Tag Archives: Hannah Vendetta

Running into the Fragile Male Gaze

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Laurie and Debbie say:

The Women’s Cross-Country Team at Rowan University in New Jersey thought they were just working out, practicing, getting ready for competition. Instead, they found out that they were really serving as eye candy for the football team … eye candy so “distracting” that the coach of the football team asked the coach of the cross-country team to have the players “cover up.”

When this went to the Athletics Department, the verdict was that they had to cover up and move to a field where they wouldn’t bother the football players.

Fortunately, cross-country runner Gina Capone got mad, and did something about it. Lindsay Gibbs tells the story in Think Progress.

… after securing the permission of her former teammates — including sophomore Brianna De la Cruz and senior Hannah Vendetta — Capone penned a fiery article on The Odyssey, a self-publishing platform targeted at college students.

Capone did not mince words.

If you’re running in a sports bra, then you must be asking for it, right? Well, according to a football player at Rowan University, this is true.I’ll have you know the real reason women run in sports bras, and it’s not to show off our hard-earned abs. Women, whether they have a six-pack or not, run in sports bras because, quite frankly, it’s hot outside. We run in sports bras because our workouts are demanding, challenging, and vigorous.

Capone certainly hoped the article would draw attention to what she views as outright discrimination. But she never in her wildest dreams imagined quite how much attention.

In the wake of #metoo, the story was covered all over, from Sports Illustrated to the New York Times. Capone’s article has over 200,000 views. It also got the “ban” on sports bras for practice lifted, but the women are still kept out of sight of the football practice field, even though the university has a great option to move football practice.

Hannah Vendetta, a team-mate of Capone’s, has a very clear comment in Gibbs’ article:

“I don’t get what is attractive about me doing mile repeats on a track and pushing my body to the point where I want to throw up,” Vendetta told ThinkProgress. “If the fact that I’m working so hard is distracting them, then those athletes aren’t working hard enough.”  

Gibbs goes on to quote Capone and her team-mates about how women’s sports are short-changed. Of course, we agree. But we also think something more important is going on.

Just as the woman in the short skirt or low-cut blouse is “asking for it,” because no one would ever expect a man to contain himself when faced with something he wants, the women running their guts out for the cross-country team are being dealt with only in terms of their effect on men. The Athletics Department, and the university, don’t care if they are champions or perpetual left-behinds. The only way for a women’s track team to be noticed is when they have an effect on nearby men.

If the nearby men are the all-important football team, the contrast is even greater. We can’t have a football player distracted. We can’t possibly expect a football player to be responsible for his own focus. We couldn’t move the football team, because they might not like being moved. And we certainly couldn’t tell the football team’s coach to suck it up and  train his players to pay attention to their own practice. The university is expecting these men to have full permission to act on their impulses, and to treat women as objects. This is what the #metoo movement means by rape culture.

They thought they were runners; now they’re finding out that the University only sees them as objects of the male gaze. But what they’re also finding out, for the first time in contemporary history, is that the world cares about their story.  A substantial portion of the attention is from people who want them to be runners, not objects, and who will support their struggle.

Meanwhile, we’ll just imagine what would happen if the cheerleaders started saying that the football players’ physiques were too distracting, and they just couldn’t pay enough attention to cheering.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.