Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whose line is it anyway?

Pretty interesting interview with Kathryn Bertine over at the Huffington Post the other day. Bertine is a senior editor at espnW and is trying to qualify for the Olympic Games and has written a book about her attempt to qualify in 2008. ESPN sponsored her quest to do so, but she didn't make it for those games. So she's at it again looking to be a cyclist in London in 2012.
Here's what impressed me: her clear recognition of the skewed treatment of female athletes with sport itself and, of course, the media coverage.
She gives the example of the lack of prize money in women's cycling, but notes that so few cyclists will speak up because of fear of alienating sponsors. Because there's nothing worse, we know, than an athlete who speaks her/his mind. And it's especially bad if that athlete is a woman who is complaining. I mean, she could be a feminist. Horrors! So Bertine, being the only cyclist from Saint Kitts and Nevis (she got dual citizenship as part of her qualifying quest) has taken it upon herself to note this. And she knows her women's sports history too. She likens the shorter race courses to times (apparently not as long ago as some of us would like to think) when there was fear for women's health and safety if they exerted themselves too strenuously in their athletic pursuits.
And she's also aware of the problematic Google search. The search that brings so many to this blog in their quest to see Ana Ivanovic's armpits of Misty May's bikini wedgies.
Even if you just type the words female athlete into Google what comes up is "ATHLETES IN BIKINIS" or "FEMALE ATHLETES ON THE BEACH!" When that's the front-runner on our search engines, something's wrong.

And she notes the problematic aspects of female athletes who model. But she makes a distinction between those showing off their bodies and being proud of their muscles and those who are "slithering on a car."
But it is a conundrum because if female athletes can only pay the bills by modeling then something's wrong in the system, not the athletes.

Right, but how much do we let the system dictate our behaviors? How far do we take it before we opt out? Even knowing that as someone opts out, as some female athlete refuses to take off her shirt and place soccer balls strategically over various body parts, that another--ten others?--will happily take her place. Also, Bertine's distinction of female athletes who model and female athletes who slither is somewhat ambiguous. There is plenty of room between modelling and slithering and many of the those who model, with or without soccer balls (or volleyballs, or tennis balls, or basketballs--or no balls) do proffer the "but I love my body and want to show it off" explanation when they are critiqued for doing so.
What kind of irked me about Bertine's interview was how it ended. After all the acknowledgment about the inequities, she seemed to revert to the espnW party line:
We're trying to take the gender out of sports and just focus on great athletes, especially female athletes because they are so underplayed by the media.

We're trying to take the gender out of sport?
Might want to wait until things are a little more equitable before you try to implement that goal. It's not like taking the gender out of sports is going to be like taking the sugar out of Dr. Pepper. (And since I started with that somewhat off metaphor, we might also want to be aware of the dangers/side effects of the various additives that will replace gender.)
I mean I don't see the need for a men's and women's sports page either. But I think it's a pretty interesting statement from a senior editor at espnW. Note the W at the end.

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