Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who's afraid of ("feminine") Tom Brady?

Wow--I mean wow. This attention to Tom Brady's hair has reached shocking levels of outrage. And it's also reached those subtle (and not-so-subtle I would imagine in conversations among fans--and enemies) levels of homophobia. Because Tom Brady has been spotted wearing a headband, and a ponytail (and dancing badly*--which may or may not have anything to do with any of this).

I found out about the headband scandal when a Facebook friend posted the above picture on her wall. It has garnered some impassioned responses:


"he's so feminine now"

"he's trying to be prettier than his wife" (I've heard versions of that one before)

I care this much about Tom Brady. But I care a lot more now that his masculinity is being questioned because of the way he chooses to wear his hair.

Because here's the deal, people. The 80s are back. I don't like it either. Skinny jeans and plaid and leggings. I just try to avert my eyes until it all goes away.

But don't forget that the 80s were also the period of androgyny and gender bending. And that's back too. And I like that part! The first time I saw a La Roux video I applauded her androgynous Molly Ringwald look.

But people are not so quick to applaud Tom Brady's long hair. OK, sure sometimes it looks a little ratty. But when did we get back to the era where long hair is feminine? And why are all these female fans so invested in Brady maintaining some kind of uber-masculinity? Weren't straight women crying out for sensitive men not so long ago?

Being a gay woman, perhaps I don't have the same investment in Brady's masculinity. But I do worry about the message. That arguably the most famous of football players can't change his hair without being accused of becoming feminine is a problem. It's a problem for all of us--not just the little boys who think they might be gay (or know they are) or the straight guys who want to display something other than approved masculinity--but all of us. Women, too. We all end up maintaining gender norms in moments like these. These are norms that limit us all--some more than others; they reify a false gender binary; they exclude and do violence.

I keep hearing that "things are getting better;" that this next generation is more accepting, more liberal; that labels are so passe. But "things" can't be that much better when a superstar athlete is getting a lot of flack for long hair. And people seem more than willing to throw around labels like feminine in disparaging ways.

So if you thought hegemonic masculinity was coming crashing down around us...think again. Guess I'll just have to pin my hopes on the demise of the skinny jean.

* It's not even worth embedding. But note that the version I first saw of the video did not have the feminizing music that this version does.

1 comment:

sportsbabel said...

And yet there seems to be no problem whatsoever with that other paragon of masculinity Daniel Craig/James Bond dressing up as a woman for IWD. It seems to speak of a difference between a "switch" and a "threshold" in performing gender (as complex as that is in its own right): "we" are far more willing to accept the radical jump-cut or switch to engage "feminine" but the blurry threshold that Brady pushes (and not even as far) is the one that is more problematic.

Or put differently, it is easier to box a challenge to performed masculinity such as Craig's into an IWD event, while the bleeding of the football stadium's boundaries of performed gender are far more threatening.