Ways of seeing women’s athletic bodies, con’t

My post yesterday about female athletes and posing nude for magazines prompted Laura Taylor, one of my Twitter followers, to dust off a 12-year-old open letter she sent to USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, the now-defunct SI for Women magazine and Gary Miller, then of ESPN (!).

The essential point in this sharply written missive (and I mean that as a compliment) is this:

“When female athletes sell sex, it can be a step backward for all women in sports. But this is not a new phenomenon, and it is not the root of the problem. That lies in society’s perception that being a beautiful athletic woman is an oxymoron. That is not the athletes’ fault, nor should they be bound by such arcane limitations.”

Boldface emphasis mine. Thank you for saying so long ago what I couldn’t quite articulate the way I wanted in my book “Beyond Title IX” about this subject.

The perception, though, isn’t the larger society but with a small band of sports feminists who lack any of the nuance or sophistication to understand how some of these athletes see themselves.

The scolds are so convinced that expressions of traditional femininity and sexuality are incompatible with their desire to overhaul the male sports culture that they don’t have a proper response when some of the women they claim to represent have different ideas.

Taylor reports that Brennan and the others receiving her letter didn’t respond, which isn’t a surprise. Taylor concludes, again years ago better than I just have, that:

“Those who seek to protect these women from having to submit to these horrible prurient photo shoots instead place them squarely in the sexist box they so loudly decry.”

You would think, given the fanatacism fomented then and now on this topic, that the only acceptable pose for women athletes would be this one.

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