In the shadow of the brouhaha around Chaz Bono’s participation in Dancing with the Stars this season, few have noticed the abject sexism and body policing of Hope Solo, the soccer star who is also a contestant on the show. From the judges’ criticism—that she “muscles” through the dances too much, should be more feminine, and exhibit more sex appeal—to the media response after her performances, the stream of negative commentary has left a former confident woman and accomplished goalie visibly shaken and doubting herself. If Chaz has been talked about in the pop culture arena as not “enough” of a man, then Hope has seen the pain of the other side of that coin, in acting too masculine. And a good chunk of my cynicism wants to see any of the DWTS judges defending a goal from the German Women’s National Team.
Of course, fearing gender role failure for female athletes is nothing new: the competitive track and field world practically grounded to a halt [sic] when Caster Semenya started winning too many races, as I wrote about over at I Fry Mine in Butter. Many women who have reached the pinnacles of their sport have fielded all manner of spurious accusations from being secret lesbians to injecting testosterone or needing to “lighten up” or wear more makeup. That the remedies for success at sports—which for male athletes does not mark them as dubious—is to ramp up one’s sex appeal is telling and rather appalling. Also, it doesn’t seem to lessen the criticism of female athletes as overly aggressive, or maybe that’s just a question we should ask Serena Williams.
Last week on Dancing with the Stars was interesting to me in part because we had just seen the departure of Carson Kressely, a fopish, out gay man best known for his time on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He also didn’t conform to gender roles. And who was in the bottom two this week but the remaining participants who don’t fulfill traditional ideas about gender expression? And in a dancing competition! If we can’t bend a little gendered expectation with ballroom dancing, I ask, where can we?
Also, late this week, the Amateur International Boxing Association came out to announce its excitement that for the first time ever, women’s boxing will be included as an Olympic sport. Brava! But before we get too excited at the idea of watching women’s beach volleyball and boxing in the same competition, the federation came out with a “trial” rule change for their members: skirts instead of shorts. Just let that soak in for a moment. They’re introducing skirts. Oh, and tight-fitting vests. Many national teams have already announced they will adopt the change. With a little more digging, the head of the AIBA explains its motivation:
I have heard many times, people say, ‘We can’t tell the difference between the men and the women,’ especially on TV, since they’re in the same uniforms and are wearing headgear.
So, because some people can’t distinguish between shirtless men boxing and women in bras boxing, the rest of the clothing the athletes wear should change? For the benefit of the ignorant. This decision winds up being more about reducing the autonomy of women and less about the dimensions of apparel. Title IX was supposed to shift the emphasis and increase women’s access to their beloved games, giving women the opportunities that men have received through various sport systems and clubs.
Of course Title IX can’t function this way. When has simply opening passage into a dysfunctional system magically changed the system?
Now we have something new to consider: is it more difficult to unpack the hurt an athlete feels when people say awful things about her body, personality, sex appeal, race, and orientation, or when the symbol of those biases is worn on her body for the entire duration of the game she plays?