Sep 3 2009

Objectification in Sports – a Contemporary Redundancy

Just part of the job?

Just part of the job?

Or: missing the point.

Overt sexuality in womens’ athletics is big business, no doubt.  It’s hard to flip through a major sporting publication without being inaverdently drawn to these airbrushed forms of athletic idealism, perfectly proportioned like some chiseled sculpture by Phidias, the pervert Greek.  It goes without saying that the most prominent female athletes in our twisted contemporary culture are sexy.  Some of these athletes, like the Williams sisters or Maria Sharapova, cultivate their sexual appeal through sincere physicality; it must be noted that they exist at the highest tier of competitive play.  Below this rarified level of media image crossover, we see a seemingly endless field of hard-bodied women athletes converting their innate sexual energy into media exposure, in the pages of laddy magazines, in photoshoots for ESPN, in endorsement deals for whatever the Man is trying to sell us this week.  That these women possess immense sexual appeal to the consumers of mass media is without doubt.  The question we must ask is whether their agreement to perform in this hyper-sexualized role (like lionesses prowling the vast wasteland Serenghetti, pursued and photographed by desperate huntsmen looking for the one final glory) is the result of social pressure or a conscious decision to maximize opportunity.

If one were to confront these super-realized athletes in an abandoned restaurant and demand answers – if one were to call for justification as if it were holy writ – it is not hard to imagine their responses:

“It makes me feel empowered.”

“I’m comfortable with my sexuality.”

“If you got it, flaunt it!”

Swing a birdie on the 9 iron.

Swing a birdie on the 9 iron.

Any deranged soul who has had chance to flip through a haphazardly compiled porno mag in an ugly waystation bathroom will attest that these responses hew very near those given by pornographic actresses as to why they do ‘what they do.’  Indeed, it is the argumentative subtext that these athletes are a careless slip of the heel away from engaging in soft-core porn.  And in fact they are, but we as a culture are too chickenshit to admit it.

The first two waves of the feminist movement concerned themselves with gender equality, and they were mercilessly burnt out like a bra set to flame.  Some gains were made, but in the end evidence strongly suggests that the ‘gender equal’ utopia the feminists were fighting for was nothing more than a chimera.  The third, contemporary, wave of feminism (at least, the reasoning and adaptable wing of it) has abandoned gender equality in the face of physiological differences and innate gender qualifications, in pursuit of the more fashionable ‘gender opporunity.’

These sexified feminine athletes are effectively engaging in equal opportunity capitalism, and it takes a swinging righteousness to proclaim that these women should be denied the opportunities readily afforded men.  Sports is about dominance . . . it is about superiority, and the conquest of potential.  Men display this dominance in primal fits of aggro-madness, whether this be trash talking a worthy but fundamentally weaker opponent, barking like a dog and pissing on the field or simply stacking dollars far higher than any competitor could imagine, athletic achievment be damned.

This sort of masculinized stomping about is not easily accepted in the womens realm, for any number of socially conditioned reasons that are hardly worth hashing over.  Imagine Sheryl Swoops mugging at the cameras after a dagger J, flexing her biceps and barking at the confounded play-by-play commentators.  It would elicit disgust, horror, existential angst.  Kobe Bryant engaging in the same histrionics is given a pass: “he must really want it.”

eye of the tiger

eye of the tiger

Women athletes then exhibit the primeval sporting need to dominate through intensified sexuality.  This shows that they are fitter, more feminine, sexier and more capable than their would-be rivals.  Their proclamation is played out in the mass media, in the parallel ESPN Top-10, and it is self-centered to suggest they do not truly feel empowered by their globally recognized prowess.

It is also full-thrust myopia to think they are not selling their bodies.

In our idealization of the sporting ethic, we tell many lies.  Our shared mythology cannot stand without the purity of the competition, the soul of the ideal, the pursuit of the championship. Imagine a Macedonian admitting Alexander was defeated by an inscrutable knot of rope and let it be.  Imagine an avowed American patriot suggesting Lincoln was defined by his time, and a racist to boot.  Imagine a stiff-lipped Brit acknowledging Churchills grave and drunken mishandling of Hitlers initial aggression.  You cannot have it.  It will not do.  We would do just as well to cut off our right hands.  The worthiness of sporting is our birthright as a post-martial people.  It is also, unsurprisingly, deeply corrupt and illusory.

at the Top of the Game

At the Top of the Game

The allegation to be heard at this swiftly disregarded tribunal is that women are compelled to sell their bodies for media exposure, for fame and money, and for success.  This is a foolhardy way of looking at things.  These women are professional athletes.  It is their job, just as it is every athletes’ job, to sell their bodies – preferrably for millions of dollars and worldwide recognition.  This is the deal that is struck, and if someone doesn’t like it, they are free to go into a less demanding line of work, like sweeping mines or counselling distressed carnivores.  Our great and dominant nation has nothing but contempt for the athlete who has let themself go, who shows up to training camp out of shape and overweight.  We shower scorn and ridicule upon those who refuse to give it 110%, however mathematically problematic that may be.  We celebrate the champions and forget the losers.  An athlete’s body is little more than the transient temples in which we offer burnt sacrifices to the gods of Competition and Victory.

Sporting is deeply rooted in the humanistic urges for violence and sex.  It is the modern, ‘civilized’ distillation of that inescapable mortal call.  Consider an athlete at full tilt:  think Usain Bolt humiliating the stopwatch, or Roger Federer calling forth a lighting bolt serve, or Valentina Vezzali slashing quicksilver mercury (what, you don’t follow fencing? well, let’s not blame sexism for that).  An athlete honed to maniacal focus is a totem for sexual energy and violent response.  Our culture finds their bodies attractive because we find their bodies dangerous, impossible, desirable.  If we could trot the offensive unit of the Dallas Cowboys out to Thermapolye to be slaughtered by Persian invaders, we would, and the event would break all television records.  If the Gold medal Belarussian gold-medal team were to comfort the Romanian silver-medal runner-ups by sticking their tongues down their throats, the Youtube hits would calculate into the billions.  We want our athletes sexed up and on the brink of crucial injury, like psychopathic fillies running to their doom.  We want freaks and monsters and Goddesses.  We want our mythology live, at 60 frames a second, with the recap on SportsCenter.  It is the Circus Maximus, and none can deny the allure of our primal Colisseum.

Her technique is solid, but she could use some more cleavage Dan.

"Her technique is solid, but she could use some more cleavage. 8.7!"