Country objects to sexualised images of itself, wins

I guess if you want to object to sexualised images, you’re better off as a country than as a woman:

Sports giant Adidas is suspending the sale of World Cup T-shirts after Brazil’s authorities complained they sexualised the country’s image.

One read “Looking to score?” next to a scantily-dressed woman; another printed a heart [which was] shaped like a bikini-clad bottom with the phrase “I love Brazil”.

Brazil says it has been trying to distance itself from the sexual stereotypes that marked the country for decades.

On Sochi-mania and the media’s appropriation of LGBTQ* rights

I am one of the people who has been delightedly sharing on Facebook various videos, adverts, and so on inspired by Sochi and by solidarity with Russia’s LGBTQ* population. In the case of corporations like Britains’s Channel 4 and Google that have, in one way or another, flown the rainbow flag since the Olympics began, I have no illusions. They’re corporations and their stance on Sochi is ultimately marketing. However, I’m enough of an incrementalist to think to myself, “Well, whatever their motives, it’s better for the big corporations to think it’s profitable to trumpet LGBTQ* solidarity than not.” And, in my more optimistic moments, I hope that the international outcry against Russia’s anti-LGBTQ* legislation might mark a positive sea-change.

A large bearded man, shirtless, wearing red shorts, bear ears and boots, is flanked by women in silver lame body suits and fur hats. Behind them is a large rainbow with many electric lights.
A frame from a pro-LGBTQ* ad Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast repeatedly the night of the Sochi opening ceremonies

Over at A Thousand Flowers, however, B. Smeaton is not so optimistic. Not sure if I agree with everything in this post, but it’s thoughtful and well worth the read.

Here’s a taste:

Turning off your TV during Sochi and climbing the gay mountain is unlikely to do much good for LGBTQ people at home or in Russia, at least in my mind. On the one hand it provides nothing more than a problematic distraction from a violent situation in one of the world’s largest countries, on the other it paints very dangerous images of what LGBTQ people are like and how they think. If we are to be serious about challenging the tired stereotypes and tropes, we don’t let straight marketing executives and editors tell us what is and isn’t ‘gay’, not in Russia, not in Rutherglen, and what the appropriate response is. That’s for The Gays® (remember them?) to decide – listen to them.

Women cricketers and a level playing field

Those readers who don’t habitually haunt the sports pages may have missed the news that Sarah Taylor, the very talented English wicketkeeper-batter, is involved in discussions that may result in her playing second XI county cricket for a men’s team in the coming summer (roughly: reserve-team at the highest level below international). She and other leading female players already play as a matter of course for men’s teams somewhat below this level.

The response among cricket followers and commentators has been by and large positive. Indeed, both the women’s game and individual women are generally treated (relatively) well by media and fans. And because of the nature of cricket, there’s no obvious reason why women with adequate opportunities, support and training couldn’t be successful at the highest level, at least in the longer forms (the shorter formats, especially T20, rely more on brute power).

However, this raises the question of whether integration is in fact desirable. Selma James seems to argue that, if the best players leave the women’s game to play for men’s teams, the women’s game will suffer. And implicit in this argument is the notion that, for one reason or another, there will never be full integration of the two.

I’ve been wondering about this sort of thing off and on for ages, and I really do not know what to think about it all. I think what I think is this. It seems that, in principle, sports that don’t rely (much) on physical strength, or in which skill can compensate for its lack, can and should be integrated at all levels. Sports that do might have to stay segregated, at least post-pubescence (assuming that we don’t just change the rules of sports such that strength isn’t a factor any more).

It also seems that, in practice, there would have to be a massive cultural change for women to get the opportunities necessary for integration at any level above the most amateur to occur. But I’d like to get straight on the principles before considering the practicals. And so far as principles go, I’m pretty muddled. Thoughts welcome.


Stop the Presses: Dude Person Wearing Pink Shoes (Get the Fainting Couches & Smelling Salts Ready!)

From Sociological Images:

News Outlet Startled by [Male] Professional Athlete Wearing Pink

Honestly, if you ask me it’s a little matchey-matchey.


Now on a more serious line, I thought this was a noteworthy point:


Now this isn’t a big deal, but it is a particularly striking example of the little ways in which rules around gender are enforced.  Federer took a risk by wearing even a little bit of pink; the Daily Mail goes to great lengths to point this out.  He also gets away with it, in the sense that the article doesn’t castigate or attempt to humiliate him for doing so. […] Research shows that men who otherwise embody high-status characteristics — which includes being light-skinned, ostensibly straight, attractive, athletic, and wealthy — can break gender rules with fewer consequences

Hurdling, sexism, and pretty virgins

In Olympic sports, you draw criticism if you don’t look girly enough. But you can also cause a stir if you’re, well, just a little too pretty. A recent article in the NY Times has been generating a lot of discussion recently after claiming that the media are fascinated with 100m hurdler Lolo Jones because she’s pretty (and famously claims to be a virgin), not because she’s particularly good at her sport:

Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.

Comparisons are drawn to tennis player Anna Kournikova – another female athlete with mediocre (at best) credentials but widespread fame derived mostly from her non-athletic. . .talents. Other, more successful women are ignored, it’s argued, because they don’t meet media standards of physical attractiveness.

Reactions to this article have been mixed, to say the least. (See, for example, the discussion thread over at Jezebel). Some praise the NY Times for calling out an entrenched area of sexism in coverage of female athletes. Surely we should cover the athletes who are the most successful, not the ones who are the prettiest! Others accuse the the Times of, ironically, falling victim to sexism in the article itself. Why assume the interest in Jones is only due to her looks? Why assume that if we care about a beautiful athlete, we only care about her because she’s beautiful? Yet others think the article misses the main source of the media frenzy over Jones – it isn’t her beauty, it’s her skin color. Track and field (especially the sprint events) is dominated by dark-skinned athletes. The US media is desperate to find a successful light-skinned athlete who will be “more relatable” to white folks. They’ve found her in Lolo Jones.

For those who don’t follow track and field: the final of the women’s 110m hurdles was last night, and Jones finished 4th (behind teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, as well as Australian Sally Pearson, who set a new Olympic record.)

[Speaking of gender and the Olympics: our friend John Protevi has another great post on the topic up at NewAPPS.]

UPDATE: Whatever your thoughts on the virtues and vices of the NY Times piece, I think we can all agree that this is a real bummer.

ANOTHER UPDATE: But, um, it also seems like Lolo Jones’ more successful, medal-winning, dark-skinned, non-virginal teammates are not that happy with how they’ve been ignored in her favor.

Sport, gender testing, race and the policing of femininity

One of the most problematic aspects of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) new gender testing policy was relegated to a single sentence in the Los Angeles Times’ article on this controversial issue.

According to the new IOC rules, the test won’t be administered to all female athletes and instead will be given only when “the chief medical officer of a national Olympic committee or a member of the IOC’s medical commission requests it.” While this may have been designed to make the process less onerous, it creates an entirely new problem that will disadvantage any woman who is perceived as not being sufficiently feminine.

The test itself will disqualify women from competing if they have testosterone levels in the range of 7 to 30 nanomoles per liter of blood, which is the range typically seen in males. However, the decision to test an athlete will be entirely subjective. There are no “objective” indicators of which women may have heightened levels of testosterone. Under the new policy, only women who raise a specter of doubt in the minds of members of the IOC will be asked to prove their gender. In practice, this means that whether a woman will have her eligibility called into account and be forced to undergo testing will be based on stereotypes about gender. If past history is any indication, this will have a devastating impact on gender-nonconforming women and will disproportionately affect women of color.

For more, go here. (Thanks, A!)

Zoe Smith, awesome weightlifter, puts it very well

One particularly harsh critic said she “looked like a bloke” and that most guys would agree. (Fortunately, the offender in question had the good sense to at least delete the tweets.)

So, Zoe took to her blog and wrote out one of the most empowering, You-Go-Girl smackdowns we’ve ever read. She says:

“…We don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even WANT them to find us attractive? If you do, thanks very much, we’re flattered. But if you don’t, why do you really need to voice this opinion in the first place, and what makes you think we actually give a toss that you, personally, do not find us attractive? What do you want us to do? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet in order to completely get rid of our ‘manly’ muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look more favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?! Cause you are clearly the kindest, most attractive type of man to grace the earth with your presence.

“Oh but wait, you aren’t. This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.”

For more, go here. (Thanks, N!)