You are wondering, why the hell does this goofy bastard read the paper when he is changing cat litter? A reasonable question. Availability, time, and venue! The litter boxes are set on newspaper--sometimes our cats seem to have poor aim, and often they get a bit exuberant in the covering techniques thus flinging the litter out of the box. Its not as tidy as the TV commercials would suggest. So there is a ready supply of Sunday papers that my wife insists we buy, but I never read (availability). Changing the litter, as you might imagine, is a job that I do not particularly care for, and I find it extremely easy to be distracted (time). The litter boxes are located next to the washer and dryer in the basement (venue). You are now thinking that I am completely out of my mind, but let me explain. I am changing the litter which I hate doing, I pull out a section of newspaper and on the front I see "Sex Sells Sex, Not Women's Sports." Oh cool, let's read this before we set it on the floor for the cats to crap on (you see its a last chance type of thing--I have to read it now...because I sure as hell am not going to read it next week). So I grab the paper and spread it out on top of the washer. The washer is an almost perfect stand for reading newspapers. It has a large, flat, top surface located at a convenient height for reading. I have got engrossed in articles causing my wife to call down the steps to make sure I am OK. It has actually become something of a joke, Tuesday afternoon I will tell my wife, "I am going to go read the paper."
So it was two days ago, while waiting for the foul smelling cloud of cat litter dust to disperse, that I found the article Sex Sells Sex, Not Women's Sports by Mary Jo Kane in the August 28, 2011 Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Forum Section. Well I have to read this. Fortunately for our purposes, I Googled the article and found it here:
Sex Sells Sex, Not Women's Sports, By Mary Jo Kane. The Nation, August 15 - 22, 2011
Read the article, it is not long, and come back. Dr. Kane argues that women's sports figures are depicted in the media in a highly sexualized fashion. She claims quite convincingly that the by emphasizing the beauty and the attractive qualities of the athletes the media is selling sex not interest in women's sports. Particularly telling is the series of photographs in the slide show in the article which if you missed it in the article, you can see here:
The Nation, Slide Show: 6 Ways the Media Represents Female Athletes
Last summer I read Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. One of the things that bothered me about the book was that it was very detailed in examples that tended to date the book to the late 90s and early 2000s. I wrote a post on that book here:
Navigating The Finite, July 21, 2011, Female Chauvinist Pigs Verses One Very Smart Cookie
Well this article confirms that the principles that Levy complained about are still going strong.
Shall we stop this post for a moment for a rant? DAMN IT BLOGGER! I start getting these messages that there is a problem saving my post. Oh no! I don't want lose my precious post this far in. In a state of panic I hit the publish button to not lose it. So please bear with me if you have visited during the composition of this masterpiece. Rant concluded, we now resume with our regularly scheduled post.
Dr. Kane has a very good point, why can't the media just present women athletes as athletes? Looking at and reading the captions of the slide show is very instructive. The second slide labeled Athletic Competence is how the author argues that women's sports should be depicted. It is a phenomenal on the field action shot of a goal about to be made in women's soccer. The action just wants to jump off the page. The remaining shots are showing women's sports figures in sexualized situations of varying degrees. (I do take exception to one, mentioned later.)
In photo 3, labeled Ambivalence, we have a basket ball star in a very swanky dress exiting (or perhaps entering--where ever your imagination takes you) the back seat of a car. She ain't dressed for basket ball, although she does hold one. Why the back seat? Is she not competent to drive this car, or would that change the nature of the photo. Perhaps I am reading too much into the photo. I think photographers are rather clever, the backseat is no accident.
Moving on to photo 4 we have a golfer, certainly dressed wholesomely...as she should be because she is the girl next door. Actually, I rather like this photo. She doesn't have stupid set of golf clubs, she has a lap top and books...she has brains! And I find that very attractive in women. Oh hell, I just sunk my boat...I found her attractive because she has brains. I am supposed to find her a golfer and be impressed with her golfing accomplishments. Strike one! Sextant is descending to sexist pig territory.
Shall we go to photo 5: The Hyper Heterosexual. Here I depart company from the author. What I see is a husband being there for his wife at the time of her victory. I don't see anything hyper heterosexual about it. I see a loving supporting spouse happily sharing something that is very important to the athlete. Switch roles, if the wife was about to kiss her husband after he won, would anyone think that it was blatantly sexist? I like marriage. I like the idea that rich and powerful people can have good marriages. I like that spouses are there supporting one another not in only in their moments of triumph but defeat. Sorry Dr. Kane I respectfully disagree on this photo. I am a feminist but not a radical feminist. I like women and men to be together in happy couples. Strike 2! One more strike Sextant and you are sexist pig.
Can Sextant carefully navigate the troubled shoals of male chauvinist pigdom? Read on.
Photo 6 America's best woman skier ever and she has her rather shapely keester at a problematic angle. Sexy Babe this category is labeled, and I would have to agree that this pose suggests far more than skiing. Arguments could made that the pose is somewhat accurate for a skiing. I have no idea. I have to agree with the author on this shot. They could have used an actual action shot or had the woman in a far less suggestive (of skiing or what ever comes to mind) pose. I do find the claims of the phallic mountain to be a bit far fetched, but if your looking to find fault with photo, sure what the hell its a phallus. America's best woman skier is about to have consensual relations with a mountain. Nah nah, I accept no strike on this one.
OK onto photo 7 Soft Porno. Takes me back to my stereo buying days! Well I think we can all agree that the magazine in question, Playboy, and the cover photo depicted is not interested in advancing women's football in Germany.
OK I managed to navigate all 6 photos (photo 1 I don't believe is worth discussing) with only two strikes. I very much find that I am sympathetic to Dr. Kane's arguments that the media does not accurately depict women's sports as a serious athletic endeavor. Sexism is live and well and the photos are good evidence of the points that Dr. Kane makes, but subtly she missed a point. Kane complains about the media, but where is the criticism of the athletes that allowed themselves to be manipulated by these photos...which was exactly one of Ms. Levy's points in Female Chauvinist Pigs. So I agree the media does not portray women athletes as sports figures, but rather have sexualized them into beautiful attractive women who just happen to play sports. I also feel that the sports figures themselves should be objecting.
That said, I find something troubling with this article. Certainly not in terms of the argument that sex sells sex and that these depictions cause people, especially men not to regard women's sports seriously. No I thoroughly agree with the author, this is not right and it is a travesty to women's athletics.
Objectively I don't care about sports. I don't follow any sport, could care less who wins or who loses. I don't much care for opera either. I don't follow it, and could care less who sings what and when a certain company is coming to town. But I don't find myself getting irritated by opera. Live and let live...it is of no concern of mine what so ever. I do find myself getting actually quite pissed off at the impact that sports has on this country.
I don't much care for the notion of gangs of men going out on a football field or other arenas and beating the hell out of each other. Some of the players in the NFL participate in 15 years of organized violence and lose their minds in their 50s due to all the impact traumas that they have endured. This whole ass patting, ball scratching, grunting, sweat soaked, displays of excessive macho charisma with fights and gestures just leaves me cold. Then we go and make damned heroes out of these people, pay them obscene wages, and turn our heads at any misbehavior as long as they can bring home the win. Heroes? More like gods. They are like knights in shining armor and we are the dung encrusted peasants looking up to them to save us from our paltry boring lives.
Bullshit! It pisses me off. I don't like it. So I come along to this article and I was struck by one statement that Kane made:
These findings are no trivial matter. Scholars have long argued that a major consequence of the media’s tendency to sexualize women’s athletic accomplishments is the reinforcement of their status as second-class citizens in one of the most powerful economic, social and political institutions on the planet. In doing so, media images that emphasize femininity/sexuality actually suppress interest in, not to mention respect for, women’s sports.I agree entirely with Kane's argument here. What pisses me off is the bolded part. It's just sports for God's sake, why is it one of the most powerful economic, social and political institutions on the planet, men's or women's? Opera is not a force on this planet and by God if it was up to me neither would sports. So that is one element of what troubles me about this article. Yes women are not getting their fair shake, but doesn't anyone think that sports in general has a little too much horsepower in our society?
OK. The other element that troubles me about this article is probably best illustrated by photo number two, the good photo, the photo labeled Athletic Competence. This is truly an amazing photo. As I noted above, the women look like they are going to fly out of photo, and these women are without a doubt athletically competent, every bit as much as men, and they should without a doubt be acknowledged and respected for their accomplishments. But what bothers me about the photo is the complete abandon for which they are pursuing the ball. They seem to have absolutely no regard for the well being of themselves or their teammates. The only thing that matters is that ball. There is an element of savagery here that I find disconcerting. I don't like it. It is bad enough that men behave like savages on a field of sport. But women? I hold them in much higher regard. Women are the sensible gender. They don't have a set of balls clanging around between their legs making them do stupid things. I am sorry but I just don't like to see them behaving like they do. Strike three! Sextant, you are out.
Mary Jo Kane, PhD, is the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
EDIT 7-15-2012: Leave it to ESPN to be more egalitarian in pushing sex in sports. We have here a collection of photos of your favorite sports figures, both male and female, in the buff. There is something here for everyone.
ESPN The Magazine, Bodies We Want 2012
The Nation, Slide Show: 6 Ways the Media Represents Female Athletes