men didn't make their way into women's sports. Also this seems to be a sly reference to South African runner Caster Semenya, who was pegged as a suspect case. But Semenya's participation in sport did not make her appear masculine (again masculine is a construct). Testing of Semenya has revealed some sort of intersex condition. (Note that I am not saying that genetics made Semenya mannish, either.)
The solution of course is the skort! Because it will "put an end to androgyny in sports." [Let's also note that some of us like androgyny and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. That it's even a *gasp* good/fun/sexy/liberating thing.]
Here's another problem. Part of the marketing of skirts for working out involves covering those unflattering parts which is why it seems that the average age of women buying these things is 40. (This could also have an economic explanation, too. Shorts and t-shirts are cheaper than the apparel on Deboom's website and younger women are not as financially solvent.) Part of the looking good thing is the covering up of some cellulite apparently. The skirts offer cover to the "skimming" spandex that exists underneath the skirts. So work out to feel good and be healthy--but please don't show us your flab, ladies!
And finally, I found this statement by Deboom to be a little ridiculous: "It's just time to redefine women athletes by making it OK to look like a woman while you're working out."
Again, fear of androgyny and masculinity in women. I was wearing yoga pants and a unisex t-shirt while lifting this morning. A female friend of mine was wearing a unisex t-shirt and men's shorts. We both looked liked women even though we were dressed differently. The masculinity was not in our attire though we both displayed different levels of masculinity. My performance of masculinity this morning was largely due to the presence of large shoulder muscles and the fact that I was lifting weights. Neither of which are mitigated by donning a skirt.
So put me in a skirt. You can even try to put make-up on me. But it doesn't make me more or less of a woman as I am laying on my back on the weight bench. And though Deboom says skirts offer greater freedom of movement and other training benefits, I think I would feel a little awkward with my legs splayed as I bench pressed in a skirt.