Monday, January 21, 2008

Naive media?

Andrea Burns, an Australian columnist, writes about the sexualization of female tennis players taking, as her starting point, the recent gushing over Venus Williams's backside by a TV commentator.

She seems a little surprised by all the drooling and ogling over the women, which makes me wonder: where has she been?

Has she been paying attention to women's sports--and not just tennis--at all, ever? This statement makes me think that no, she is only just noticing these things:
I thought the one place where women could be equal with each other - judged not merely on appearance, but on skill - was the sporting arena.

There are a couple of problems (OK, probably more) with making this sentiment a reality. One, men control the sporting arena. Even when, as Burns is doing, we look at how women compare to women, we can never get away from the fact that they are playing in a "man's world." This leads to point two: men control the discourse--inside and outside of the sporting arena. Women are judged on their appearance everywhere, including (and especially?) in the sports world.

Burns thinks she is making a good point when she discusses how Amelie Mauresmo, the 2006 Australian Open champion, had to stack up against the glamour girls of the sport. Except by calling Mauresmo "masculine, strong, and unbeatable" all she does is reify the binary she seems to be so upset exists in the first place.

Her comments on Mauresmo--again made in supposed support of the desexualization of female athletes--ring of heterosexism and reveal Burns's own adherence to hegemonic femininity.
She won the talent portion of the event, but lost the swimsuit contest.

I don't think it's any secret that I find Mauresmo very attractive both on and off court. I try to avoid overtly sexualizing her. But I think the fact that Burns, and others, cannot recognize her aesthetic appeal says a lot about our culture.

1 comment:

Diane said...

As you know, I, too, find Mauresmo very attractive, and I know many others who do (and that includes several men).

A couple of years ago, I was watching Sam Stosur play in Charleston, and the woman next to me said to her group, "Oh, she looks so masculine." They all nodded. I turned to my husband and asked him if he thought Stosur looked masculine, and he said "I think she looks beautiful."

There was a recent thread on a popular tennis board about this--with some saying that Stosur would look even better if she were more "feminine," but with many saying--no--Sam looks great exactly the way she is.

What a pity that most people have not given up these rigid ideas of what is "masculine" and "feminine."