Monday, January 28, 2008

The selling of Ivanovic--here we go again

La Gazzetta dello Sport has a new interview with Ana Ivanovic, and parts of it represent the deeply unfortunate marriage between the patriarchal view of young women athletes, and how those athletes buy into that view. The interviewer, Lorenzo Cazzaniga, cannot be blamed for the interview's title--"The New Lolita"--that was most likely created by a copy editor. However, the title was obviously inspired by Cazzaniga's opening line, " At first sight, Ana Ivanovic looks to be of the same ilk as those 'Made in Kournikova' Lolita types...." One way or the other, it is disgusting.

First, Ivanovic is not a girl; she is a young woman. More important, however, is the title's reference to a siren-like quality that makes grown men become fools and even criminals. This attribution of sexual "power" to women and girls (a man recently told me that "women have all the power," and he was shocked that I did not agree) in order to prevent females from having real power is the same trick that has been used for hundreds of years. And it still works.

For her part, Ivanovic posed for at least one Lolita-type (the interviewer's context, not mine--I actually know something about Lolita) photo for the story. And her very first interview answer is sure to set off some "cat fight" glee among readers:

Your future seems certain. You’re pretty, sought after by sponsors. People are talking about you as the new Sharapova…

It’s strange, Sharapova doesn’t say a word to anyone, whereas I talk, smile, laugh!

Perhaps Sharapova isn't talking so much because she is busy winning Grand Slam tournaments (to his credit, the editor implies such in his next question).

The interview on the Ivanovic site was done in English, translated into Italian, and then translated back into English, so a few nuances may have been lost, but we get the message: Ivanovic is the next big sex product of the Sony Ericsson WTA tour. She will make a ton of money, her photographs will become a kind of "acceptable" pornography, men will post on forums what they would like to do to her body, and little girls will be assured that--if they just stay away from French fries and wear the right skirts--they, too, can have this kind of "success."

A few years ago, someone asked Sharapova whether the tour was selling sex. "I don't care what they're selling," she answered. (I like to think she may have cared a few months later, when a Japanese company began selling a large pillow with a likeness of her breasts on it.) Now that girls are once again being told that it is their sex appeal that they must and should promote, sports organizations, managers and parents are complicit in the international marketing of young sportswomen with long legs, and with faces so unformed that anything one wishes can be projected onto them.

Ana Ivanovic is a talented tennis player, but that ultimately will not matter to anyone who does not closely follow women's professional tennis. She will instead go the way of Kournikova and Sharapova and become an icon of sex, and a most unfortunate teacher of little girls--and little boys. Sharapova, with her wit and intelligence, appears ready to transcend the world of cheap sex thrills, but there is always another "girl" waiting to take a big swig of the patriarchal Kool-Aid.


frankensue said...

Nice post. I've played tennis for almost 50 years and have been watching tennis on TV since Bud Collins did the announcing on public television. And I don't think it was nearly as sexist back then, even in the 70s and 80s, as it is now. Women's tennis has been extremely competitive and fun to watch for years -- often more so than the men's game. But I think it could easily lose popularity if sex and appearance continue to grow in importance. People who understand tennis, the core of its fan base, won't watch as much; they could become offended as well. And tennis is too complicated for nonplayers to become big fans; they won't stay through long matches. Sexiness alone won't do it. Here's hoping tennis comes to its senses and reins in some of these excesses.

ken said...

"Patriarchal Kool-Aid." Nice. Can I use that some time?

Diane said...

It's yours, ken.

Thanks, bfranky. In the 60s and 70s, the sexism took a somewhat different direction: There was a resentment that women would dare to ask for real money for playing professionally. The top male players went ballistic over BJK's attempts to get women a fair deal. Once that somewhat fair deal was established, women still had to face the fact that the sports establishment and the media did not really care about women's sports.

Nothing has changed. They still do not care, so once again, sex is being used to sell women's tennis.

frankensue said...

You're right. I was thinking more of the way women players (and women in general) are used. Billy Jean King is one of the heroes of the never-ending culture war in this country. Her influence reached way beyond tennis.

Anonymous said...

What can you expect from italians? Exactly what you've read!

Look at their daily lives!!