Women Athletes and the Erotic Gaze
With the 40th anniversary of the Title IX, and the recent announcement that for the first time in history American female athletes will outnumber their male teammates at the Olympics, it would be easy to claim victory in the fight against sexism within the world of sports. Dave Zirin, in a recent column about Title IX and Serena Williams, reflected on the importance of this legislation:
There is arguably no piece of progressive legislation that’s touched more people’s lives than Title IX, which allowed young women equal opportunity in education and sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, one in thirty-five high school girls played sports forty years ago; one in three do today. Before Title IX, fewer than 16,000 women participated in college sports; today that number exceeds 200,000. All stereotypes about women being too “emotional” to handle sports were answered when the gyms were unlocked, and they arrived in droves. It is a reform that has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of women around the country.
While certainly a landmark piece of legislation that literally and symbolically transformed sporting landscapes throughout the United States more so in the suburbs, Zirin also elucidates the persistence of sexism within sports culture, evident in inequity in pay, coaching disparities, differential treatment from the press, and the intransigent power of stereotypes. Recognizing an incomplete transformation and the need for persistent agitation as to fully realize justice and equality, Zirin depicts sports as a place where dreams remained deferred.
The reasons for Zirin’s muted or skeptical celebration have been on full display this evening with the treatment of Brittney Griner by “sports fans” on Twitter. Illustrating the ways that race, gender, and sexuality constrain and contain, the ways that racism, sexism, and homophobia exists as prism/prison of sporting consumption, and the ways that new media operates as a technology of surveillance and demonization, the treatment of Griner highlights the dreams yet fulfilled in Title IX. What should have been a celebration of her greatness and that of other female athletes is yet another moment of rampant sexism, homophobia and racism. Here are but a few of the tweets that echoed within the twitter world during the ESPYS:
· And the best male athlete goes to… Britney Griner
· Britney Griner should have won best male athlete…
· If Britney Griner‘s straight then I’m an Angels fan.
· Watchin the #espys……ummmmm Britney Griner sounds like a man……wow!!
· The Heat win “BestTeam” category really? They should sign Britney Griner then they’d really be a scary team
· Britney Griner is a man
· The ESPYs made me cry tonight. Not because of Eric LeGrand or Pat Summit. But because of Britney Griner. That woman frightens me endlessly.
· Britney griner screaming like a dude lol
· Britney Griner has to be a dude
· Britney Griner is a Dude her voice deeper than mine
· Britney griner looks and sounds like a dude #BestMaleAthlete
· I would rather have Britney Griner win best male athlete than Lebron. Because she’s WAY more of a man than he will ever be
· Cup check in britney griner please
· I wonder if Britney griner is packing more downstairs than the #bieledong@BeingBielema
· No one on this planet can tell me that Britney Griner is not a homosexual male. I won’t believe it. #ESPYS
· Britney Griner’s voice scares me
· Britney Griner…you just won best FEMALE college athlete, at least go to the ESPY’S dressed like a GIRL! Smh.
· Are we sure that Britney Griner is really a girl??
· If Britney Griner wins female athlete of the year at the Espys tonight I’m gonna throw a fit. She’s not even a female
Clearly, the 2012 ESPYS were another moment to mock and ridicule and to otherwise dehumanize Britney Griner. Demonizing her as “unattractive,” questioning her worthiness or the appropriateness of her receiving an award for “best female athlete,” and imaging her as a scary and disgusting Other, the Tweets are yet another reminder of how sports culture remains a space hostile to women, especially those who don’t fulfill male sexual fantasies. In an effort to fully contextualize these tweets, I thought I would repost piece I wrote for Slam earlier in the year.
Continue reading NewBlackMan in Exile: Brittney Griner, Women Athletes and the Erotic Gaze.