The third part of my new book “Beyond Title IX: The Cultural Laments of Women’s Sports” deals with what I refer to as the “representation obsessions” of so-called women’s sports advocates, and the portrayal of female athletes in the media.
When women athletes pose suggestively in magazines, with or without clothing, some of these ultra-feminist “sport media scholars” sound like your grouchy Aunt Betty. One such “expert,” espnW adviser Mary Jo Kane, is convinced that a 2010 Sports Illustrated Olympic preview cover photo of Lindsey Vonn etches out the shape of a male penis and somehow this is being done to objectify women athletes. I wrote:
“Now, I’m like a lot of Americans in that I don’t watch skiing except every four years at the Olympics. All I know about kinesiology is that it is the scientific study of human movement, a field in which Kane is a trained academic and a former department head.
“But as Vonn and other skiers flew down the Olympic courses of Whistler, all of them - female and male - were crouched just as she had been for Sports Illustrated with, to paraphrase Kane, their posteriors protruding and backsides arched. This was the gender-neutral, aerodynamically correct expression of the sport.
“This probably didn’t occur to Kane, who might as well have been Whistler’s Mother, feverishly imagining sexually incorrect poses whenever a female athlete is involved. Her reaction was not surprising, but hardly empirical.
“A male sportswriter friend said to me upon reading this excerpt: ‘Maybe my mind just isn’t dirty enough, but what does she see that I don’t?’
“When a strident academic feminist can detect the male sex organ in a photo of a female athlete, fully-attired in the regalia of her sport, and an average guy cannot, then it’s entirely fair to wonder what’s really on her brain.”
This is part of a larger argument that Kane and like-minded advocates make that women athletes are being duped into disrobing for men and to make themselves “heterosexy” for general public consumption.
When they’re not condemning grown-up female athletic champions like Brandi Chastain and Amy Acuff they’re blasting the media for portraying Candace Parker and Katarina Witt in traditionally feminine ways.
But this isn’t a gender thing, as male athletes like Mark Spitz, Shep Messing and David Beckham can attest. They’re in this part of the book, too.
In another chapter, I take issue with another “sport media scholar” who insists that media coverage of the feats of female athletes is worse than ever.
As I explain, women athletes in America are on television and enjoy more high-profile status now than at any previous time (magazine spreads aside), and that emerging forms of digital media will be a boon for coverage of their exploits.
On Tuesday I excerpted from the first part of the book, “The Paradox of Equality,” which delves into Title IX matters, and on Wednesday it was all about “Tales from the Pink Locker Room.” On Friday, I’ll introduce you to advocates who want to break down the lines of sex-segregated sports, all in the name of equality.
If you like what you’ve read here, or the sample that’s on Amazon, you can buy the whole book for $3.99. If you’re an Amazon Prime user, it’s yours for no cost. I’d be honored if you give it a read, and I’d love to know what you think.