There is hardly a more garish example of hyper-gendered and sexualized display in sports than American Football. A game the whole family can enjoy. Not just the uber-masculinity of the game itself, but the uniform alone: it is the quintessence of machismo, a celebration of extreme he-ness, a veritable sartorial orgy of male sexual characteristics writ super, super large.
And, the cherry on the top, for good measure, an infinite variety of helmets with cosmetic grills that do nothing but emulate the head-gear of medieval armour. A men's American Football uniform, to a woman or a man attracted to other men, is the male version of, well, a female cheerleader's uniform to a healthy, red-blooded hetero-male gazer.
The male gaze (the degree to which men's perspective dominates visual culture and turns women into objects) is why we don't usually think about the football uniform as the peacock display that it is or think of players as unnecessarily overly-sexualized. But, hey, what can I say, that's how I've always looked at men in football uniforms. I'm just not male and I'm a soccer fan. Not only does no one consider the female gaze and its possible economic potential, but recent developments show the ridiculous degree to which the male gaze has been taken to here-to-fore unplumbed depths as women make deeper forays into the world of sports.
For example, take FIFA president Sepp Blatter, that beacon of progressive thinking suggesting as he did last Fall, "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. Female players are pretty." Blah. Blah. Pretty mild, run of the mill stuff.
And then, of course, the 2012 Olympic preparations are getting into full gear and the question is: mini-skirts or no mini-skirts for women boxers??? This month the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) is meeting to finally decide whether or not to make mini-skirts mandatory for female boxers during fights. Soon I'll be able to sleep again. This is, according to the kindly paternalistic dudes at the AIBA, for the women's own benefit, as it will enable them to "stand out" from the men. Mind you, these are women who fought long and hard to even be able to participate in the Olympics as boxers and who have explained that they don't even wear mini-skirts when they are NOT boxing.
Aahhh, the Male Gaze. It's so deeply entrenched in our culture that we don't consider some of it's greatest ironies and most ridiculous adaptations. (Just so you know, I am compelled just thinking about it to bat my eyelashes in a sultry fashion as I type.)
Usually, I would chalk the two examples above to so much puerile twaddle, too stupid to spend more words and time on, but alas, I can't help myself. Because now we have The Lingerie Football League and it's not fading away as I've been longing, naively, that it would.
If you haven't heard about it yet, let me introduce you to The Lingerie Football League: a "true fantasy" football league in which women play football in bras and panties. And padding. And athletic tape. Oh, and blackening face paint. Teams have phenomenal, sexy-girl names like "Fantasy" and "Bliss," "Charm" and "Passion." Their website quotes NBC Sports as saying that today the Lingerie League is "the fastest growing pro-sports league in the nation." Now, some people castigate women like me (you know, the whiney ones who want equality and think that the planet would be a better place if female people can be understood as multi-dimensional and fully human) for not having a sense of humour. But, I'm here to say "I do! I do have a sense of humour! Otherwise, how on earth could I be a feminist???" See:
See, the LFL is growing SO fast that it recently announced it's starting a feeder league to build a multi-generational pipeline of demi-cupped, tackle-football playing boy-toys. YES! Finally! An end to the gender discrimination of professional sports. Is your daughter athletic like mine are? Competitive? Fast? Strong? Here's a dream opportunity!
The announcement, which I initially thought was a parody, made in October, claimed:
"The LFL firmly believes that girls want to play football, too. Now, the league is taking measures to ensure many generations of young ladies have the opportunity."
I love this! There is more:
"The ceiling on women playing tackle football was formally shattered with the arrival of LFL football in 2009... Inherently, [WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?] the LFL firmly believes that girls want to play football too, now the league is taking measures to insure many generations of young ladies have the opportunity."
Kinda like Barcelona's La Masia for young, talented soccer playing boys. Uh, no.
What excites us at the League is seeing the caliber of athletes improve so vastly each season, now imagine in five years when we start fielding athletes that have trained their entire life for the opportunity to play LFL Football', said, Mitchell S. Mortaza, Founder & Chairman, Lingerie Football League, LLC.
When the LFL hooks up with Victoria's Secret our 87 percent male Congress might finally find a reason to dedicate just one national holiday to the accomplishments of women in this country. (Remember, you read it here first.)
My question is, at what age exactly, as they go through the youth program, do our daughters have to strip down to their tensile strength skivvies? Thirteen? Fifteen? Last year, the adult women in the league, setting the groundwork for girls interested in this sport, got naked for the press, but not until after several of them posed for Playboy.
Hey, this seems like a super fun way to normalize stripper porn aesthetics and male dominance for girls and boys to me. Thousands attend these games and franchising opportunities abound. Why didn't we think of this before?
And, if your daughter or even daughters (sisterly bonding over sports is always encouraged) want to learn how to play, there is a fantastic video of player's butts that she can use to train. And, in case you want to make sure your daughter is no shrinking violet and don't mind a little salacious, fist-flying, high-potential wardrobe malfunction, girl-on-girlness as a coaching tool... go for it!
Given the company's devotion to girls' development and the growth of women's professional sports I am sure they will castigate some of their biggest fans for spreading rife untruths about girls and athleticism, like this editorial photo caption from Coed Magazine:
Watching chicks play sports is pretty painful, unless they're wearing underwear and beating each other up. That's why we love the Lingerie Football League -- they know exactly what their audience wants. I know that sometimes watching girls throw an oblong ball can be a little difficult, but that's why we're focusing on what you really wanna see... the greatest butts in the league.
The players in this league are actually, really, phenomenal athletes. What are their choices? They have none: there aren't other opportunities for adult women interested in professional football that match this one. Apparently, the price of playing is to accept your own objectification and sexualization and claim it as your own. Girl power! I'm sure these women are having fun. They've just bought into raunch culture's appropriation and subversion of the language of female liberation and the definition of equality. We haven't taught these women, because we don't teach our children ANYTHING about gender and feminism. Instead we let mass culture with its promulgation of gender stereotypes in the service of profit, teach girls that for them being liberated, and sexually liberated, means having to imitate, or become, strippers and porn stars for someone else's viewing pleasure: the male gaze. Sure, some women do it because they genuinely get a kick out of it, no pun intended, but most I would hazard a guess, do it because they get paid to and their choices are limited. And, I know that people have free choice and don't have to take their kids to these games, sign them up to play, attend events, buy franchises. How many ways can we undermine our children? At some point societies actually do make decisions that change their cultures for long-term good. But first they have to be aware of what needs changing. We're still like fish contemplating water.
Here are some words of wisdom for girls to think of and for boys to consider from women our culture would rather sweep under the rug:
"You think you're being brave, you think you're being sexy, you think you're transcending feminism. But that's bullshit." -- Susan Brownmiller
"Women's liberation and empowerment are terms feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon women and demanding equality. We have perverted these words. The freedom to be sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only 'women's issue' worth paying attention to. And we are not even free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist." -- Ariel Levy
"Being oppressed means the absence of choices." -- bell hooks
Girls are as terrifically athletic as boys, they are playing more sports and are interested in tackle football. But, they can play it clothed, like boys do. If you never read Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs and The Rise of Raunch Culture, pick up or down load a copy. If you did, dust it off and read it to your kids.
Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly