Tag Archives: Feministe

Women Athletes: Choose Between Strong and Sexy

Laurie and Debbie say:

(Cross-posted to Feministe.)

Unusualmusic, blogging at The Angry Black Woman, has an excellent initial post on what we expect American women athletes to look like, and live like.

One of the great problems that women athletes face is the idea that women are heterosexual sex objects. And the beauty ideal for these sex objects is a thin shape, with a bit of a curvy shape, (but not too curvy, thats fat), and a distinct lack of muscles. So female athletes are by definition considered deviant. And the more strength and height that their sports require, the more un-feminine, and deviant they are considered.

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Meanwhile, the blogosphere has been buzzing with the story of Caster Semenya, South African middle-distance runner who has been forced to take a gender test because her status as a female has been questions. (The International Olympic Committee doesn’t do gender tests any more. But the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) still does.

Unusualmusic’s excellent post sheds a lot of light on the Semenya story.

Basically, there are two points being made “against” Semenya: first, doesn’t look female enough, and second, “her astoundingly quick performance” must be evidence of a lurking Y chromosome somewhere.

What they really mean is what unusualmusic is writing about: we like our women at least a little fragile, at least a little vulnerable. Being blue-eyed and blonde makes a big difference too. We encourage women to be fit and strong, but not too fit, or too strong. Go to the gym, preferably at least three times a week, but pick those workouts so they don’t give you “ugly muscles.” Take up that sport, but don’t get too good at it (we don’t like our women really competitive, either).

unusualmusic quotes from gltbq:

Perhaps the most deep-seated is the fear that women’s athletics might erode traditional femininity. The global sports world registered this concern at least three decades before the institution of sex testing and long before the Renee Richards case.

In the early 1930s, when Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, the greatest woman athlete of modern times, set world records in the woman’s 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw, reporters continually remarked on her masculine appearance, and the press focused on the Olympic medalist in a campaign to restore femininity to athletics.

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1932:  Mildred Babe Didrikson of the USA throws the javelin to win the gold medal during the Women's Track and Field javelin event at the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California.  Didrikson was one of the most versatile sportswomen in the world, winning fame at the 1932 Games where she took both the 80 meter hurdles and javelin titles, and finished second in the high jump.  Over a two year period, she continued to set world records in each event.  She was an All-American basketball player but her more lasting fame came when she took up golf and won the Women's Amateur title once and the US Open on three occasions, the third time in 1953 after fighting cancer from which she died in 1956.  (Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

The controversy finally ended when Didrikson married, started wearing dresses, and turned from competing in track, basketball, baseball, football, and boxing, to setting records in the more acceptably feminine world of golf.

Semenya’s situation is being treated like an isolated case, and a lot of attention is focused on how her fellow athletes react to her: “These kind of people should not run with us,” said Elisa Cusma, the Italian runner who finished 6th.

It’s easy to focus on the extreme cases and miss the trends. If you’re a successful woman in sports, and the press and the audience can accuse you of not being a woman, they will. But if they can’t find ground for that accusation, they’ll accuse you of not being womanly enough.

Women in day-to-day life face a lot of pressure to be the “right kind of women” (i.e., the ones men want). For celebrity women, the heat is turned up a lot … because, of course, celebrity women are the yardstick with which people measure the women they know, the yardstick by which the rules of sexiness, attractiveness, and appropriateness are determined.

unusualmusic’s article is loaded with links that underscore the point. A few women athletes fit into the “sexiness” box, but most of them don’t. Just as most of the rest of us don’t.

Aging is (Not) Unnatural

Laurie and Debbie say:

Cross-posted to Feministe. All photographs by Laurie Toby Edison.

Some photos below may not be okay for office viewing.

After our introductory post on Feministe last week, Daisy Deadhead asked if we wrote about age as a body image issue, since we hadn’t happened to mention it in that post. Great question!

Nahamura

We think age is a crucial body image issue, especially in this culture. On the one hand, we have the multi-million dollar “beauty” industry and ad agencies all striving to squeeze every dollar they can out of making us hate our bodies. On the other hand, we have the medical establishment frantically trying to make every human variation into a medical condition. Aging is just about the most fruitful area either of these groups can pick on. Contrary to all of this noise, aging is normal.

LANI

Used to be, “aging” started somewhere around the 40s. Now, especially for women, “aging” starts before you’re 30. Since the only definition of “hot” is 25-or-under (and often younger than that), you’re out of the race. (Some of us don’t think we need to run, but for millions of women, it’s terrifying.) Is anything sagging? Is your skin starting to change texture? Toning equipment and skin creams are there to solve your problems.

kaz

Not too much later, the doctors get into the act. “Perimenopause” has been completely medicalized, and is basically treated as a chronic condition. Once you’re past it and into menopause, then the complicated question of hormones has to be addressed. Some doctors are starting to recommend that men replace their (naturally decreasing) testosterone as an anti-aging supplement.

It’s not like the corporations take a vacation while the doctors get busy: natural changes in your aging body are subject to both commercial and medical attention. The Botox providers need money, as do the labiaplasty doctors who will make women’s pubes look young again. Cosmetics and plastic surgery for men are becoming more and more popular all the time. Executive face-lifts for both men and women are common. The exercise machine manufacturers and the gyms don’t just talk about health and fitness: they also talk, constantly, about youthfulness. (By the way, this keeps people out of gyms in droves. Many people would exercise more if they didn’t feel like failures because it never makes them look younger.)

RHYLORIE

Whether or not you follow all these rules, buy all these products, work at looking young, inevitably (unless you are seriously unlucky) you’re going to get to a point where you’re not looking young any more. Then what you’re really supposed to do is disappear (although active versions of people your age will show up on TV all the time, buying Depends, and energy products, and other commodities). A few years ago, we were at a BlogHer session, and one of the presenters asked people to name the identity you felt most uncomfortable revealing. Women were talking about everything from being Jewish to being queer, and everyone was nodding. Laurie raised her hand and said, “I always talk about my age, which is 62, even though it sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.” For the rest of the weekend, women kept coming up to her, thanking her, and telling her how brave she was. Announcing her age in public was clearly a much more transgressive act than talking about sexual orientation.

ray

Everyone who lives long enough ages. Everyone’s body changes as they age. While there’s a certain amount of general predictability to the course of aging, the specific changes are very variable from person to person. Some of them are difficult to cope with; others are not. Some people stay healthy and active into their 90s; others don’t. Youth does not have a monopoly on beauty.

Like so many other body image issues facing us today, it isn’t aging that’s the issue, it’s how we treat aging.