Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lesbian discrimination in sport? or It's all about intersectionality

A few weeks ago, I neglected, among other things, to post about this amazing column by wrestling coach Hudson Taylor that was posted at HuffPo. Hudson, since he was a student-athlete, has been an ally of LGBT athletes and works to end homophobia in sport. Taylor demonstrates a very keen awareness of the way in which homophobia and sexism are intertwined. It is not a coincidence the sport has a history of sexism and homophobia. They reinforce each other. How different is it really when a male athlete is referred to as a "girl" or as a "fag"? Both are meant to question his masculinity and inspire a man-up moment.
What about the ways that the lesbian stigma in women's sports is connected to its inferior status?

So, good job Hudson Taylor.

And much awe and respect to Pat Griffin for her column this week posted at Opposing Views. The day I read it I was teaching in my class two articles: a piece called "Patriarchy" by sociologist Allan Johnson and Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" about white privilege. It would have been perfect to hand my students a copy of Dr. Griffin's article and ask them how it relates. (I might still.)
Griffin talks about how the discourse has shifted in homophobia in sport to discussions of male professional athletes. It is a somewhat one-dimensional conversation, in my opinion, centered around "when will be a male professional athlete in a team sport come out?" First of all the question is obviously American-centric. There are out footballers, rugby players, and other athletes in sports that American don't quite laud. Is it a legitimate question? Yes.
But, as Griffin points out, it seems to be the only question. This is exemplified in the media (I too heard the NPR piece on gays in sports and wondered when I was going to hear about Megan Rapinoe) and in the conferences that address these issues.
The invisibility of lesbians has long been a problem, a result of the intersection of sexism and homophobia. Advocates like Pat Griffin have long worked to make these issues visible. Inside the academy numerous feminist scholars have talked about the issues specific to gay women in the sport world. And now, both inside and outside the academy, the lesbian is disappearing again. Why? Is it just another manifestation of sexism? Perhaps. Maybe it's just the type of male privilege we talked about in my class. Men want to be allies but sometimes they just don't see or want to see their privilege and that it provides them a forum--literal and figurative--for bringing their issues to the forefront, often at the expense of women.
I want to throw another issue into this discussion of intersectional discrimination. Class or more money making potential might be a better descriptor in this situation. The discussion of male athletes coming out--male professional athletes who are in the major team sports in the US may have financial repercussions. One of the issues raised when the question of "who will come out first? and which league is most open and accepting?" is "how much will he lose?" Lost endorsements? Lack of new endorsers? The discussion becomes more heightened because there is so much more for a professional male athlete to lose financially. Both Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King discussed the financial hits they took when they came out/were outed. But this is written as somehow less serious. Money/class. Sexism. Homophobia. Lots of intersecting issues here.
I'm headed to a sport sociology conference next month. I will be interested in observing the discussions in that forum around gay athletes.

1 comment:

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Respect and education can help it to decrease it. Everybody needs to be respected.