Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The WNBA: "Uniquely feminine"?

The Chicago Tribunehas a feature on the Chicago Sky* and the WNBA generally, the specific angle being how the Sky exemplifies the uniqueness of the WNBA, as compared to the NBA, of course.

I was going to let this article go unexamined even after reading Sky player and WNBA veteran Chasity Melvin's comments that "women are just different than men. We're more sensitive, we're more emotional." But not to fear, Melvin says, they are still very competitive. So much for Nike's ATHLETE campaign that attempts (also problematically) to erase difference between male and female athletes. The athletes themselves are touting the difference--in a classic liberalism, Mary Wollstonecraft kind of way.

Even though I found Melvin's comments irksome and essentialist I wasn't sure I was up for blogging about it--until I read rookie Armintie Price's take on promoting the WNBA, which, according the writer of the piece offsets all that competitive mentality and is a "uniquely feminine" goal.

Says Price: "You're not only looking out for your own name but for the reputation of the WNBA in trying to help it grow. In order to do that, we have to carry ourselves in certain ways, as ladies...."

The article shows the contradictory positions many WNBA players must occupy. Comments from players, coaches, and administrators exemplify the desire to be both the same and different from the NBA specifically, male athletes, and men generally.

It is not surprising that some of these contradictions and negotiations come from black female athletes (Price and Melvin) who have always had to negotiate a femininity that has been constructed and maintained by white society--both men and women-- and a physicality that has also been constructed by white society as animalistic.

Scholar Rota Liberti has an excellent analysis of this issue from an historical perspective. She has written about black female basketball players at Bennett College, an historically black women's college, in the first half of the 1900s in an article entitled "We were ladies, we just played like boys": African American womanhood and competitive basketball at Bennett College, 1928-1942.

In the present day this kind of "we're ladies" rhetoric, as it signals acceptance for some players, simultaneously excludes others who choose to construct or adhere to a different version of femininity or eschew femininity altogether. It is clearly an attempt to counter claims that the WNBA is full of lesbians and is generally an unfortunate yet excellent example of the apologetic behavior that plagues women's sports.

* Interestingly, the article is not in the sports section. It is a feature under "The Women's Health Issue."

1 comment:

Diane said...

Interestingly, in the excellent HBO documentary, "Dare to Compete: The Struggle of Women In Sports," the point is made that one reason African American girls and young women made headway several decades ago was that there were no demands on them by their culture to always be "feminine." Of course, a lot has changed since then.