Friday, June 29, 2012

Who will the Saudis send?

The Saudi female athlete most observers thought would be heading to London next month after Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female athletes in the Olympics--will not.
Equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas could not meet the Olympic qualifying standard after losing valuable training time when her horse sustained an injury.
A reader pointed me to this article about the situation.
There are, apparently, other unnamed female athletes under consideration.

We're still talking about this

Some people I have spoken with don't like Maria Sharapova because they think she's too pretty--and not much else (besides a good tennis player).
I think she's pretty smart and has a good sense of humor. I love the way she deals with the corps of media folk who ask her largely inane questions.
And Sharapova continued to handle herself well yesterday when asked to respond to Frenchman Gilles Simon's comments about how tennis should go back to the days when women got paid less than men at the Grand Slam tournaments. Simon thinks men's tennis is more entertaining; that the matches are more interesting. Of course he didn't offer any means of how to measure entertainment value. He didn't note that the rest of the year women earn less at their tournaments than the men do at theirs. And he was forced to acknowledge that his straight-set loss at Wimbledon was probably not that entertaining.
Simon was recently elected to the ATP Players' Council, which seems to be providing him the platform for the airing of these grievances. He reported that every other man in the draw feels the same way, they are just afraid to say anything. But here's the thing. Even if most of them believe equal pay is unfair--the top men (the ones who were asked to comment on the statements) aren't suffering because the women got a pay raise at Wimbledon in 2007. Do you think they are going to take the time to fight equal pay? Are they going to band together and hire a consultant to study the entertainment value of men's versus women's tennis? Activism on the men's tennis tour? I don't think so.
And Sharapova's response to all this:
''I'm sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his."
When hearing about Sharapova's response, Serena Williams laughed and wholeheartedly agreed. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Which context did you mean?

There is a tie for the third spot on the women's 100 meters (running) US Olympic team.
No solution yet on how to determine which runner, Allyson Felix or Jeneba Tarmoh, will get the spot.
Justin Gatlin, the men's 100 meter champion at the trials, suggested they two women wrestle in out--in either Jello or mud. I am sure they appreciated being given two options.
Gatlin got a lot of crap for the comment which many have--not surprisingly--deemed sexist. But he said it was taken out of context.
Oh--do you mean the context of patriarchy where you think all kinds of comments are permissible?
The thing about dominant ideologies is that they all have a little bit of wiggle room; there's a lot of pushing and pulling; and hegemony has been known to spring a leak.

Go Sania Mirza!

A lot of the recent chatter about women in the Olympics has been around 1) Saudi Arabia's ban on women's sports and 2) just how much testosterone a woman can have before she crosses the line into "man."
But even "normally" hormoned women not from Saudi Arabia are having issues as thy prepare for London.
Sania Mirza, who was chosen to by the Indian Tennis Federation to represent India, has been at the center of an odd argument about who shall play with whom. Apparently the men on the Indian team are arguing about who they want to partner with for doubles and for mixed doubles. And they are using Mirza to try to get their way. The father of one of the players wants Mirza to guarentee, in writing, that she will play with his son. Someone has said he will only play with someone else if Mirza plays with him in mixed doubles.
It all sounds 1) a little but middle school and 2) a lot bit patriarchal.
And Mirza calls them out on all this. It's an amazing open letter that chides all the players in this drama including the Indian federation and Indian culture more generally for their treatment of women.
My (half Indian) partner rolls her eyes when talking about Indian men. This is certainly an eye-rolling moment. Mirza has taken the high ground. I hope it serves her well in London.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

There is no Ms. in England?

I have largely stopped posting about the (mis)gendered language in sports.
But language still continues to fascinate me. And I was particularly struck by the incongruity I heard at Wimbledon yesterday while watching Kim Clijsters's match.
Wimbledon refers to female players as either Miss or Mrs (last name) depending on their marital status. While the formality is quaint, the practice seems antiquated--especially in this situation:
Clijsters is married. She gets referred to as Mrs. But she never changed her name. So she is called Mrs. Clijsters at Wimbledon. It sounds so odd.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saudi Arabia relents

Saudi Arabia announced today that it will allow female athletes to compete in the Olympics under the Saudi flag (i.e. not invited by the IOC and under their "neutral" flag).
The press about the decision contains a lot of platitudes from Saudi representatives about the spirit of the games. No word on which women will be there; Saudi officials have said they will allow any woman who qualifies to attend. Unfortunately given the lack of support (to put it mildly) for female athletes in Saudi Arabia, not many women meet Olympic qualifying standards. The IOC is likely to make exceptions just to get Saudi women to London this year.
More of a sure thing is equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas who is a Saudi citizen who was born in the United States.
There were no given reasons for the change of heart by Saudi administrators. The IOC had been working with government officials since the spring and kept reporting "progress," but in April the Saudis announced they would not be sending female athletes to London.
I wonder if the IOC threatened to ban the entire Saudi team if this decision was not reconsidered...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Comments on sex verification

Truly excellent column in the NYT about the IOC's proposed changes to rules regarding the testosterone levels of female athletes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Poetry Friday: Fathers' Day edition

It's hard finding a poem to celebrate fathers' day. Sylvia Plath isn't quite appropriate for the occasion.
But this one is pretty good. The details may change, but the sentiment remains.
So Happy Fathers' Day to the dads out there and especially my own, who helped cultivate my love of sport (none of us know where the poetry thing came from) and keeps me stocked in sport gear.

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
He never made a fortune, or a noise
In the world where men are seeking after fame;
But he had a healthy brood of girls and boys
Who loved the very ground on which he trod.
They thought him just little short of God;
Oh you should have heard the way they said his name –

There seemed to be a loving little prayer
In their voices, even when they called him ‘Dad.’
Though the man was never heard of anywhere,
As a hero, yet somehow understood
He was doing well his part and making good;
And you knew it, by the way his children had
Of saying ‘Father.’

He gave them neither eminence nor wealth,
But he gave them blood untainted with a vice,
And opulence of undiluted health.
He was honest, and unpurchable and kind;
He was clean in heart, and body, and in mind.
So he made them heirs to riches without price –
This father.

He never preached or scolded; and the rod –
Well, he used it as a turning pole in play.
But he showed the tender sympathy of God.
To his children in their troubles, and their joys.
He was always chum and comrade with his boys,
And his daughters – oh, you ought to hear them say

Now I think of all achievements ‘tis the least
To perpetuate the species; it is done
By the insect and the serpent, and the beast.
But the man who keeps his body, and his thought,
Worth bestowing on an offspring love-begot,
Then the highest earthly glory he was won,
When in pride a grown-up daughter or a son
Says ‘That’s Father.’

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The disappearing act the IAAF is working on

Caster Semenya is on something.
Say that about almost any other track and field athlete (or cyclist-- even the now officially retired "I've- never tested positive" Lance Armstrong remains under scrutiny) and you think doping. An athlete seeking an unfair advantage.
But not Semenya--and not, according to secret and not-so-secret sources--are numerous other female athletes who apparently are meeting standards of performance, of hormone levels, of muscle mass not associated with the socially acceptable definition of female. Interventions have been made. Drugs administered. Surgeries completed. At least that's the impression given by this article.
We all know the controversy over Semenya's performance and appearance. When it was seemingly over, the horror over the whole experience--the invasion of privacy, the (largely undiscussed) racism and colonialism, the general ickiness of it all--was supposed to be a closed chapter. An additional stain, but one that the The IAAF and other administrators, coaches, and people-who-should-know-better, promised to handle things differently in the future.
And apparently, they are. Except now it's all hush-hush and arguably even more confusing and shaming than ever before.
And there a lot of rumors. For example, certain scientists are saying that almost entire teams of women have had undescended testes or excess testosterone. Such statements are purely inflammatory. Women who look and act too masculine must have testes hiding somewhere inside them, right? It's bad for any non-normative-appearing woman and for women who have intersex conditions.
Also part of the problem is that no one is talking about the exact conditions that are allegedly being encountered worldwide in the wake of the Semenya situation. But sources in the above-linked article make it seem like there is some kind of intersex epidemic sweeping the population of female athletes.
Part of the problem is that no one seems to be able to discuss any of the conditions. I understand that Semenya is not saying what kind of treatment she is receiving, but the lack of even viable hypotheticals is problematic. There are over a dozen intersex conditions and even more situations that have not been nearly as pathologized. For example, every 1 in 100 people are born with bodies that differ in some way from "standard" men or women.
But we don't like to talk about these things--in part because it throws into question the idea that a binary sex system is natural. And two, because we don't like to talk about genitals and their alleged connection to the sex/gender system.
The IAAF wants to make blanket rules about how much of this and how much of that athletes can have in order to be able to compete as women and then dictate what these athletes need to do to their bodies to morph them into compliance. The IAAF has not proven to be reliable or trustworthy on these issues.
Blanket rules will not work on situations that are far more complicated than most can comprehend. And again, there does not seem to be any kind of movement toward transparency here. What conditions? What are the supposed results? What kind of advantages are being deemed unfair? And why?
And we haven't even started with the question of what is natural.
Caster Semenya shouldn't have to be at the center of these questions. (The recent articles about how much prettier and more feminine she is these days are difficult enough to stomach.) I think the IAAF should have to answer for its proposed policies and rationales though.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Collegiate sand volleyball championships

OMG! I'm watching sand volleyball. Right now. Collegiate sand volleyball.
Pepperdine versus Long Beach State.  This is the first ever national championships in the sport. Not NCAA sponsored. I think, actually and somewhat perversely, Jack-in-the-Box is sponsoring these championships.
I was curious about uniforms when this sport was proposed. Pretty modest (compared to what we will see from most women's teams in London, where it's not going to be super warm, btw). Pepperdine has tank tops and what looks like running shorts. One of the Pepperdine assistant coaches is the coach of famed American duo Misty May and Kerry Walsh.
Long Beach is wearing tankinis. It looks like most of the other teams in the tournament are doing the tank top/shorts combo.
Pepperdine has already won the team title. Now they are looking to win the individual title.
I love having a girlfriend who has more sports channels than she even knows exist!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Forget pink shirts and caps... your fandom in your feet, females!
Fan gear that limits your activity level.
This is something to put in my female fandom file for that not-yet-written article.
Previous commentary on this issue has been about 1) pink apparel or 2) heteronormative marketing.
My last post on the heteronormative marketing of sports gear, trinkets, mementos brought a comment from Sean at sportsBabel about why I would want to be included in the grand capitalist scheme. True, true.
And when I saw this little piece of news about how the NBA will be making $250 stilettos, I was mighty glad to not be in the target audience.These things don't seem very practical. I mean, high tripping/slipping hazard when walking around the arena and up and down stairs to your seat. And you definitely don't want some drunk fan to spill beer on these!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sam Stosur's "style"

Sadly, I just watched Sam Stosur lose in the semifinals of Roland Garros to Sara Errani. Errani played very well and I kind of like her style. I hadn't paid too much attention to her prior to this run at the French. But I liked her glasses and bandana look from the quarters the other day. She looked tough. Stosur always looks tough because the woman is ripped. But she is not a man.
In case you were wondering.
Dominika Cibulkova, Stosur's opponent from the quarters seemed to be wondering that after being defeated by Stosur fairly handily. I actually didn't hear the post-match comments or the comments on the post-match comments. Thankfully I have friends who keep me informed while I sit in the library endlessly coding data.
This is nothing new, of course. Just a different set of characters. Cibulkova who could not handle Stosur's heavy topspin serve and was put on the defensive by Stosur's amazing forehand, thought this meant that Stosur was man-like in her style.
One, it's just pouting. I can't possibly beat a man; no one would expect me to beat a man and this person was playing like a man--so there. It wasn't me. There was nothing I could possibly do.
It did indeed appear there was nothing Cibulkova could do. But it wasn't because suddenly Stosur transformed her game and made it more masculine. It was because Stosur's style is particularly effective against opponents who are short--like Cibulkova. Heavy kick serves mean shorter players are having to hit returns way out of their comfort zones. It is clear that Cibulkova has amazing core strength (something that used to be the domain of male athletes--just sayin') but not enough to overcome solid play by Stosur. And it's not as if Stosur is invincible. Others can beat her. Sara Errani for example. Does that make Errani a man? And I would imagine that Cibulkova has beat players herself who have beaten Stosur. What does that say about Cibulkova?
What she's really saying is "she's a dyke." And because Stosur does not compensate/apologize enough for not being uberfeminine, Cibulkova attacks her. Stosur isn't going to pose naked in a racquet ad. She isn't going to glam it up for lots of photo shoots.
Butterflies would never fly around a naked man.
It's pretty common knowledge that Stosur is gay. But she is not out the way Mauresmo was out. I think if she was, people like Cibulkova would not be able to get away with such comments. The mainstream media made no comments on this--at least not that I have seen. I can't imagine Chrissy Evert touching this with a ten-foot pole during her match commentary. They just let it go.
And Stosur lets it go too. Because it's not her identity or it's not her fight or she's not political.
I guess in tennis when the ball comes into your court--you hit it out of there, fast.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Terms, time, and Title IX

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Each anniversary engenders a good deal of media attention about the equity in education legislation, but this year, of course, the attention is greater. The Title IX Blog has been covering some of the anniversary coverage.
A trend that I have noticed is the focus on the everyday athlete. We are hearing testimonials and personal histories and reflections from women who are not elite athletes. ESPNW is collecting pictures and mini-stories from women of all ages and abilities that are entered into a collage/mosaic on their website.
This opinion piece on an NBC website fits this trend of hearing from the everyday women and the way Title IX affected their lives. Jelisa Castrodale also discusses what she sees among the girls of today and their relationships to sports, the access (often unquestioned) they have to sports, and the ways sport is incorporated into their everyday lives.
The title of the column is "Don't call us tomboys now" based on an encounter the author had with a pre-teen girl who didn't know what a tomboy was and that girls who played outside and liked sports were just girls--no special label needed.
It was a cute story, and certainly Castrodale didn't take the issue of the label tomboy where I am about to take it--but here I go anyway.
There is a documentary called Tomboy about the history of the term and the change in meanings; and the meanings it has for young girls and older women. I recommend it.
And I don't know if the term has gone away or how aware girls under 12 are of the term and if they use/accept/embrace/shun it. But if girls are saying "don't call me a tomboy--I'm a girl and I can do whatever the boys do"; and if society has moved to a point where girls who play outside and get dirty aren't seen as engaging in masculine activities--well great.
But there are a few incongruities here. If girls who are active and play sports don't want to be called boys, why do they allow themselves to be called men when they take the field? Defensemen. First baseman. History is a poor excuse--especially in this case. Are girls changing history by changing the definition of tomboy, but just going along with the hegemonic definitions of sport once they get into higher levels of sport?

Castrodale also raised an issue I have raised before and have some ambivalence over: the play like a girl slogans that allegedly foster empowerment. So do they? Or are they limiting? What should we stress? Differentiation? Sameness? What is equality today? I hope it's different from what it was 40 years ago, but I hope we retain the same passion and dedication toward achieving it that advocates of Title IX did at that time.