Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The cautious progress narrative?

I started reading this column with a little hesitation. The end of the Kournikova era? Really? Are not female athletes, including the columnist's celebrated Alex Morgan, still stripping down to promote their bodies, um, er, their sport, um...?
Yes, it's still happening. It's still problematic.
What's different, as the columnist points out, is that in the Kournikova era there seemed to be no space to which to have a discussion of women's sports. We were polarized. We had to talk about the sexualization of female athletes (or if you were outside of the critical discourse you discussed their hotness factor) and it made it difficult to talk about actual women's sports.
But why did the Kournikova era end? What was it about that historical moment that pushed this woman (then girl) to be the most googled, searched for, downloaded entity? What was the sexual tenor of the country (of the western world?) in those years?
Or was it just Kournikova? Did she just happen to meet all (or most) of the standards of beauty at that time? In other words, did the woman make history or did the historical moment make the woman?
I don't know. More research, if one should desire to take it on, would have to be done.
And is it over just because she is gone? Or are we just seeing a different manifestation of it?
In short, have we really made progress, as the columnist suggests?
He points to the successes of the summer: the USA swimmers, the USWNT, the USA gymnastics team. I have always been skeptical about gauging the progress of women's athletics in an Olympic year. The Olympics are, in every possible way, a set of special circumstances: media coverage, timeline, advertising, nationalism.
But as every female soccer player knows, the fervor and excitement of the Olympics dies out.
What will happen this time?

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