Friday, March 20, 2009

The myth continues

This article in the Desert Sun, like so many other articles and commentaries, goes to great length to promote the myth that focusing on the perceived physical beauty of some tour players "promotes" women's tennis. The article even goes so far as to say that the obsession with Anna Kournikova's looks "elevated" women's tennis. What the obsession with Kournikova's looks elevated was her bank account, and the bank accounts of many publishers. To this day, when I talk with non-fans about women's tennis, they do not know the difference between Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, they have not bought tickets to matches because of Sports Illustrated swimsuit spreads, and they do not have an increased appreciation for how hard the women on the tour work. And while it is true that Kournikova's presence did inspire many young Russian girls to play tennis, we should remember that Kournikova's talent--despite her problems--probably had a lot to do with that inspiration.

Promoting female players' legs, breasts and long hair at the expense of promoting their athleticism is sexism, pure and simple. Of course, it is natural for people to find some players--men and women--more physically attractive than others. But promoting female athletes (and really, that would be certain types of Caucasian female athletes) as sex symbols promotes and sustains the treatment of women we have been trying so desparately to stop for so long. Promoting male athletes as sex symbols is not my cup of tea, but it does not harm the men because their athleticism and achievement are automatically noted and praised--that is a given. But that is not so with women, and therefore, once again, we trade talent and achievement for sex. Why people do not understand this basic tenet of feminism is a puzzlement to me.

Larry Scott and Steve Simon's calling the tour women "girls" is shameful sexism, but I doubt if anyone will call them on it.

Finally, you have to love Rosebud's comment about nude posing.


Anonymous said...

Maybe these women simply don't buy into the whole feminism thing. That's allowed, you know.

Diane said...

Perhaps some don't 'buy into' the whole "feminism thing." Although (based on my experience with other women) I'm sure many really do recognize the bigotry, but they feel powerless to do anything about it, so they go along with it. Internalized sexism is no different from internalized racism or internalized homophobia. But the "feminism thing" helps all girls and women, as well as men.

And it's absolutely "allowed" for women not to support social, political and economic equality, but what an odd choice.

Anonymous said...

Diane, I came across this article and thought about sharing with you. Sorry, it is not tennis related:-)

Diane said...

Good for them. I never thought I would see that happen in Europe. However, it is hardly necessary (and rather unfortunate) to replace "sportsman" with "athlete" or "statesman" with "political leader." What's wrong with "sportswoman" and "stateswoman"?

It's the same in the U.S. Even when people are sensitive about gender in language, they find a way to avoid using the dreaded "w" word. And so the culture never gets to hear woman-empowering phrases.

Thanks, Nina.