Revenge of The Bodies We Want: Even More Naked Athletes and Even More Unwanted Feminist Analysis

In this blog’s two-and-a-half year existence, one post has gotten more views than all my other posts combined. One post has brought me traffic every single day. One post has gotten me the most amazing search terms like “female athletes boobs?” and “nude basketball PuSsy” and  “suzann pettersen lesbian”. One post has gotten me quoted – and basically plagiarized – on feministing (thanks for quoting me, guys. Not so much for the “acting like we’d magically come to the same conclusion at the same time,” though). ONE POST has ranked above them all: The naked athletes post. Otherwise known as: “The Bodies We Want: Female Athletes in ESPN’s Body Issue” . I should write more about naked people, is the conclusion I draw from that post’s popularity.

Streaker American Ninja Warrior GIF

THIS BLOG, FROM NOW ON

ESPN’s Body Issue is ESPN Magazine’s “annual exploration and celebration of the athletic form” through the medium of lots and lots and lot of naked athletes. So many naked athletes. To quote ESPN.com editor in chief Chad Millman, the Body Issue “showcases an array of sports and body types. It inhabits our mission to pay tribute to these athletes’ bodies and all they are capable of.” Back in the day – lo, in those innocent years of 2012 – I reviewed the 2012 Body Issue, concluding that: “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful. And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful.” And my conclusions about the Body Issue’s gender problems are still occasionally linked to/quoted – mostly recently when NCWTV quoted me in a piece about ESPN’s *current* body issue – the 2014 version. But: those are conclusions I drew from the 2012 body issue. They’re specific to that magazine, to that year, to those athletes and those photos. Looking at NCWTV’s pull-quote, I wasn’t sure I felt the same way about the 2014 Body Issue. In a lot of ways, I felt like the 2014 edition had gotten *better*. I wasn’t unhappy about being quoted – links are always nice! But I did think my initial conclusions deserved some updating. After all, two whole years have gone by. Had ESPN’s Body Issue gotten better? Would I get to say the phrase “male gaze” at least a billion times? (probably) So I jumped once more into the realm of naked photos. Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

WRONG NAKED PICTURES, GODDAMN IT

. American ninja warrior streaker, american ninja warrior, streaker, american ninja streaker, johnny rocket

STILL WRONG

Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Streaker, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

Those are balls, Arrested Development, Barry Zuckercorn

Indeed.

All right, enough with the cracks. (… I couldn’t help myself)

Prince Fielder, ESPN Bodies We Want, Baseball, Prince Fielder Naked, Prince Fielder Nude

Okay, yes, HELLO MR. PRINCE FIELDER. Exhibit A for why I like 2014’s issue much more than 2012’s. Two years ago, I said I wanted to see fat athletes in ESPN’s Body Issue, and THEY HAVE DONE IT. (Not because of me, obviously. BUT STILL) This is a fat athlete we’re seeing, in all his naked glory. We see his muscles, his face, his stomach, his arms – his fat is not covered up, hidden, or minimized. Better still, Prince Fielder looks straight at the viewers: there is no shame in his face, no bashfulness, no apology. He’s not unhappy about the condition of his body, not abashed. He’s proud. Prince Fielder, Naked Prince Fielder, ESPN Body Issue, ESPN Body Issue 2014 Moreover, the shoot portrays him in motion, playing his sport. This is crucial – the Body Issue has an tendency to show athletes with non-normative bodies just standing there, used for shock value: Look How Brave We Are To Photograph A Naked Fat Man. Here, Fielder is portrayed as an athlete. We see his fat, athletic body moving. Fat and athletic are not opposed in these pictures; they are intwined. His body is both fat and functional. And they gave him a cover. He’s not buried in the back of the issue. ESPN’s Body Issue is also called “The Bodies We Want,” and it’s a beautiful and radical thing to put a fat man up as an example of a “Body We Want.” Y Predictably, some fatphobic assholes are grossed out by Prince Fielder’s photos, because fat people are terrifying. Predictably, I don’t care. As Melissa McEwan points out, “It’s not about finding [Fielder] beautiful; beautiful is beyond the point. No one need agree that he is beautiful to understand that he is a human being with a right to be free from judgment and hatred on the basis of his appearance. The conflation of those two—asking to be found beautiful and asking to be seen—is the shortest (and most mendacious) way that conversations about body acceptance get shut down.” To use McEwan’s wording, I’d add that no one needs to find Prince Fielder beautiful to understand that he’s a gifted, hard-working athlete at the top of his field. Conflating those two – asking to be found beautiful, and asking that one’s skills be acknowledged – is one of the more frustrating ways conversations about body acceptance get shut down. Fielder is a gifted athlete whether or not you think he’s attractive. Indeed, ESPN’s Body Issue is NOT about showing off conventionally attractive people – at least, that’s not it’s mission statement. It IS about showing off athletes’ bodies – to: “admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god.” And if that is the Body Issue’s mission, then Prince Fielder belongs in its pages as much as any other athlete. Because fat people are athletes, and do play sports at a high level – whether you’re personally okay with that or not. [Like McEwan, I’m not linking to any of the more disgusting things people have said about Fielder, but you can find them if you look] *** I do think it’s interesting that ESPN chose a fat man, rather than a fat woman, to be the first fat athlete in the Body Issue.  Indeed, while the Body Issue has always pushed the visual boundaries of our idea of athleticism, it’s always done so in a deeply gendered fashion. Looking back across the past several issues, ESPN has featured three groups of people who don’t fit our visual idea of “athlete”: visibly disabled athletes, fat athletes and old athletes. (While many of the athletes in the Body Issue may have invisible disabilities – chronic illnesses, mental health problems, injuries etc. – those disabilities remain invisible to the viewer because of the Body Issue’s visual emphasis)

Jeff Farrell, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Peter Hapak, Jeff Farrell naked, ESPN Body Issue 2010

Jeff Farrell, ESPN Body Issue 2010, photo credit: Peter Hapak

Gary Player, ESPN The Body Issue 2013, Gary Player The Body Issue, Gary Player Naked

Gary Player, ESPN The Body Issue 2013, Photo credit: Peter Hapak

Steven Holcomb, ESPN Body Issue 2010, ESPN Body Issue, Steven Holcomb nude,

Steven Holcomb, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Photo Credit Patrick Hoelck

Byambajav Ulambayar, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Byambajav Ulambayar nude

Byambajav Ulambayar, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Photo Credit: Christopher Griffith

Esther Vergeer, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Bodies We Want, Esther Vergeer Nude,

Esther Vergeer, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Photo Credit Finlay Mackay

Sarah Reinertsen, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Sarah Reinertsen nude

Sarah Reinertsen, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Photo Credit Sheryl Nields

Oksana Masters, ESPN Body Issue 2012, ESPN Body Issue Oksana Masters, Oksana Masters naked

Oksana Masters, ESPN Body Issue 2012, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

Amy Purdy, ESPN Body issue 2014, Amy Purdy Nude,

Amy Purdy, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

Do you see it? All of the old athletes and the fat athletes are men. All of the visibly disabled athletes are thin, conventionally attractive white women. Most of whom are blonde. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but in the pictures of disabled athletes, there’s a sense of… trying to reassure the audience, almost. Yes, the magazine seems to be saying, sometimes women lose limbs, sometimes they’re confined to wheelchairs, but they’re still *women*. They’re still beautiful, feminine, thin, fuckable. You would still be attracted to them if they wore a swimsuit. They’re disabled, but they’re not ugly  – that line women must not cross. It’s telling that except for their visible disabilities, they are the pinnacle of female attractiveness: white, thin, long-haired, conventionally attractive, usually in graceful, feminine poses, almost always smiling at the camera. They’re inviting, not defiant. Obviously, disabilities don’t *actually* make people more passive – but I think there’s a reason we as a society tend to react differently to disabled men v. disabled women. I think there’s a reason ESPN is much more comfortable portraying visibly disabled women than they are portraying visibly disabled men in the Body Issue (to the point where they have not done so at all) . Visible disabilities reinforce women’s passivity, while they destroy the image of male strength. A visibly disabled woman can still appeal to the male gaze, while a visibly disabled man disturbs that gaze. While the Body Issue won’t portray visibly disabled men, they will portray men who are old or fat. Fat and age aren’t inherently unattractive, but they’re coded as such in media. And the Body Issue does not shy away from portraying fat men, or old men.  en, in other words, can be shown as unattractive, at least according to societal standards. Their skin can be wrinkled; we can see their fat; we can see the sagging. Unattractive men aren’t disturbing – as long as they’re still able-bodied. In ESPN’s body issue, women can be disabled as long as they’re still attractive, and men can be unattractive as long as they’re visibly able-bodied. Women in the Body Issue can push the visual boundaries of “athleticism”, but they can’t be unattractive – they have to be thin and young, even if they’re disabled, or muscular, or otherwise break the “athletic woman” mold. Men in the Body issue can push the visual boundaries of athleticism, but they can’t be disabled – they must be able-bodied. The core of the athletic woman is still her attractiveness; the core of the athletic man, his strength.This is a theme that comes up in the Body Issue again and again, even when we’re not talking about disability, age and fat. *** The other way in which ESPN’s Body Issue tends to be gendered is in how the athletes are portrayed visually in terms of their movement. Waaaay back in 2012 (THE DARK AGES), I concluded that male athletes were far more likely to be portrayed in active, impressive poses, playing their sport, showing off their moves, while female athletes were mostly portrayed in passive poses that had little, if anything, to do with their athletic talents and abilities. To repeat myself: “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful. But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks.” Does this visual divide still hold true in 2014? Are men still portrayed as active and strong, while women stay coy and beautiful? LET’S FIND OUT WITH SOME STATISTICS! … I am way too excited about this. So, first, clarification of terms. An active pose is where the athlete is moving, and is doing something related to sport (note that I did not say “something related to THEIR sport” – we’ll come back to that part) Example of an active pose:

Angel McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, The Body issue, Angel McCoughtry Naked

Angel McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Art Streiber

A passive pose, on the other hand, is one where the athlete is not moving, and is not doing anything related to sport. Example of a passive pose:

Jamie Anderson, Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Jamie Anderson Naked

Jamie Anderson, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peggy Sirota

Now that we’re clear on terms, let’s look at the breakdown from 2012:

Individual Male Athletes in the Shoot: 11 Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 17

Photographs of Men: 19 Photographs of Women: 17

Photographs of Men in active poses: 15 (78%) Photographs of Men in passive poses: 4 (22%)

Photographs of Women in active poses: 9 (52%) Photographs of Women in passive poses: 8 (48%)

And now, let’s see if 2014 changed anything:

Number of Female Athletes: 10  Number of Male Athletes: 10 

Photographs of Women: 29 Photographs of Men: 28

# of Active Male Poses: 23 (82%)   # of Passive Male Poses: 5 (18%) 

# of Active Female Poses: 17 (59%)  # of Passive Female Poses: 12 (41%) 

IMPROVEMENT! Very obvious, if small improvement. 59% of the photographs of women in 2014 have them doing active, athletic poses, versus 52% in 2012. And although men are still portrayed as far more active, the gap between the number of active male poses and active female poses has lessened from a 28% difference to a 23% difference. Now, good news aside, there’s still a giant gap between the number of women portrayed as active athletes, and the number of men portrayed as active athletes. Almost all the photographs of men – eighty two percent – have them doing something impressive, active, athletic. Only 59% of the photographs of women have them doing the same thing. It’s more than half, yes, but barely. Men are still *far* more likely to be depicted as talented and powerful. Let’s take this a step further. How many athletes had at least *one* photograph in their shoot where they were in an active pose? And how many athletes had at least *one* photograph in their shoot where they were in a passive pose? 2012: 

Individual Male athletes: 11 Male athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 10 (90%) Male athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 1 (10%)

Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 3 (28%) Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 8 (72%)

Individual Female athletes: 17 Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 7 (46%) Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 8 (54%)

Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 15 (88%) Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (12%)

Versus 2014:

Individual Male Athletes: 10  Male Athletes with at least ONE active pose in their shoot: 10 (100%)  Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 5 (50%)  Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in their shoot: 5 (50%)  Male Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 0 (0%) 

Individual Female Athletes: 10  Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose: 8 (80%)  Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (30%)  Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose: 7 (70%)  Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 2 (20%) 

Here, I think the improvement is even more visible. While only 46% of female athletes had at least 1 active pose in 2012, a 80% of them have an active pose in 2014 – an almost 40% jump. A whopping 54% of female athletes were ALWAYS portrayed as passive in 2012, but that percentage drops to 20 in 2014. More and more women athletes are being portrayed as talented, powerful and strong at least ONCE in their photoshoot. Again, though, there’s still a big gap between the portrayal of men and women. ALL the male athletes had at least one active pose in their shoot. None of the men were always passive, and 50% of them were always active – while 70% of women had at least one passive pose. ESPN continues to feel far more comfortable portraying men as active athletes. It still feels the need to tone down, say, Hilary Knight’s amazing, dynamic hockey picture:

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014, Hillary Knight Naked

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

with a picture of her sitting and smiling, a soft expression on her face:

Hillary Knight, The Bodies We Want 2014, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Hillary Knight Naked

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

70% of the female athletes’ shoots have at least one of these passive, calm pictures. In fact, there seems to be a tradition in the magazine whereupon ESPN will portray a woman as incredibly powerful and gifted in her sport – and then follow it up with a very male-gaze focused picture. Women are strong, the magazine tells us – but don’t worry! They’re still attractive. They’re still traditionally feminine. We have preserved the core of their womanliness. Even when ESPN portrays a male athlete in both passive and active poses, the passive poses aren’t geared towards the male gaze – they’re geared towards showing off the male athlete’s strength. Looking at Nigel Sylvester’s shoot, for example:

Nigel Sylvester, Nigel Sylvester Naked, ESPN Body Issue 2014, The Bodies We Want

Nigel Sylvester, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

One pose is more passive than the other, but both are very much geared towards highlighting the strength and power of Sylvester’s body. It’s not like Nigel Sylvester’s passive pose involves him sitting down, smiling coyly at us while he touches his body (more’s the pity). If you contrast his pictures with say, Hillary Knight’s or Coco Ho’s: Coco Ho, Coco Ho Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014 Unlike with Sylvester, only *one* of the pictures is about highlighting the athletes’ talent, strength and ability. The other is very much geared towards showing off the women’s femininity and sexiness. Now, before we move on to other subjects, let’s take a look at the two women who are portrayed solely in passive poses: Jamie Anderson and Venus Williams. Notice anything interesting about them?

ESPN Body Issue, Serena Williams, Jaime Anderson

All the ESPN Body Issue 2014 covers

That’s ri-ight! They’re the two female cover models. And here, the contrast is pretty fucking obvious. All the men are doing something active, something related to their sport. They’re also all looking AWAY from the viewer, and towards whatever they’re doing – while Jamie Anderson is smiling at us, and Venus Williams is, if not looking towards us, at least looking far closer towards us than the men are. The male athletes are focused on their sport; the female athletes are focused on us. The fact that Venus Williams and Jamie Anderson are both disconnected from their sport, and are instead portrayed in a feminine, passive, male-gaze-oriented ways, is… telling (I really love the word “telling.” Is it obvious?). Because this is the way that the Body Issue advertises itself – through its cover. And when it comes to its cover, the Body Issue casts women and men into deeply gendered roles. The male athletes are talented, powerful, active. The female ones are passive, beautiful, alluring. It’s, again, reassuring to a male gaze: if you buy this magazine, you’ll see some tough, amazing male bodies, and some lovely, sexy female ones. Now, once you get *inside* the magazine, there’s a lot less passivity on the part of the female athletes. But you wouldn’t know that just looking at the covers, would you? ESPN may be making progress in terms of its gendered aesthetic, but it doesn’t advertise it. So yeah, women are getting a whole lot more active in The Bodies We Want. But they’re still not on par with the men – and, more importantly, ESPN is still very invested in “reassuring” the viewers that, while its female athletes are gifted, powerful sportswomen, they’re still feminine, feminized, submissive. *** Remember how earlier, I defined “active” as “where the athlete is moving, and doing something related to sport (note that I did not say “something related to THEIR sport)”  Yeah, there was a reason for that. As I was tallying up all the active female poses of 2014, I noticed something. A lot of the women were being active… but they weren’t actually playing their sport. At all. Quick, what sport does Amy Purdy play?

Amy Purdy, The Bodies We Want 2014, ESPN The Body Issue, Paola Kudacki, Amy Purdy Nude

Amy Purdy, The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

What about Lyn-Z Pastrana? What sport does she play? NO GOOGLE!

Travis Pastrana, Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Isue 2014, Lyn-Z Pastrana nude

Travis and Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

I mean, Megan Rapinoe at least gets a ball, but still:

Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Megan Rapinoe naked

Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

Amy Purdy, for the record, is a snowboarder. She also came in second on the latest edition of Dancing With The Stars. Whatever she’s doing in that picture, it’s neither dancing nor snowboarding.

Amy Purdy snowboarding

Lyn-Z Pastrana is a pro-skateboarder (the dude on the bike is Travis Pastrana, her husband, a RallyCross racer)

Lyn-Z Pastrana skateboarding.

Megan Rapinoe plays soccer.

Megan Rapinoe playing soccer

Now, I’m not morally opposed to showing athletes bodies’ doing something *other* than the sport they’re famous for. I just think it’s… interesting… when you look at the gender breakdown:

# of men shown playing their sport: 10 (100%)  # of men not shown playing their sport: 0 (0%)  # of women shown playing their sport: 6 (55%)  # of women not shown playing their sport: 5 (45%)

Men always get shown playing their sport. Always. They’re always portrayed as athletes first. They’re not just in the magazine to show off their bodies – they’re in the magazine to show off their SKILLS. But even though Megan Rapinoe, Lyn-Z Pastrana, Amy Purdy, Venus Williams and Jaime Anderson were presumably invited to appear in the issue on the basis of their talents in their chosen sports, none of them are allowed to show off that skill. Venus Williams gets to stare at a desert.

Venus Williams, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014, Venus Williams naked

Venus Williams, The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Williams and Hirakawa

Jaime Anderson is draped over a chairlift.

Jamie Anderson, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Jaime Anderson Naked, The Bodies We Want 2014, A FUCKING CHAIRLIFT

Jamie Anderson, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peggy Sirota

Lyn-Z Pastrana is on the back of her husband’s motorcycle. Travis Pastrana, Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Isue 2014, Lyn-Z Pastrana nude Amy Purdy gets to do various acrobatic things – which seem to be more about “look, she can do awesome things with her artificial legs” than about “look at the awesome things she can do in her SPORT.”

Amy Purdy, Amy Purdy Nude, Amy Purdy The Body Issue

Amy Purdy, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

And Megan Rapinoe is literally doing a pilates move. Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Megan Rapinoe naked

Just for context, here’s what the OTHER soccer player in the magazine is doing:

Omar Gonzales, Omar Gonzales Naked, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014

Omar Gonzales, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Finlay Mackay

There’s something disturbing about the way these shoots distance women from the sports they play. While we are asked to admire the men for their athletic skills, we are asked to admire the women’s bodies as athletic *objects* – not as active agents within the sport they play. We as viewers aren’t invited to admire their abilities, their talent, their command of the sport. We’re often just invited to admire them as bodies, full stop. Men’s athletic bodies are functional. Women’s athletic bodies are sexual. There’s much more power – not to mention personal agency – in a photoshoot that demands the viewer look at what she’s doing with her athletic body, rather than a photoshoot that asks you to look at her athletic body. Plus, it makes for a much more dynamic image. Which is more interesting – picture #1:

Marshawn Lynch, Marshawn Lynch naked

Marshawn Lynch, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

Or Picture #2:

Coco Ho, Coco Ho Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014

Coco Ho, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo by Morgan Maassen

We see this division in real life too. Women are invited to play sports so that they can look good, while men are invited to play sports so that they can be good at sports. Again: Men’s athletic bodies are functional. Women’s athletic bodies are sexual.  Now, I’m already guessing there are going to be a few complaints about this point. Mainly, people will say: “BUT IT’S HARDER TO SHOOT WOMEN PLAYING THEIR SPORT/ BEING ACTIVE BECAUSE BOOBS.” THINK OF THE CHILDREN. We have to hide the Lady Boobs. National priority here. To which I say: 1. If ESPN wants to be truly radical, it could take the revolutionary step of not treating women’s breasts as sex objects. Then we could just see breasts, and it would not be a problem. (Yeah, I know, not likely, but a girl can dream.) 2. If you can hide balls, you can hide breasts. Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Streaker, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

Serge Ibaka, Serge Ibaka nude, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Bodies We Want 2014

Serge Ibaka, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

I’m just saying, there has to be tape/photoshop involved in some of these shots of the men. #3. ESPN has shot female athletes in dynamic poses before. Yes, even in soccer. Yes, even in snowboarding. They can handle it. SNOWBOARDING

Elena Hight, Elena Hight nude, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013

Elena Hight, ESPN Bodies We Want 2013, Photo Credit Martin Schoeller

SOCCER

Sydney Leroux naked, Sydney Leroux, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013,

Sydney Leroux, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

Abby Wambach, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2012, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

Abby Wambach, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2012, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

MOTORCROSS

Tarah Gieger, Tarah Gieger Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, The Body Issue 2013

Tarah Gieger, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, Photo: Peter Hapak

ROLLER DERBY

Suzy Hotrod, The Bodies We Want 2011, Peter Hapak

Suzy Hotrod, The Bodies We Want 2011, Photo by Peter Hapak

 They are capable of taking an active picture of women with NO BOOBS flying around.  Okay, you say. Fair enough. BUT! There are two soccer players in this issue. Maybe they just wanted Omar Gonzales and Megan Rapinoe to have different *types* of shoots. That’s a perfectly reasonable point. But. Why is it always the chick who has to do the Pilates? Why isn’t Omar Gonzales doing the Pilates? Why isn’t Travis Pastrana holding onto his WIFE as she skateboards down a half – pipe? Why aren’t more random male athletes doing yoga poses, or draping themselves artfully around hula-hoops and curtains? Why aren’t more men lying in the snow, laughing? Why aren’t more of them lying on exercise equipment and smiling coyly at the viewers? Morgan Maassen, who photographed surfer Coco Ho for this issue, had this to say: “”The ESPN Body Issue exists to both celebrate top athlete’s bodies as well as show that they can be sexy too. Juggling that combination, we took to the water to shoot Coco doing what she does best.” That’s all I really want: for the female athletes to be shown doing what they do best. Not pilates. (Unless they’re a pilates champion) (In which case: PILATES AWAY) *** Another major difference between male athletes and female athletes in the Body Issue is the amount of smiling. Guess who smiles more? That’s right! It’s the ladies.

Of the ten male athletes, one is shown smiling (10%)  Of the ten female athletes, five are shown smiling (50%) 

When men are in passive poses, they’re far more likely to be giving proud, defiant, strong looks to the camera:

Jimmy Spithill, Jimmy Spithill nude, ESPN Body Issue 2014,

Jimmy Spithill, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo by Steven Lippman

And some women get the same edit:

Angle McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo by Art Streiber

But a lot of women, when in these passive poses, aren’t shown confronting the viewer . They’re shown smiling at us.

ESPN Body Issue, Peggy Sirota, Jamie Anderson Naked, Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Peggy Sirota

If you compare the photos of Jamie Anderson and Angel McCoughtry, it’s pretty clear that one of them is *much* more viewer-oriented. Jamie Anderson is leaning towards us, smiling at us, inviting us in. Angel McCoughtry is just looking at us. There’s nothing particularly inviting about her look, or her stance – she just is. She’s not being presented as an object for consumption. This goes back to the theme of “reassuring” readers. Female athletes are allowed in the “elite athletes” club – but only if we keep emphasizing how attractive and feminine they are. They can dunk basketballs and win olympic gold, but they’re still pretty. They can win fights, and they can still pose for the male gaze. Male athletes, on the other hand, can be as strong, confrontational and proud as they want without intimidating readers. Female athletes must be friendly. Male athletes must be fierce. All these things are true – but. But. There’s an added twist.

Female athletes (with Lyn-Z Pastrana): 11  Black female athletes: 3 (27%)  White female athletes: 8 (73%) 

Black female athletes who smile at some point in their shoot: 1 (33%)  White female athletes who smile at some point in their shoot: 6 (75%).  Aha. I don’t think I would have noticed this distinction before reading the work of Trudy at Gradient Lair on the portrayal of black athletes. In her post “7 Predictable Ways That The Media Portrays Black Olympic Athletes,” Trudy points out that black athletes are portrayed as innately physical “versus as ones who also work hard and use the mental acumen of focus and strategy to contribute to their performances and competitive spirit (…) the “natural” physicality (and objectification in relation musculature and size) of Blackness is central to any sports commentary. Rarely is Serena’s mental game that contributes to her success mentioned (as the obsession is ALWAYS about her physical power/size), yet it is always mentioned for White tennis players.” Black female athletes are, in particular: “de-sexualized, “masculine” and aggressive. John McEnroe made a disgusting comparison of Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh to Serena and Venus Williams, saying that the former “out classes” the latter (…) The hyper-feminization of the volleyball stars because of their Whiteness conforming to Eurocentric ideals of beauty juxtaposed to the consistently negative racialized sexist perceptions that are hoisted on to the Williams sisters is a part of a consistent theme in sports (…) The Williams’ aren’t the only ones to be portrayed this way. It’s common outside of the Olympics with Black women athletes.” (my italics) The phenomenon Trudy discusses reappears on the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue. While the white female athletes are consistently sexualized (Jamie Anderson), and shown as soft and passive, almost all the black female athletes are portrayed in the same way as their masculine counterparts – desexualized and aggressive. White female athletes are portrayed to appeal to the male gaze. Black female athletes are not. Here, the Body Issue firmly adheres to white, eurocentric beauty standards: white women CAN be portrayed as appealing towards the male gaze – black women, not so much. Context matters here. Without an analysis of misogynoir, it seems great that Aja Evans and Angel McCoughtry are portrayed as just as tough, active and aggressive as the male athletes in the shoot. But once you realize that black female athletes are *overwhelmingly* portrayed this way, while white female athletes get to be feminine, sexy, inviting… you realize there’s something gross going on. To quote Victoria Carthy in “Textual Portrayals of Female Athletes: Liberation or Nuanced Forms of Patriarchy?” : “black women are seen as more athletic than white women, so their femininity is discounted as irrelevant (…) they have never been fully included in the stringent ideals of femininity and heterosexuality to begin with.” (140). Black female athletes, in other words, just aren’t *good enough* for the white supremacist heteropatriarchy to find them attractive. So when we see athletes like Aja Evans and Angel McCouhtry being portrayed as aggressive and masculine (while white women are feminine and sexy), we shouldn’t just read that as them being treated like male athletes – we should also read it as black women being denied their femininity. As my boyfriend put it: white women may be stuck in the foyer of forced sexualization, but black women aren’t even allowed through the door. Thus, while two years ago, I might have viewed Venus Williams’ shoot in The Body Issue in a solely negative light – here,  we have a strong, talented female athlete who only gets to look pretty and smile at the viewers – my understanding of racialized misogyny forces me to re-examine my assumptions. Instead of being portrayed as “masculine,” “overwhelming,” “pummeling,” “aggressive,” or “predator” (common ways the media describes Venus Williams)  here Venus gets to be feminine – something that media usually does not allow her to be. Since she’s often denied that facet of her character, the fact that this photoshoot allows her to be feminine, sexy, vulnerable is… progressive. Black female athletes being portrayed as feminine has a very different context from white female athletes being portrayed as feminine. Oppression is complicated as fuck. It gets even more complicated when you look at the racial breakdown of the male athletes. While the female athletes in the Body Issue are overwhelmingly white, the male athletes are overwhelmingly black.

Male athletes: 11 (counting Travis Pastrana)  Black male athletes: 6 (55%)  Latino male athletes: 1 (10%)  White male athletes: 4 (36%) 

Which, again, reinforces the idea that black people are *inherently* athletic. So male athletes tend to be black hypermasculinized, aggressive and active, while female athletes tend to be white, passive feminine and feminized. Male athletes are a power fantasy – an extreme version of maleness – while female athletes tend to cater to the male gaze. Most of the female athletes are at the pinnacle of female attractiveness: young, thin, white, passive, feminine, smiling. Those women who *don’t* fit into that narrow box (i.e: black women) tend to be portrayed like their male counterparts. And again, I think this is very much about reassuring a male gaze.Most of the female athletes aren’t portrayed pushing the boundaries of femininity, but rather, reinforcing them. Sure, women will be athletes, but they’ll be the kind of athletes we can still be *attracted* to. You get to have your cake and eat it too – acknowledge women are athletes while still keeping most of them as objects of consumption (see what I did there with the cake metaphor? And objects of consumption? HAHAHAHAHAHA, I crack myself up). It’s interesting how ESPN’s Body Issue can push the visual boundaries of what we consider “athletic,” all while reinforcing a bunch of narratives about who is an athlete, and how they’re allowed to express their athleticism. *** One of the biggest criticisms of my previous post was: “but what if the female athletes WANT to be portrayed that way?” What if Jaime Anderson didn’t *want* to snowboard? What if Megan Rapinoe really wanted to show off her pilates prowess? What if Lyn-Z Pastrana wants to be on the back of her husband’s motorcycle instead of starring in her own shoot? First: maybe they do want to be portrayed this way. But if they do isn’t that also worth examining? If all these women want to be portrayed as particularly feminine/sexy/passive – while all the men want to be portrayed as active/strong/confrontational – there’s something going on there. Why do men feel more comfortable being active? Why do women feel more comfortable being passive? Do female athletes feel pressure to *prove* their femininity? Three of the female athletes in ESPN’s Body issue specifically mention their femininity – clearly, it’s something they think about a lot. Conversely, do male athletes feel pressured to prove their masculinity? Would male athletes like to lounge around on the sand and show off their softer side (I mean, no pressure, gentlemen, but I’d like that)? What kind of cultural pressures are women under to prove that they’re still sexy and feminine even when they do traditionally masculine things? What kind of cultural pressures are *men* under to prove that they’re never vulnerable? It’s entirely possible to examine those issues without saying “women are wrong for wanting to be feminine.” Moreover, the intent of the athlete doesn’t change the message of the shoot. Whether the athletes personally chose everything in their poses or not, viewers will still get the impression that a female athletic bodies are sexual, while male athletic ones are functional. Death of the author and all that jazz. But second… I really don’t buy that these shoots are the result of what the female athletes want. Because that’s just not how professional photoshoots work. The photographer, the set, the costumes, the props – these are all chosen without the athletes’ input.  If Megan Rapinoe had shown up at her shoot and said “whoa, I was hoping to shoot at a soccer field, just like Omar Gonzales,” would the photographers/lighting tech/makeup artists etc. pack up and go find her a new location? Probably not. These very basic decisions – set the shoot on location, or in a studio? Use a snowboard or use a hula hoop? – are probably made very early in the process, long before the athletes are actually consulted. It’s ESPN’s photoshoot and the athletes are their models. The ESPN editorial team will have very specific ideas about the kinds of locations, moods and themes they want. And that’s understandable. Shoots cost thousands of dollars; they want to make sure they’re going to get a good return on their investment. Once the athlete comes on set, most decisions are too far gone to change. Was Amy Purdy really going to walk into the studio where they’d set up a hula hoop and a weird curtain and say that she wanted a snowboard instead? She’s not paying for the shoot – ESPN is. Photographers, meanwhile, control the flow of the shoot. They’re the ones telling the athletes how to move, how to pose, where to look, when to smile. Yes, this can be a collaborative effort, with the photographer and athlete working together to get the shot – but the photographer is ultimately in charge of how the athlete will look. And even if the athlete does a lot of active poses, and the photographer takes an amazing series of photos, neither of them are the ones who CHOSE the photos that run in the magazine. The editorial board does that. They’re ultimately the ones who decide how an athlete will be portrayed. In Morgan Maassen’s interview, for example, he talks about wanting to take pictures of Coco Ho that show her doing what she does best “bending and contorting at surfing’s behest.” When you look at the magazine itself, however, only one of the pictures really shows Coco Ho surfing. Given Maassen’s remarks, I’m pretty sure this was an editorial decision. Maassen probably took a lot of pictures of Ho surfing, but the team putting together the magazine just didn’t choose a lot of pictures where Ho was particularly active.

Coco Ho, Coco Ho Nude, ESPN Body Issue 2014, The Bodies We Want 2014

Coco Ho, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Morgan Maassen

And no, for the record, I don’t think the magazine editors were cackling maniacally while going “AH YES, WE SHALL REDUCE THESE PUNY FEMALES TO MERE PASSIVITY MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WE ARE THE PATRIARCHY.” I bet they weren’t even thinking about it. That’s what’s so disturbing about institutional oppression. You’re not thinking about it. So yeah, maybe female athletes *want* to be portrayed in a particular way. But they’re not the ones who are in charge of those decisions. If anything, they’re the smallest cog in a very big production machine. *** Wrapping it all up. Looking back at my conclusions from 2012 “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful. But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks,” I’d say yeah, that’s still true in a lot of ways. But it’s more complicated than that. The Body Issue is getting better. It’s pushing the visual boundaries of what we consider “athletic,” who we consider “athletes,” and how we think these “athletes” should act. And all while pushing some boundaries, the Body Issue continues to leave others firmly in place. I’m looking forward to the day when athletes don’t to be “reassuring” to a male gaze to become part of the Body Issue.  We’re getting there. But we’re not there yet. *** To finish off, here are some amazing athletes who *don’t* fit our typical definition of athletic. Maybe ESPN will consider asking them  to appear in the Body Issue. (note: I am aware that a few of these athletes would be unlikely to say yes for religious reason)

Zahra Nemati, 2012 Paralympics

Zahra Nemati, 2012 Paralympics, Gold Medalist for Individual Recurve Archery. First Iranian woman to win an Olympic gold medal (either in the olympics or paralympics)

Peggy Oki, Skateboarding,

Peggy Oki, skateboarder. One of the original Z-Boys; inducted into skateboarding hall of fame in 2012. photo credit: Kevin Steele

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland, first black soloist at the American Ballet Theater in 20 years.

Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox, openly trans MMA fighter (featherweight) Photo Credit: CFA / Rolando de la Fuente

 

Sarah Robles

Sarah Robles, the “strongest woman in America.” 7th Place at the London Olympics

Treyvon Jenifer

Treyvon Jenifer, bronze medalist for USA basketball at 2012 paralympics,

Idalys Ortiz

Idalys Ortiz of Cuba, Gold Medalist in the 2012 Olympics for Judo (78kg)

Brenda Villa

Brenda Villa, the most decorated athlete in women’s water polo history

Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner, 2013 WBCA NCAA Division I Defensive Player of the Year, youngest athlete selected for women’s USA Olympic basketball team

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad, 62, first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Photo credit: Jeffery A. Salter

Amber Riley, Winner of Season 17 of Dancing with the Stars

Keri Miller, Silver Medalist in Sitting Volleyball, 2012 London Paralympics

Anyone else you’d add to the list? (Note: googling “fat athlete” will get you a WHOLE LOT of fatshaming. Learn from my mistakes, my ducks. Learn from my mistakes.)


Batman and the Case of the Missing Women

*MASSIVE SPOILER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I AM NOT EVEN JOKING, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, DON’T READ THIS POST*

So. Er. Did anyone notice that here really weren’t any women in The Dark Knight Rises?

Audrey Hepburn Shock gif

U Serious, Girl?

Everyone Else On the Internet: “… No?”

Yeah, I’ll admit this seems like an out-of-place critique. Compared with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was practically FLOODED with women.

We had not one, but two female characters! They both had big important roles! And both of them were defined by more than just Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest in them!  We finally – FINALLY – got Catwoman.

But I, the resident Feminist Batwoman, still have some complaints about the presence (or lack thereof) of women in the movie.

In the immortal words of Selina Kyle:

Selina Kyle Catwoman Deal With It

Okay, so, I will gladly admit that there are actual women in The Dark Knight Rises. I will even gladly admit that they are interesting, well-rounded characters. We have Miranda/Talia. We have Selina Kyle. We even have Selina’s friend Jen. And then we have, er…

Other women?

Hem.

A quick search of IMDB informs me that the other women included Maids #1-#3, a female security guard, and Ra’s Al Ghul’s wife, who never talks (and honestly, we never even see her face).

So… not so much in terms of “other women.”

Oh, but maybe The Dark Knight Rises just doesn’t have a lot of named characters! Maybe that’s why there aren’t that many named women!

er… no.

Least you ask, there are some fifteen-odd named male characters in The Dark Rises, including Bruce Wayne, Fox, Alfred Caine, Commissioner Gordon, Blake/Robin, Dr. Pavel, The Mayor, Strykker, Daggert, Ra’s Al Ghul and Foley.

Talia Al Gul GIF

“Equal Representation is a strong phrase to throw around The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce.”

It’s a product of how few women there are in action movies full stop that we look at two (or three) women in a superhero movie as a lot. Named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises are vastly outnumbered by named male characters. So while I’m pleased that we’re finally moving towards having more well-rounded, interesting female characters…

I’m not ready to start baking feminist cookies yet.

cookies baking gif

No cookies for you, The Dark Knight Rises.

Okay, so, not a lot of named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises. Sure.

But frankly, it wasn’t the lack of named female characters that struck me. It was the lack of unnamed female character. The lack of female extras.

The lack of women in the movie’s background.

The Dark Knight Rises is filled with people. The filmmakers must have hired thousands of extras to create all of their crowds; it is, after all, a film about a city.

And most of the crowds are divided into very specific groups: Groups of terrified civilians. Groups of Bane’s henchmen. Groups of cops. And groups of young children.

According to my very un-sophisticated analysis, the four “groups” that were the most important in terms of the plot were the henchmen, the cops, the prisoners (both in the Gotham and the Bane children) and the children. All four get big chances to shine, both as heroes and as sympathetic (or antipathetic) figures. There are, I will admit, a lot of shots of terrified crowds, but they’re more important in terms of atmosphere than in terms of thematic importance. The scene of the police advancing on the henchmen, or the children stuck on the bridge, is much thematically important, in my understanding of the movie, than the shot of all the bankers screaming as they exit the stock exchange.

Perhaps most importantly, the henchmen/prisoners, the children and the police serve as mirrors to the larger themes of the movie: sacrifice, service, loyalty and family. The children and the police are the two sides of Bruce Wayne – the innocent, wronged child, and the protective, warrior-adult. The police, moreover, are the lawful side of Batman’s quest – they too, work to protect hte civilian population.  The henchmen are the more brutish manifestations of Bane and Talia Al Gul. And the prisoners are in the middle – symbolic of Bane and Talia’s past, but also of Bruce’s challenges. They are the dark side of the population of Gotham, the angry hordes hidden inside prisons, just waiting to be released.

So. Four major groups of people. Huge thematic importance. Thousands of extras.

And you know what?

There aren’t a whole lot of women in those groups.

In fact, in most of those groups, there are no women at all.

Catwoman Selina Kyle Anne Hathaway GIF

Selina Kyle: “Not a whole lot of women ’round here…”

Try to think of a female policewoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Any. There were hundreds of police officers in that movie, both in and out of uniform. They’re everywhere.

And I will be highly impressed if you manage to find one woman in the mass of teaming cops.

I saw the movie twice; the second time I was specifically looking for these elusive background women. I think I managed to catch a glimpse of one female cop near the middle of the movie. I can’t be sure.

Sure, I think we could probably find one or two women cops, if we looked hard. But one or two women in a group of hundreds – or thousands – of policemen?

… that’s all kinds of ridiculous.

And I will bet you actual cash (not a lot of it – remember that I’m a poor college student) that you cannot find a single female henchman. Again, I looked pretty damn carefully, and I did not see any.

There are a LOT of henchmen in The Dark Knight Rises.

None of them are women.

Bane’s group of merry terrorists are solely and exclusively male.

Not surprisingly, there are also no female prisoners

(with the notable exceptions of Selina Kyle and Talia Al Gul, but crucially, but women are cited as EXCEPTIONS. Selina is in a men’s-only prison, as is Talia Al-Gul, and in fact, prisoners are so coded as male that no one guesses the escaped prisoner (Talia) might be female. Also, both Talia and Selina are named female characters – there are no random female prisoners walking around as extras).

So yeah. Women can’t be “normal” bad guys (henchmen/prisoners) and they can’t be “normal” good guys either (the police).

Now, I can hear the objections already.

Oh, well, that’s just ACCURACY, that is. Because there AREN’T a lot of female cops or bad guys in real life, so The Dark Knight Rises is just being ACCURATE. 

Veronica Mars GIF

OH REALLY?

I HAD NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.

(that was sarcastic, in case you couldn’t tell).

Okay, Point the First:

The Dark Knight Rises is about a man who dresses up like a bat and fights bad guys in the dark of the night. I’m not sure it’s going to win any prizes for accuracy. Also, that part where Bruce Wayne’s back is broken and all his cartilage has been destroyed, but he gets back to top physical form in less than, like, two months?

TOTALLY ACCURATE.

Point the second: There aren’t female terrorists or female cops in real life?

Selina Kyle Bitch Please GIF

What she said.

… no.

In the United States, most local police departments have at least 12% female officers. In big cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago (one of the places where the Batman series was filmed), nearly one fourth of cops are women. In Canada, TWENTY PERCENT of cops are women.

Female cops EXIST.

Rookie Blue Cop Celebration Women GIF

“HURRAH, I am not a construct of someone’s imagination!”

There is no good reason why, in a movie with dozens of shots of hundreds of police officers, we can’t spot more than one or two female officers. That would indicate a 1% female enrollment, which is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the actual rate, even if you take the lowest one one (12%).

Missy Peregrine Rookie Blue GIF

“Yo, you may not believe female cops exist, but this female cop can still *shoot* you.”

And henchmen? No female henchmen? Oh, right, there have never been any women involved in terrorist movements, or resistance movements, or populist uprisings.

… with the small exception of ALL the terrorist movements/ resistances/ populist uprisings.

There are women suicide bombers and female members of terrorist groups. Some populist resistance groups/ freedom fighters are mostly female. It’s ridiculous that I even need to do a  historical overview, because women freedom terrorists are so damn ubiquitous it would be like trying to prove the existence of MALE terrorists.

[Sidenote: I’m about to cite a whole host of groups that have been classified by the west as terrorist organizations. This does not mean that I personally believe they are terrorists; it’s just that the popular western imagination SEES them as terrorists, so they’re organizations that someone like, say, Nolan, would look to to craft Bane’s group]

Here are just a few examples of women in terrorism: Women have been central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (a group that pioneered female suicide squads), Chechen terrorism (the “black widows”), the liberation movement in Algeria (where women smuggled weapons, planted bombs and served as spies), the Shining Path in Peru, the Japanese Red Army (founded and led by a woman), the Weathermen of the United States and the Ku Klux Klan of the United States (okay, these guys are definitely terrorists, no qualifications needed. They’re also racist assholes).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of female involvement in terrorist groups.

Believing that a Bane-like revolt movement would not have any female participants involves such a willful ignorance of history and social realities, it’s somewhat mind-boggling.

The tales of your incompetence devil wears prada gif

Details of your historical incompetence…

Miranda Priestly Meryl Streep GIF

Of course, the place where the whole “but there aren’t that many women in those groups ANYWAYS” argument *really* falls apart is with the children.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are usually approximately the same number of male and female children, right? That’s a thing, right?

So why the hell are there no female children in The Dark Knight Rises? (I will get to the notable exception later; don’t kill me).

Uuurgh.

I mean, the filmmakers even make a POINT of coding children as male: they make sure to specify that Blake went to a home for young boys and when Blake tries to save the children, he returns to that same home for young boys. When the Wayne Mansion is converted into an orphanage, it’s pretty clear that it’ll be a boy’s orphanage (I didn’t spot any girls in the crowd of children running in, and I was looking pretty closely).

Where the fuck are all the female children, that’s what I want to know. Do they get fancy orphanages? Are there any organizations taking care of them? Does anyone bother trying to save the orphan girls during the nuclear explosion?

Why don’t they matter enough to be a part of the narrative?

Did some kind of plague kill all the girls?

OHMIGOD, HAVE THEY ALL BEEN KIDNAPPED?

BATMAN! GET ON IT.

Do women just pop out of the ground, fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s head?

Selina Kyle Princess Diaries Gif

How Ladies are Made: MAKEOVERS.

What aggravates me is that children – or, more precisely, boys – are SUPER important thematically. The orphan boys represent Bruce Wayne’s past; they also represent Gotham’s future protectors (since both Blake and Bruce were once orphaned boys). Moreover, they’re symbolic of what Batman has to protect, both with his fortune (by building orphanages) and with his life (by sacrificing himself so the boys don’t die).

[note that even in the previous movie, The Dark Knight, the child Batman saves at the end is a boy]

And women are completely excluded from that. They’re excluded from this narrative of loss, and eventual growth:

They don’t get to be protected. They don’t get to be the orphans who grow up to be heroes. They’re not part of Gotham’s future.

Because all the children in The Dark Knight Rises are boys, the Batman cycle is an exclusively MALE cycle: young boys with dark pasts grow up to protect other young boys.

It’s also quite disappointing to see this lack of girls in the movie because of Selina Kyle. In the comics, Selina Kyle was also an orphan. After her parents died, she was put in a juvenile detention center; she escaped and, in order to survive, she became a child prostitute. Later, she transformed into Catwoman in part to protect and feed (with her ill-gotten gains) her fellow child-prostitutes.

Thus, in the comics, Selina Kyle serves as another side of Bruce Wayne’s narrative of loss and protection. The movie, however, refuses to let her mirror Bruce in that way.

Selina Kyle proves that the Batman story – the story of loss and eventual heroism – is not an exclusively male narrative; instead, The Dark Knight Rises CHOSE to make it an exclusively male narrative.

Selina Kyle Steals Car GIF

“Personally, I cope with my history of loss by wearing driving fast cars and wearing fabulous masks. Who does that remind you of?”

***

Random People object: ARE YOU SAYING NOLAN IS EXCLUDING WOMEN BECAUSE HE HATES THEM AND HE’S A MISOGYNIST? YOUUUUU SUCK.”

Answer: Yes, I do suck, but for other reasons.

And to be fair: No, I do not think Nolan and his fellow filmmakers excluded women on purpose. I think it was almost entirely unconscious.

That’s what so damn depressing.

I will bet you a giant pile of jellybeans that when Nolan and Co. looked over their crowds of policemen, henchmen and children, none of them thought: “Huh, there aren’t a lot of women.”

And I will bet you another giant pile of jellybeans that most people who saw the movie weren’t thinking that either.

In fact, both the filmmakers and their audiences probably saw these giant, male-dominated crowds, and thought it was perfectly normal.

They also probably didn’t think “oh, look at all those men.”

They probably thought: “Oh, look at all those people.”

If you’re casting for a pretty gender-neutral group of extras – like, say, policemen or children (yes, I think policemen are gender neutral), you would assume that in a gender-neutral world, people would cast their crowds approximately 50-50. But in our world, you can cast an entire set of extras as men and not have anyone (except me) bat an eye

Because men are the default.

That’s why we don’t notice when we see all-male crowds, or all-male movies. Men are the default. Men are people. You grab women when you specifically want a woman (like for Catwoman), but you don’t cast women to just be people. People are men.

That’s why feminists – including me – did a happy dance when Barack Obama used a default female pronoun to describe the life of an average American child. Because we’re so used to thinking of these average workers, average children, average voters – as men.

Women are other.

If men weren’t the default, I guarantee you that I would not be the only person ranting about this gender inequality. I don’t think people didn’t notice it because they’re sexist, I think people didn’t notice it because we’re used to having men be the default. I don’t think Nolan cast his extras this way because he’s sexist, I think he cast the movie this way because he’s used to having a male default. Need a random bit character? Cast a man!

Hell, if men weren’t the default, there would be tons of female henchpeople serving Bane, and no one would say anything, because of course women are henchpeople, why wouldn’t they be?

Catwoman Batman GIF

Selina: “For the record, Bruce, I’m totally willing to take you on as a henchperson, even if you are a man.”

***

Here’s the really important part. The part I think everyone – mostly superheroes – need to understand.

If you assume a male default, you’re REALLY SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT.

Look, the only reason Miranda/Talia managed to pull off her whole “hiding in plain sight” routine is because everyone assumed the “child” that climbed out of the prison was a boy. The child had short hair, no one called her a “girl” – so Bruce assumed it was a boy, and thus assumed it was Bane. If he hadn’t assumed it was Bane, maybe he would have, you know, done research to check the evidence.

And the reason the cops let Selina Kyle go during the bar shoot-out scene is because they assumed that a frightened, screaming woman couldn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping. WHOOOPS.

Assumptions are a dangerous thing. Because we’re so used to seeing women in action movies as a single role – the love interest – most of the audience didn’t even consider that Miranda/Talia could be anything but that.

You assume a male default, you’re basically allowing women an automatic advantage of surprise.

batman catwoman gif PSYCHE

PSYCHE!

…And I really don’t think someone like Selina Kyle or Talia Al Ghul needs any more advantages. They’re pretty badass already.

Women can be bad guys. Women can be cops. Women can be children (no shit). Once we start moving away from these huge inequities and gendered assumptions, we won’t have to construct plots based on the major surprise of “OH MY GOD, THE CHILD WAS A GIRL.”

So yeah, I’m not giving The Dark Knight Rises a feminist cookie. Like I said, I appreciate that there are more named female characters. I’ll appreciate it even more when women aren’t treated like exceptions or like “surprise bad guys” or Othered in various ways. And I’ll appreciate it EVEN MORE when I can see a crowd of police ready to take on the bad guys… and half of both the bad guys and the police are women.

Thinks women are people cookie

I’m keeping this cookie for now.

There’s a point in The Dark Knight Rises where one of the Baddy McBadGuys (Daggert), flush with his evil victory, says “Hey, can we get some girls in here?”

You know what, Mr. Baddy McBadGuy? Much as I disagree with your morals, I very much agree with the sentiment. Can we get some girls in these movies?

… I don’t think it’s going to bring the quality of the action down.

Selina Kyle fighting GIF

***

GIANT POSTSCRIPT:

I should note that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. LOOOOVED it. I want to follow Selina Kyle around and give her buckets and buckets of roses and champagne and pearls. I want to give Alfred a big hug. Hell, I even want to give Talia a high-five for pulling one over Bruce Wayne. You are one BAMF, Talia. I salute you.

And I was SOBBING through the end.

snape crying harry potter gif

EVERYONE in the theater could probably hear me.

Stitch crying lilo and stitch gif

HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME, NOLAN?

I just have a lot of feelings about these characters

And for the next three days, I was just like:

I don't know what my feelings are doing

Kristen Bell sloth GIF

tina fey high fiving angels liz lemon

So… yeah.

I really loved The Dark Knight Rises.

Which I think speaks to the fact that art is COMPLEX, and people are COMPLEX, and we can have COMPLEX feelings, and be having joygasms over awesome things while also pointing out the ways in which they suck.

It is possible to like problematic things, everyone!

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

[BRUCE WAYNE x SELINA KYLE OTP]


A Bra Of One’s Own

A day late, but yes, this is the long-promised blog post where I talk about boobs. Watch my search ranking shoot up 1000%!

Yes, an entire 4000 word post on boobs!

Joan Christina Hendricks Mad Men Get Your Tits On

GET YOUR TITS ON, EVERYONE.

Let’s start with story time:

In the early days of my college years, I accompanied my Future Wife* on her first trip bra shopping. Or rather, her first trip shopping for an underwire bra: until the fateful bra-shopping day, Future wife had been a very happy sports-bra aficionado.
But now she wanted to try “traditional” brassieres. And I, the resident expert, stepped in to help.

[What is a resident expert, you ask? Well, on top of all my other wonderful qualifications, I have a PhD in lingerie. #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement]

Now, faithful reader, if you yourself do not wear bras, you may be wondering what the difference is between a sports bra and a more traditional – or “underwire” – bra.

Quick Demonstration:

1. Underwire Bra: has individual cups that are usually molded to fit the shape of the wearer’s breast. [I mean, that’s the theory. For 90% of bra-wearers, not so much]

fat heffalump plus size model bra

UNDERWIRE

2. Sports Bras: Sports bras restrict the movement of breasts, and are thus particularly useful for athletic activity (hence the name). They can be – and often are – worn in non-athletic contexts.

Venus and Serena Williams NY Times Magazine Deuce Sports Bra

Venus and Serena Williams, both wearing sports bra.

Bra-wearing folks sometimes prefer one type of bra to the other, and sometimes wear a combination of the two, depending on the occasion/ the clothes/ the physical activity/ what’s not in the laundry. It’s entirely a matter of personal taste.

Clear?

Clear!

Great. Let’s move back to the story.

Now, although I don’t have a PhD in lingerie (OKAY I LIED ABOUT THAT, SORRY), I had purchased underwire bras before. I therefore had a pretty decent idea of where Future Wife and I should shop. Since Future Wife and I were both poor college students, I steered her towards H&M, a magical store where you could buy an underwire bra for less than $20.

[Another random fact for non-bra-wearers: $20 is CHEAP for a bra. For comparison, bras at Victoria Secret, the most (in)famous lingerie store in the USA, usually cost at around $50.]

Future Wife liked H&M. But Future Wife also likes to try new things. Future Wife likes adventures. Future Wife likes to explore.

Future Wife wanted to go to the Victoria’s Secret store.

Victoria's Secret Store

Victoria’s Secret Store

Miranda Kerr, Victoria's Secret Commerical Boobs

Average Victoria’s Secret Commercial

Oh boy. OH BOY.

See, even though I was slightly more of an underwire bra expert than Future Wife, I had never been into a Victoria’s Secret store. In fact, I’d been avoiding it for most of my bra-possessing lifetime.

And I did not think putting a Modern-Day Hippie (Future Wife) and a Humorless Feminist (Me) in a Victoria’s Secret store was going to end well.

Victoria's secret Advertisement Miranda Kerr

Women as Christmas presents. Stay classy, Victoria’s Secret. Stay Classy.

But I was wrong. So, so, so wrong.

Putting a Humorless Feminist and a Modern-Day Hippie in Victoria’s Secret? HILARIOUS.

***

First: Future Wife discovers the Victoria’s Secret price tag

“This is eighty dollars! Why is it eighty dollars? It’s a piece of CLOTH.”

“To be fair, I’m sure there are at least four pieces of cloth involved in there.”

“I could sew a bra together for less than TEN dollars.”

“But would it have a pink-leopard-spot pattern? WOULD IT?”

“True. I’m not sure if I could live without the pink leopard spots.”

Victoria's Secret Pink Leopard Spotted Bra

PINK LEOPARD SPOTS. You’re welcome, Internet.

Second: Future Wife discovers the concept of a Push-Up bra

“What is this?”

“Oh, that’s padding. It’s a push-up bra.”

“… A push-up bra? Are you supposed to do push-ups in them?”

“No, you see, the inserted padding pushes your breasts up and makes them look bigger and bouncier.”

“Like balloons?”

“I mean, kind of – okay, yes. Like balloons.”

Victoria's Secret, Bra, Zebra Print Push-Up

At least a LITTLE like balloons.

“But what’s the point?”

“You’re asking me? What do I know?”

“Well, you’re the expert.”

“I mean – I think guys are supposed to like bigger boobs more? Maybe?”

“Yeah, well, I like being able to walk around without my breasts looking like balloons.”

“Me too.”

“The guys will just have to live with my non-balloon-y breasts.”

“A true tragedy, but I think they’ll live.”

“Where are the non-push-up bras?”

“They’ve got to be around here somewhere.”

*ten minutes of futile searching later*

“I told you we should have stuck with H&M.”

“Wait, this one doesn’t have padding.”

“That’s because it’s for triple D breasts. What about this one – OH MY GOD.”

“WHAT?”

“WHERE DO THE BOOBS GO?”

I had just discovered Victoria’s Secret’s Crowning Achievement: the double-padded bra. That’s right. DOUBLE. PADDED.

Inside of a 2 cup size bra

This image does not do justice to the ENORMITY of the padding. It was almost overflowing.

Maidenform Bra, Victoria's Secret, Giraffe Print d

The Add-two-cups Bra is now called the “Maidenform.” Also, what’s with the animal print, Victoria’s Secret?

“I don’t – I don’t understand. There’s so much padding, there’s no room for the breasts.”

“No, see, I think if you insert the nipple here and like, tape it down, it might be doable.”

“Yeah, cause I really want to tape down my nipple.”

“Fair point.

“What is this, one inch of padding?”

“Are you kidding? I think it’s two inches deep near the bottom.”

“Oh, I found the tag. Apparently it’s an “add-two-cup-sizes” bra.”

“Two cups? TWO CUPS? Why don’t you just stick two cups down your T-shirt? It would have the same effect.’

“Although much less comfortable.”

“True. This padding is very squishy. Wonder what’s in it.”

“Probably foam.”

” WAIT, WHAT DOES SHAVING CREAM HAVE TO DO WITH ANY OF THIS?”

I should note that as of the time I found the double-padded bra section of Victoria’s Secret, we were basically crying with laughter. You have to imagine this entire exchange interrupted with hysterical giggles. And an increasingly worried-looking staff hovering nearby.

Andrew Garfield laughing GIF

Like this, but with two people

“Some cups are made of foam. STYRO-foam.”

“WORST JOKE EVER.”

“GAH. Why would you even wear this? It practically makes your breasts levitate! It’s like putting them on a TRAY.”

“No, I think I’ve figured it out! There’s some kind of horrible boob-punching gang running around Wisconsin, and in order to protect our breasts from terrible damage, we need to wear extra padding!”

“That must be it! Why weren’t we informed?”

“Seriously. This is a major health risk.”

“We should ask the clerks if these bras protect effectively against boob-punching.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t. They’re looking at us like they want to call the asylum.”

“Fair point. Let’s get out of here.”

Add two cups victoria's secret

Sadly, we left the double-padded bra behind, and were thus without protection from the boob-punchers.

[I would like to belatedly apologize to the staff of that Victoria’s Secret Store. We were really losing control there. Sorry guys]

***

Here’s the end of the story. We calmed down. We had a coffee. We stifled our giggles. We went to H&M. We found reasonably-priced bras.

All of them were padded.

Now, the difference with Victoria’s Secret was that with the H&M bras, the padding was removable. So Future Wife and I just bought the bras we liked… and removed the padding.

silicone bra inserts

I have a mini-pile of these in my closet.

*sigh*

Why did I tell this story (other than the hilarity)?
It’s the best illustration of my continued frustrations with bra-shopping in the United States. For indeed, since the dawn of my bra-shopping days, I have searched for that holiest of holy grails: the affordable un-padded bra for the small-breasted woman. I have enlisted knights and pages and armies; I have scoured vast stretches of Malls and Specialty Stores; I have even taken to the internet, and still, the grail remains out of reach.

Unlike the Knights of old, I do not seek the Grail for glory alone. I need the grail. You see, I am a card-carrying member of the Association of Small-Breasted Women. I usually wear a cup-size A, although I can go as low as an AA, and as high as a B, depending on the store.

If you have no idea what any of those numbers mean: I wear the lowest or second-lowest bra size. I’ve played a couple male characters in theater, and when I do, all I have to do for my chest to virtually disappear is wear a sports bra.

Yep. I have small breasts.

OH NO!

Professor Chang Angry Community

VERY UPSET

OH THE PAIN! OH THE HORROR! OH THE SUFFER –

Okay, yeah, I can’t do this.

I realize that according to the beauty standard for women, I’m supposed to be upset about my bra size. Very upset.

[blah-blah, Horror of Not Being A “Real Woman” blah-blah, The Terrible Curse Of Men Not Being Attracted To You etc. etc.]

But you know what? Fuck that noise.

My breasts are fine. I happen to like them. They’re easy to deal with. I like the way they look – and honestly, I’m the one who has to live with them, so my opinion is the only one that really matters.

That’s not, by the way, to say that there’s anything wrong with having larger breasts (or any size breasts!). My acceptance of my size is not a put-down of other people’s breasts. Breasts are great! Big breasts are great! Small breasts are great! Medium breasts are great! Lopsided breasts are great! ALL BREASTS ARE GREAT. The configuration of adipose tissue on one’s chest has absolutely no relationship with a their worth or with their beauty.

Tyra Banks You Wanna Be On top ANTM GIF

Tyra Banks says: Don’t Judge People For Their Boobz

Unfortunately, there are few things I hate more than bra-shopping. Because, as previously mentioned, finding an unpadded bra in my size?

Holy-grail level of impossible.

I tried this summer. I wanted one bra. A single one. No padding. I went to five stores, including Target, Boston Store, H&M.

I didn’t find a single one.

Padded bras? Sure. SUPER-padded bras? Yep. Add-one-cup-size bras? Everywhere. Add-two-cup-size-bras? WALLS of them. Push-ups? Absolutely.

Hell, I even found bras with INFLATABLE padding (and I thought that was an urban legend).

But despite groping enough bras for the cops to put me in a harassment registry, the unpadded size A bra remained elusive. I couldn’t even find the push-up bras with removable inserts. And worst, I’d spent days bombarded with dozens of advertisements explaining how I could turn my “A” into a “C” or explaining how push-up bras would make me “sexy.”

Because obviously the only way to be sexy is to have a “conventional” breast size. Urgh. I say again: URRRGH.

I’ve derived a few conclusions from the lack of unpadded bras:

1. If you have small breasts, you can’t possibly want to LOOK like you have small breasts.

2. If you have small breasts, your bra needs to fix you.

3. A small breast size is an inconvenient problem to be fixed.

4. One cannot have small breasts and still be sexy.

Most of these stores claim that their lingerie will make women feel “sexy” and “empowered.”*

But I don’t feel empowered when I walk out of those stores. I don’t feel confident. At best, I feel mad. At worst I feel discouraged Or ashamed. Because the constant barrage of “push-ups” purporting to “fix” my chest is enough to make even the most confident girl feel like there’s something wrong with her.

{*Women are certainly not the only ones who wear lingerie – a fact that none of the stores I frequent seem to be aware of. But that’s a rant for a different day]

***

Here’s the thing: I’m not inherently opposed to push-up bras. I don’t personally like wearing them, but I don’t begrudge anyone who does. Some of my similarly-sized friends buy them because they find that push-ups provide more support, or are more comfortable. Some people like for their breasts to appear bigger/rounder/fuller. Some clothes fit better if you’re wearing a push-up. One friend explained that she likes wearing push-up bras when she’s on her period because her breasts are sore, and the padding helps mitigate the pain.

All of these things are valid preferences. I am not at all trying to set up a dichotomy between good “natural” bras and bad “push-up” bras (and if that sentiment comes across, TELL ME, because I will fix it). If you want to wear a push-up bra, you should be able to wear a push-up bra (and you should not have to feel ashamed of that choice).

But what I resent is the lack of choice. What I resent is that wearing a push-up has become an OBLIGATION. I can’t choose not to wear one, because they don’t bloody well exist.

[in point of fact, they DO exist, but I have to go to more expensive stores to find them. Yes, it’s more expensive to buy a bra without padding than a bra with padding. Excuse me, I need to pick my brain up off the floor]

Clearly, the stores I frequent think that if a woman has small breasts, she must want to wear padded bras. They’re only providing me one option because what other option could I possibly want? Un-padded?

HA! WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THAT?

Merida shoot arrow gif brave

Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me some princesses would rather shoot arrows than get married. HAHAHAHAHAHA

This impossibility of finding an unpadded bra for small sizes is part and parcel of the our beauty standard – the same beauty standard that tells women there’s only one way to be beautiful. You must be thin and small-waisted and big-breasted, you must be white, or, if you can’t be white, you must be “exotic.” You must be tall, but not too tall, because if you’re too tall, you will emasculate men. You must be fit, but not muscled, because then you are too manly. Your hair must have volume and not too much curl. You need to pluck your hair here and shave it there, and there are no lines allowed on your face, because you don’t want to look old, do you?

Tyra Banks Angry Gif

Impossible Beauty Standard Make Tyra Banks Hulk ANGRY

And if your body does not conform, in some way, to this  impossible beauty standard, then you have an obligation to change it. You must wear spanx, shave your legs, wear black (because black is slimming. You must spend hours straightening (or curling) your hair. You must spend years on diets that may well ruin your health. You must spend hundreds of dollars on anti-aging products, and on bras that mold your breasts into the “perfect” size.

Whatever you do, don’t forget: You cannot sag. You cannot have lumps or bumps. You cannot have visible veins or scars. You cannot look like a fucking human being. You need to look PERFECT.

Healthy is the new skinny, Barbie as a real woman, Katie Halchishick

Kate Halchishick. What Barbie proportions look like on a real woman.

Listen, I love fashion. And I am no innocent when it comes to conforming to the beauty standard. I used to diet – I’ve even walked to the edge of an eating disorder. I shave my legs. I wear makeup. I use anti-aging products. I care way too much about which clothes make me look “skinny.”

I don’t think adhering to aspects of the beauty standard makes you a bad person or a bad feminist. But adhering to the beauty standard should be a CHOICE, not an obligation.

That’s the key. Clothes are not currently designed to fit the person who buys them. They are designed to make that woman fit into the beauty standard.

Underwire bras are supposed to be MOLDED to the shape of one’s breast. Instead, they now mold breasts into fitting an arbitrary standard of beauty and sexiness.

And if all clothes are designed to make women fit an arbitrary beauty standard, then there’s no choice at all.

Which is a problem, because one of the best ways to get rid of this ridiculous “objective” beauty standard is through the natural human diversity of appearances. But of course, if all clothes make you fit the beauty standard, then there will be no natural diversity of appearances, because everyone (AND ALL BOOBS) will look the same.

On one of my favorite shows, What Not to Wear(which has TONS of problems, but does a good job with body acceptance), the hosts have a great mantra: “If clothing doesn’t fit you, the problem is with the clothing, not with your body.”

(that was a total paraphrase, so don’t quote me)

Therefore, I say unto the bras of North America: y’all got problems.

What Not To Wear Stacy Clinton

Stacy and Clinton Disapprove of the Bras, Not of the People Wearing Them

***

Moreover, let us assume, for one second, that women are ONLY beautiful if they have larger breasts. It is a highly stupid assumption, but let us assume it, if only for the sake of argument.

So: women are only beautiful when they are large-breasted. Women are only attractive and sexy when they are large-breasted. Padded bras allow Unfortunate Small Breasted People like me to experience the joys of sexiness! Hurrah for padded bras!

But here’s the thing:

Being sexy is NOT the only reason I wear a bra.

I know.

Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson Mind Blown

*EXPLOSION*

Shocking, but true: A bra is not JUST an Instrument of Sexiness.

[On another note, I now want to create a line of musical instruments called “Instruments of Sexiness.” There will be a lot of violas. Violas are very sexy]

The primary reason I buy – and wear – bras is not so that I look sexy/beautiful/attractive/whatever. And according to my bra-wearing friends, sexiness is not the primary reason they wear bras EITHER.

I wear a bra so that my chest stays still while I’m running around on campus. I wear a bra so my clothes fit semi-correctly. I wear a bra to provide a minimum of support for my breasts. I wear a bra to provide a second level of protection against accidentally flashing people.

A lot of my friends wear bras so that they can play sports. Some of them wear bras to help with back pain. Some wear bras to help with soreness.

There are tons of other reasons that people wear bras that are not directly related to enhancing their personal attractiveness.

Hell, on our epic Underwire Bra Shopping Expedition, my Future Wife almost didn’t buy her first underwire bra, because she thought it looked *sexy* and she didn’t WANT her bras to look sexy.

So yeah, people wear bras for other reasons than sexiness.

Again: Le shock.

The idea that women need – and want – to be sexy and attractive every second of every minute of every goddamn day needs to die in a fire.

I don’t need to be sexy every minute of every day. 90% of my bra-wearing time is spent in front of my computer, or in class, or cleaning my kitchen. Even assuming that people are only seduced by large breasts and that I, of course, want to seduce these people…

I’m not trying to seduce my fucking mop.

[Hell, I don’t need to seduce it. I bought the damn thing, it’s going to do it’s job or I’ll buy a NEW ONE.]

Ditto for my laptop: trust me, my computer  could care less if my breasts are twice as full as they are when un-bra-ed.

And same for most of my friends! My friends are lovely people. I think most of them can live with the heartbreak of seeing me wearing an unpadded bra (I mean, the bra is under my clothes, so it’s not like they’ve seen the bra full-stop. But you know what I mean).

Someday, the bra industry will realize that people wear bras for reasons other than sexiness, and it will be possible to buy a bra that is not sexy-fied to the maximum.

That will be a glorious day.

If only because I don’t want to send my mop the wrong messages.

[I mean, darling, you’re a wonderful mop. Don’t get me wrong. But I just don’t feel that way about you]

***

I want to be super-clear that I’m not harping on individual bra-wearers who choose to wear push-up bras. Heck, I own a push-up bra. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be able to feel sexy while mopping, if that’s what they like. I like getting dressed up – in fact, I’m more likely to dress up if I’m staying home than if I’m going out (but I’m bizarre that way).

[Actually, ALL of my bras are push-ups (with one exception). I just removed the padding from three of them. The fourth has padding that cannot be removed by my skill]

What bothers me is the expectation that ALL bra-wearers wear bras to:

a) look sexy

and

b) enlarge their breasts (particularly we of the small-breasted variety)

And these two assumptions, which seem to govern the way bras are built and marketed, are NOT TRUE. Someone tell the fashion houses.

The problem with these two assumptions, moreover, is that it makes it nearly impossible for anyone – small-breasted, large-breasted, whatever – to get bras that actually WORK for them. Often bras are made to be sexy at the expense of other things, like comfort, fit, structure etc.

In spite of my complaints, I am extraordinarily privileged in terms of bras. I wear straight sizes, which means I can find bras that fit me (even if they are padded) at most stores. I can also find cheap bras in my size. Moreover, as a relatively small-breasted person, I can wear the vast majority of clothes- since most fashion is designed with a size D-or-under in mind.

If you do not fit these (very narrow) parameters – if you are not straight-sized, A-D-cup-sized; if your breasts are not symmetrical –  there are far more pitfalls in the world of bra shopping. Bras cost more, are harder to find, and often do not do their jobs (support). Others have written far more eloquently than I on this subject (I particularly like this post from Shapely Prose), but yeah: my problems are pretty small in comparison.

Bras are supposed to be items that help us. Support us. Fit our bodies. Now they’re just items that try to fit our bodies into the dominant paradigm.

Fuck One-Size-Fits-All-Beauty Standard, man. One size does NOT fit all, and Clothes are supposed to fit US.

I dream of a day when push-up bras of every size are next to un-padded bras of every size. When every bra-wearer can find affordable, comfortable garments that support their chest (or, in my case, lack thereof) properly. When every bra-wearer can decide for themselves what kind of bra makes them feel sexy, or healthy, or comfortable without issues of price or access. When people can own many types of bras – push-ups and unpadded bras and lace bras and leopard print and sport and extra-support.

Perhaps it’s not a big dream. But sometimes it seems like an impossible one.

Vonnie Seiyuki Chan beauty in all shapes and sizes

Image created by Vonnie Seiyuki Chan. I’m like, a third from the left.

I have been on this quest for my personal holy grail (a Bra of My Own).  And I do not think it will end soon.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there really IS a notorious boob-punching gang roaming around North America. Maybe that’s why we all need padding. THE BOOB PUNCHERS ARE COMING FOR ALL OF US!

Anyone here has bra-related quests/dreams of their own? We could team up and have a giant holy-grail team! Or we could have a giant anti-boob-punching-gang team. WE WILL DEFEAT THE BOOB-PUNCHERS!

Tyra Banks boobs gif

We can protect our breasts using the patented Tyra Banks method!

***

Notes:

* Future Wife and I are not yet married. We’re planning a fall wedding sometime in the next forty years or so. We’re not in a rush. We’d like a very long engagement. You are, of course, ALL INVITED.

** Interestingly, since I’ve returned to school in Canada, my friends have informed me of a couple places where I could probably find these holy-grail bras. They’re more expensive, admittedly, but they EXIST somewhere. My friends in the USA, on the other hand, were all “Yeah, you’re kind of screwed.”

*** Fun story about the usefulness (or not) of padded bras. The last costume I wore in a show was a dress with room for a very generous bosom. When I tried it on, there was a lot of… empty space, as it were. My director looked at me critically “What?” she said, waving her hands in front of my chest. “Are we going to do about this?”
Then she asked, looking guilty: “Have you considered… push-up bras?”
Me: “This is a push-up bra.”
Still the best moment of my theater career to date.
(I ended up taking all the padding I’d taken out of my OTHER push-up bras and stuffing them into my push-up. Not very comfortable, but it worked)
Oh, and hey, if you’re still not sure whether you should read this blog, feel free to read my new page: Objections/Praise for This Blog


Artistry and Misogyny, Or: Do Not Mess With Women Athletes

I’m BACK everyone!

It’s been well over a month, and I’m sorry I disappeared for so long. I have a long, perfectly reasonable explanation for why I disappeared, which can be summarized as:

1. Depression sucks

2. Pretending you don’t have depression is a STUPID-ASS IDEA. [Denial: it’s not just a river in Egypt]

3. Going off your migraine pills because the side effects are terrible? Without talking to the Doctor first? WILL NOT END WELL.

This message has been brought to you by No Shit Sherlock University.

More Wine Game of Thrones Cersei

Me: for the entirety of August. Except with less wine, sadly.

But I should be back much more regularly now. Because if there’s something the world needs, it’s more feminist pop-culture commentary.

There will be rants! There will be entire posts about BOOBS (I’m not even kidding: wait for Thursday). There will be book reviews! There will be fun stories! There will be more misandronists than the trolls know how to deal with!

AND THERE WILL BE A RANT ABOUT A FUCKNECK.

Stick.

Around.

Christina Hendricks Get Your Tits On

Get Your Tits On, Everyone.

***

The Olympics are over. The Olympics are waaaay over.

But because I was off not-blogging, I still have a rant stored up. A BIG rant.

And it’s a bad idea to let rants fester, because eventually festering turn into gangrene. Then you’ve got to chop the whole brain off.

… I need my brain.

So let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Ladies, Gentlemen, People of All Genders: CHRIS CHASE IS AN ASSHAT.

Sorry for the language.

[Actually, I’m not sorry. The feminist blogosphere has been GREAT for my vocabulary. Asshat, fuckneck, douchenozzle… all the best insults]

Okay, backing up for a second. Who is Chris Chase, and how did he get on my bad side?

Chris Chase is a columnist for Yahoo! Sports. During the Olympics, he wrote a… thing – I hesitate to call it a column – called United States Leads China in “Real” Medal Count.

The impetus for the “column”? China was in the lead of the medal count – a catastrophe of international proportions.   And of course, Chris Chase took it on himself to rectify this devastating situation.

Lovely.

I mean, yes, the Olympics are supposed to be about bringing people together and celebrating sports, but really, they’re about the USA beating everyone.

Come on, people, didn’t you get the memo?

Road to el dorado headdesk

Seriously

How did Chris Chase rectify the horrifying problem of China’s medal lead? Simple! He posited that only certain sports really counted in the Olympics – the ones where victories are “objective and undeniable.” As opposed to “judged activities masquerading as sports.”

See, gymnastics and diving and judo and other “judged sports” aren’t “sports.” They’re just pretending! They’re “nonsense”! I kid you not, in a followup post, Chase explained that gymnastics is a “hobby”

A HOBBY.

Yeah, I feel no shame in calling him an asshat.

ASSHAT.

Discounting people’s athletic achievements so you can make the USA win the medal count? REALLY? That’s what we’re doing now? We’re just going to cut out all the sports where Americans don’t do well, and call them “hobbies”? Then we’re going to call the people who enjoy them “rubes”?

(again, actual quote. Rubes.)

Asshat.

Asshat who wrote a terrible column.

A terrible patronizing jingoistic column.

A terrible patronizing jingoistic MISOGYNISTIC column, at that.

***

An aside: you know, sometimes, I sympathize with non-feminists. I mean, not enough to agree with them, but I can sympathize. You’re reading a blog post about Chase, a guy, who has issues with gymnastics. Suddenly the writer yells “misogyny!” And you’re all “Uh, Chase doesn’t like gymnastics. It’s stupid, but what the hell does this have to do with misogyny? God! Feminists! So hysterical! Getting upset over the smallest things. Next thing you’ll know, they’ll be saying my cat is a misogynist.”

[by the way, your cat is definitely not a misogynist. We’re cool]

Let's unpack that - anti-oppression baby animals

This kitten speaks truth

LET’S unpack my misogyny claim. Because sadly, misogyny isn’t just people running around and screaming “WE HATE WOMEN.” (although that does happen).

In fact, a big part of misogyny is categorizing things associated with women as “lesser.”

And what do all the “judged sports” Chase discounts – with the exception of judo – have in common? They’re all “artistic” sports. “Artistic sports,” like dance, gymnastics, diving, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline etc. tend – rightly or wrongly – to be seen as “women’s” sports. “Artsy” things are coded female in our society.

Thus, dismissing artistic sports as “not” sports? Coded misogyny.

I should note, too, that in the USA, women tend to do better in these particular sports than men. American women’s gymnastics is a much bigger presence in the Olympics than American men gymnastics (the men won one individual medal, the women won team gold and four individual medals). American female divers also tend to get higher on the podium than American male divers.

So when Chris Chase decides that all these artistic sports – gymnastics, diving, trampoline – aren’t real sports, that they aren’t worthy of being included in the medal count – he’s also playing into the idea that sports associated with women are less important.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every single athlete Chris Chase names in the “fake” sports category is a woman. Every. Single. One. He doesn’t go after male gymnast Danell Levya (the bronze medalist for the all-around) or male synchonized divers Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen (who won bronze in synchronized diving). But he does make sure to list female gymnnasts Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Victoria Komova as members of a “fake” sport. He takes particular glee in explaining how Gabby Douglas’ victory over Victoria Komova – and her earlier qualification over Jordyn Wieber – are invalid: “why did [Douglas] win a gold over Victoria Komova? Because some judges said she was 0.259 better? It wouldn’t be so insulting if we weren’t the rubes who accept it like it’s real. Gymnastics wins aren’t victories.”

ASSSSSSHAT.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. *cough*

Chase proceeds to cite “real” victors – athletes who participate in “real” “objective” sports (I will not even begin to parse the ridiculousness of these labels): Michael Phelps. Usain Bolt. Both men. He does give a nod to Missy Franklin in at the end, but the contrast between the female-heavy “activities masquerading as sports” and male -heavy REAL sports is pretty obvious.

The reason I’m still so pissed comes down to gymnastics, honestly. Americans didn’t do that well in diving or in tumbling, so Chris Chase didn’t have to throw many of them under the bus for his little “real sports” equation. But in gymnastics? In gymnastics, he took five of the most widely-recognized, inspirational athletes of the Olympics and he said they were nothing.

To these women, who won team gold for the USA for the first time in 16 years, he said: you are not athletes. You, who have trained for forty hours a week for the past five years? You are not athletes. You, who can flip multiple times in the air? You’re just “masquerading.”

Fun hobby! *headdesk*

To Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, who won individual medals in beam, floor and all-around, he said: you are “masquerading” as athletes. Gabby Douglas, the first African-American winner of the all-around gold medal?

She’s not an athlete.

Mulan tea gif

Mulan is not impressed

And yeah, I think taking the achievements of five women and pretending they don’t count – making a POINT of explaining why they don’t count (since the women’s gymnastics team are the only “fake” athletes Chase names and discusses for any length of time) for no other reason than for the USA to pull ahead in the medal count – damn straight, I think that’s misogyny.

Chase concedes that “Gabby Douglas winning the women’s all-around was one of the most memorable moments of the first week” but damn, why are we even WATCHING this girl? Why aren’t we paying attention to REAL sports like swimming and track? If we only had MANLY sports, we would be able to beat China on the real, testosterone-filled field of battle, instead of having to fight them in all these silly, feminine, artsy “hobbies.”

The good news? I don’t really need to take down Chase’s post. At this point, I’m just ranting into thin air.

Because the USA did win the medal count. And they won it because of their female athletes, not in spite of them.

American women won 29 gold medals to the men’s 17, and 58 overall medals to the men’s 45. Thus, it was thanks in large part to the women that the USA won the medal count.

The extent to which I care who wins the medal count is pretty minimal. But – and forgive me for being annoying patriotic right now – the USA winning the medal count thanks to the women is a fitting ending to the story, don’t you think?

Final thoughts:

Gabby Douglas, bars, all around champion

Gabby Douglas: ATHLETE

Ali Raisman, tumbling pass 1, floor gold medal

Aly Raisman: ATHLETE

Gymnastics, diving and trampoline are all “real” sports.

Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Ali Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Kayla Ross? All “real” athletes.

Chris Chase? “Real” Asshat.

And don’t mess with female athletes. They’re the reason America did so well at the Olympics.

(Hurrah for Title IX)

Rant over. Nits picked.  Festering done. Gangrene avoided. Soap-box used.

Up Next! The BOOBS post!


My Feminist Soapbox

[This is a very silly post. You have been warned]

I’ve gotten an unusually high number of visitors on my blog in the past two weeks. Not coincidentally, I’ve also gotten my first “you are the worst person in the world” comments.
Amy Adams Enchanted Excited

I am, of course, terribly excited about this new development. Whoo! I have enough traffic that I’ve got vehement disagreement!

They may even be trolls. It’s hard to tell.

But still! Troll-like comments. Oh, I am marvelously excited about this!

Doctor Who Matt Smith Excited

EXCITED!

Buried beneath the comments about how “feminists are all misandronists” (does anyone know what a misandronist is, out of curiosity? Right now, I’m going for a cross between a misandrist and an android) and the comments telling me how offensive I was, and the ones explaining that I was everything that was wrong with the world…

… there was actually a point I thought was worth addressing, from the Very Long Comment Left by a Very Concerned Commentator:

“So for the love of the gods, get off your soap boxes and relax. Maybe have a bit of fun for a change.”

Now, I have to admit, I was very confused by this… suggestion. I mean, I appreciate the sentiment, don’t get me wrong! It’s nice to know that the Very Concerned Commentator, despite thinking that I’m a horrible person, does want me to have fun.

My reaction, however, wasn’t so much: “Oh, god! They’re right! I must immediately stop blogging and go to an amusement park instead!”

It was more along the lines of: “But…I am having fun.”

Yes. Seriously. I know you’re skeptical. But I am having fun. Not just low-level fun either.  I’m talking Lord of the Rings Marathon fun. Giant ice cream-party-fun. Playing with a kitten fun. Learning to do a handstand fun. Digging a space-time tunnel to Shakespearian England fun.

Serious. Fun.

Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape Dancing

I’m talking Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape dancing levels of fun.

Hey, I get it. Maybe writing giant 5000-word-rants isn’t your thing. And that’s fine. Some people toilet-paper houses. Some people  climb Mount Everest without bottled oxygen. Some people parachute out of airplanes. Some people belly-dance. Some people dip their fries in milkshake. Some people watch the Star Wars prequels (*shudder*). To quote the inestimable Hoban Washburne:

Wash Firefly Some People Juggle Geese

And some people – me – write self-righteous feminist analyses of pop-culture. Because that’s my idea of fun. Bizarre, I know, but I love deconstructing stuff. I love ranting. I love writing. Fuck, I would do this for free…

… and in point of fact, I do. (unless someone is paying me without my knowledge, which seems unlikely)

So I appreciate your concern, my dear past-and-future commentators. But rest assured that it’s fine. I am having fun.

Which leads me to point #2 of My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator’s Concern. They suggested – several times – that I should get off my soapbox.

I’m going to assume that My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator was not, in fact, referring to an actual soapbox, but was referring to my blog. Mostly because I don’t own a soapbox, and the Very Concerned Commentator has no way of knowing whether or not I own a soapbox, and sometimes people use metaphors… and yeah.

The soapbox is probably a metaphor for the blog. Right.

Again, this is interesting advice. But as we’ve seen, I actually enjoy writing this blog, so not writing it would mean having less fun, which directly contradicts their prior advice to have MORE fun –

So in spite of my deep gratitude and appreciation for My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator’s advice… I did not follow their instructions.

Mulan GIF matchmaker tea awkward

Wait! Wait! Before you spill all your tea in shock! Let me explain!

Ahem.

Very Concerned Commentator is right. This blog is my soapbox.

Which means I get to talk about whatever I want on it.

Kittens! Puppies! Feminist rants! American Idol! Science Fiction! More kittens! Stupid jokes! Weird GIFS! EVEN MORE KITTENS! FEMINIST KITTENS!

Whatever I want.

Now, you may disagree with what I write. That’s perfectly fine. You may think what I care about is trivial. That’s also perfectly fine. You may argue with what I write. Again: perfectly fine.

You can even get your own soapbox/blog and talk about what you want on it. You can talk about how wrong I am for hours and hours and hours and hours. Have fun (and I don’t mean that sarcastically)!

Kitten playing with Tumblr

Fun! WHEEEEEEE!

Hell, you don’t even have to read me! Unlike a real soapbox, where you’re stuck listening to whatever dolt is ranting on the public square, no one is forcing you to read this blog. Absolutely no one. If you don’t want to read my rants… don’t.

But you cannot tell me to get off my soapbox.

Because I built it and I will stay on it as long as I damn please.

Feminist Soapbox Feminist Batwoman

See! There’s my soapbox! My feminist soapbox. Isn’t it awesome? It isn’t exactly a soapbox – I’m pretty sure it used to contain books, not soap – but it’s pretty close. And the colors are shiny.

…Yes. Yes, I did literally build a soapbox to stand on. Or sit on.

Yes. Yes, in fact, I did take that comment way too far. WAAAAAAY too far.

Even though playing with markers was pretty fun.

[By Jove, I love the smell of sharpie in the morning. Smells like… gender equality.]

Feminist Soapbox Feminist Batwoman

I Have A Soapbox and I Know How To Use It

Let’s recap, shall we?

Yes, everyone, this blog is my soapbox. Yes, everyone, I am having fun on my blog/soapbox.

No, you cannot tell me to get off my soapbox. Not unless you want me to take your comment waaaaaaaay too literally and spend an hour-and-a-half building an actual soapbox.

*sigh*

I know everyone was deeply concerned about these questions. Now that they have been answered, feel free to go about your normal business!

Community Hug

Problem solved!

Feminist Batwoman – I mean, Culturally Disoriented – out.

Starbuck Wink battlestar Galactica

*Any resemblance between Culturally Disoriented and the masked vigilante and Protector of Gender Equality known as the Feminist Batwoman is purely coincidental. Even though they’re wearing the same mask. And they’re never in the same place at the same time.

It’s. A. Coincidence. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Like Bruce Wayne and Batman.

**Also, if anyone knows what a misandronist is… page me.

*** If you would like to build your own feminist soapbox (or anti-racist/LGBT/trans-issues/star wars/whatever soapbox), please do! But remember that actual cardboard boxes are quite flimsy, and probably won’t support your weight. My cat fell through the box when she jumped on it. Cardboard = not the best idea.

Why does mine work? I propped it up with a giant stack of books underneath.


The Bodies We Want: Female Athletes in ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue

[Be forewarned that this post contains images NSFW (as do many of the links in the post)]

My younger brother, in addition to being a voracious reader, an avid SF/F fan, a social justice crusader and an all-around awesome person, is really into sports. He plays massive amounts of soccer and frisbee, he bikes, he rock-climbs, he runs, he’s a self-taught juggler – I don’t think there’s a sport he’s tried that he doesn’t enjoy. So before he left on vacation in France, he suggested that I write a blog post about sexism in sports.

I said: “Wha?”

For the record, the fact that my brother is attuned to such things at the tender age of twelve makes me very happy.

Anyways. I told him that although I thought it was an interesting and important subject, I didn’t know very much about sports, and thus did not feel qualified to comment on the matter. But I promised to keep an eye out.

And then yesterday I came across ESPN Magazine’s photoshoot for its Body Issue, entitled The Bodies We Want. Thirty six photos of professional athletes. All with bodies I want, apparently [And of course, I do want them, I just wouldn’t know where to put them!]

And all nude.

I was thirty four pictures in when I went: “By Jove, I believe there’s a blog post in here!”

Because if I don’t feel qualified enough to discuss sexism in sports, I certainly do feel qualified enough to discuss sexism in the ways professional athletes are photographed. Hell, I’ve written entire essays on the gender politics of visual depictions. My academic training has to come in handy at some point, right?

Okay. So, some quick background on gender in the visual arts – I promise, this is quick and painless:

[My primary source here is John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing, although many texts treat this issue]:

It’s a commonly known fact among people with an interest in visual art – painting, photography, sculptures, comic books etc. – that in the western art tradition, men have typically been portrayed as active figures, while women have been portrayed as passive figures, arranged for the pleasure of the implied (male) audience.

Example:

Allegory of Time and Love by Angelo Bronzino

Allegory of Time and Love by Angelo Bronzino, 1546

Note how Venus’s body is turned TOWARDS the audience, despite the fact that, within the scene of the painting, she’s kissing Cupid and should thus be turned towards him. Instead of being an active agent, in other words, she’s displayed to appeal to the audience.

Rogue and Gambit kiss Boobs and Butt

Rogue and Gambit, artist unknown. Hat tip to Escher Girls for the picture

And here, in a 20th century piece of comic art, we’ve got Rogue and Gambit kissing. But while Gambit’s pose makes perfect sense in the context of the kiss, Rogue’s… does not. Unless she has a broken back. Or unless there are two women in that picture, one of whom is hiding her head under Gambit’s cloak. Or unless it’s normal to simultaneously turn your body towards AND away from someone you’re trying to kiss.

Rogue, of course, is in the classic “brokeback” pose, where a woman’s body is contorted bizarrely so that the (presumed straight male) reader will be able to see both her boobs and her butt.

Ahem. Now that we have the art history out of way, let’s get back to sports, shall we?

On the surface, I would have expected  that a photoshoot of athletes – even a photoshoot of nude athletes – would not have this “male active/female passive” problem. Because the point of this particular issue of ESPN magazine is – and I quote:

“to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god.”

Great! A photoshoot of people doing incredible, awe-inspiring things with their bodies. I’m all for it!

The nudity is a bit weird, I’ll grant you, but I suppose you have to be unique somehow.

Danell Levya ESPN magazine Body Issue Peter Hapak

Gymnast Danell Levya, photographed by Peter Hapak. ESPN Magazine.

And, for the first ten pictures or so, that’s what it was. Nude pictures (with no dangly bits) of athletes doing incredible, gorgeous things with their bodies. Women were being active. Men were being active. It was all good. The feminist rage was contained.

Then:

Suzann Peterson Golf ESPN Body Issue Jeff Lipsky

Golfer Suzann Pettersen, photographed by Jeff Lipsky, ESPN Magazine

Wait, what? Suzann Pettersen is a golfer. She’s a very good golfer, in point of fact – recently ranked #2 worldwide. So why is she not golfing? Why is she sitting on a deck in front of a beach?

Is there a golf move I don’t know about? Do golfers have a tanning contest in the middle of their competition?

I’m… confused.

It’s not like she can’t do amazing things with her body:

Suzann Pettersen Golf

Okay. Maybe she’d twisted her ankle. Maybe the photographer didn’t get the memo about the shoot being one where athletes show off what their bodies can do. Let’s move on.

Tennis Daniela Hantuchova Jeff Lipsky ESPN Magazine

Tennis Player Daniela Hantuchova, photographed by Jeff Lipsky, ESPN Magazine

Wait, what?

I don’t play tennis, but I watch it regularly, and I’m pretty sure that the above is not a tennis move. Unless there’s a move where the player drops her racket, lifts up her leg and pushes her hair out of her face, then smiles seductively at the tennis ball, thereby making the tennis ball fall in love with her.

I mean, it seems awfully involved. And tricky. What if the tennis ball isn’t attracted to women?

Moving on…

Candace Parker Ture Lillegraven Basketball ESPN Magazine

Basketball player Candace Parker, photographed by Ture Lillegraven. ESPN Magazine.

All right, that’s it. What. The Everloving. Fuck?

That is Candace Parker, people. Candace Parker. She’s one of only four women who have successfully executed a slam dunk in the WNBA. I don’t even know basketball, and I know that Candace Parker is fucking amazing. Why is she being photographed like she’s on an episode of America’s Next Top Model? (no disrespect to Tyra Banks).

And it just. kept. going. Female athlete after female athlete was photographed not as a talented, powerful sportswoman, but as… eye candy.

**headdesk**

Admittedly, maybe I was dreaming. Maybe just as many men had been photographed in passive poses as women. Maybe there were more active women than I thought. Maybe my feminist sensibilities were getting in the way of my critical thinking.

So I pulled out the calculator, and went for the evidence.

Before we dive into the statistics, I’ll clarify my terminology. An “active” pose is one where the athlete is performing a move related to their sport. Merely holding a ball does not make a pose active. A “passive” pose is one where the athlete is not performing a move related to their sport (or any sport).

Here are the numbers for the ESPN shoot linked above (and here):

Photographs of Men: 19
Photographs of Women: 17

Individual Male Athletes in the Shoot: 11
Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 17

Photographs of Men in active poses: 15 (78%)
Photographs of Men in passive poses: 4 (22%)

Photographs of Women in active poses: 9 (52%)
Photographs of Women in passive poses: 8 (48%)

Well, there’s clearly a big difference here. BUT.

Since there are multiple photographs of particular athletes, I decided to change the criteria to: how many athletes had at least one photograph where they were in an active pose? [For example, Rob Gronkowski has two photos in the slideshow. In one of them, he’s in a passive pose, in the other, he’s in an active pose].

And here’s where it gets particularly interesting:

Individual Male athletes: 11
Male athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 10 (90%)
Male athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 1 (10%)

Individual Female athletes: 17
Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 7 (46%)
Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 8 (54%)

Switching it around: How many male and female athletes have at least ONE photo with a passive pose in the slideshow?

Individual Male Athletes: 11
Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 3 (28%)
Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 8 (72%)

Individual Female Athletes: 17
Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 15 (88%)
Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (12%)

Hookay, then. It appears that my Ultra-Feminist brain was not Making Shit Up. [Despite the fact that I am Female, and therefore cannot Math]

Let’s review, shall we?
78% of the photos of men depict an active pose, while only 52% of women’s do.

In addition, ten out of eleven of the male athletes in the slideshow have at least one active pose. Basically, they’re all – with one exception – being portrayed as athletes rather than eye candy.
Moreover, 72% of the men are portrayed as athletes in ALL their photos; there’s no photo where they’re just looking hot for the camera. Obviously, ESPN doesn’t feel the need to make the men eye candy.

On the other hand, over 50% of the female athletes in the slideshow have no active poses at all. Which means that over half of them are not being portrayed as athletes; they’re essentially standing there and looking pretty. And only 3 women – 12% – are portrayed ONLY as athletes. 88% of the women have at least ONE pose where they’re just looking hot for the camera (versus 28% for the men). Which suggests that ESPN DOES feel the need to make the women eye candy.

Now, I have nothing against people being pretty or people being hot. If all the guys were standing around making coy glances towards me, then we would know that the purpose of the shoot was for people to stand around and look hot. And I wouldn’t be annoyed.

Carlos Bocanegra Soccer Richard Phibbs ESPN Magazine

Soccer player Carlos Bocanegra, photographed by Richard Phibbs. ESPN Magazine

The above, by the way, is an example of a male athlete in a “passive” pose – e.g: standing around and looking pretty. I will admit that he does look very pretty, but I’m too confused by the stuff on his body to appreciate it. Mud? Paint? Syrup? Gee, that must be uncomfortable…

But that’s a moot point. Because looking hot was not the purpose of this particular shoot; the shoot was supposed to portray professional athletes showing off their abilities.

Instead, the shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.

And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful.

But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks.

And this goes back to the art history I mentioned earlier. In western art, men are portrayed as active agents, while women are portrayed as passive receptacles for the audience’s gaze. Here, the shoot is entitled “Bodies We Want.” The Male Athletes are the bodies the (presumed male) audience wants to HAVE – active, powerful, talented. The Female Athletes, meanwhile, are the bodies the (presumed male) audience wants to LOOK AT – beautiful and passive.

Doesn’t matter what you do, ladies. You’ll always be eye candy.

I should note, of course, that female athletes who don’t fit the standard of traditional eye candy have a much harder time gaining mainstream media coverage or sponsorships. It is not surprising – though it is depressing – that Sara Robbles, the USA’s best chance at an Olympic Medal for weightlifting this year – is getting almost zero media coverage. She can lift over 568 pounds. She also lives in poverty.

Sara Robles weighlifting olympics

Sara Robles

For female athletes, the message is clear. It is not enough to simply be powerful, talented and hard-working. One must also be traditionally beautiful enough to qualify as eye-candy.

Here’s what I find depressing. The women in this shoot are professional athletes. They are at the top of their field. They’ve worked extraordinarily hard, they’ve acquired incredible physical abilities, they’ve got the kind of talent and determination most of us can only dream of. These are the women that children who play sports look up to. These are the women children look at and say “I want to be like that.”

But in the eyes of the sports media, these women are still only important because of the way they look, not what they can do. They’re still primarily eye candy, rather than professional athletes.

What, I ask, does a female athlete have to do in order to be portrayed as what she is: an athlete?

I don’t know. Frankly, female athletes have already jumped through every possible hoop and they still don’t get the same respect as their male counterparts. At this point, it isn’t about the athletes any more. It’s about the media, and the people who consume it.

So what does the media need to do in order to portray female athletes as athletes?

The media – and its audience – needs to realize that a woman’s worth is not determined by her appearance or by her appeal to straight men. [I’d say “or her appeal to straight men and lesbian/bisexual women, but sadly, I don’t think the sports media gives a flying flunderton about the opinions of lesbian and bisexual women]

The media needs to stop worrying that if they portray a strong, powerful woman as strong and powerful, everyone will freak out. They need to stop pretending that women must perform traditional femininity 24/7 in order to be worth talking about. They need to stop worrying that their audience will think female athletes are too “butch” or lesbian. For one thing, some of those women are lesbians, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that they aren’t trying to “catch a man” doesn’t take anything away from their athletic competence.Not to mention the fact that there are plenty of straight female athletes who aren’t trying to catch or please a man, and this is also totally fine.

[unless I’m missing something about competitive sports. Is there some kind of half-time ritual where we release men into the basketball/soccer/golf/etc. arena, and expect the female athletes to go catch them? If there is, I really must start attending more live games…]

And we collectively need to get over our fear of powerful, talented women. Yes, there are women who can run at extreme speeds. Yes, there are women who can kick a ball hard enough to take off a man’s head. Yes, there are women who can throw you on the ground and beat you to a pulp. Yes, there are women who don’t perform femininity in traditional ways. And that is okay. The world will survive.

The good news is, ESPN is already doing those things – sort of:

Abby Wamach Soccer Carlos Serrrao ESPN Magazine

USA Soccer Player Abby Wamach, photographed by Carlos Serrrao, ESPN Magazine

US Sailing Team Anna Tunnicliffe Steven Lippman ESPN Magazine

US Sailing Team Member Anna Tunnicliffe, photographed by Steven Lippman. ESPN Magazine

This. Is exactly. What I’m talking about.

Anna Tunnicliffe and Abby Wamach are two of the only women in the shoot who aren’t ever photographed as eye-candy. We see them as athletes, and only as athletes.

And these photos? Are incredible.

They show powerful athletes doing powerful, athletic things. They show the women’s talent, skill and power. They leave the audience in awe at the amount of training and determination it must take to get to that level.

And they leave no doubt in my mind that women can be portrayed as professional athletes without the entire world crumbling.

I realize feminists are supposed to hate men, but frankly, how low an opinion do you have to have of straight men that you think they would look at the above pictures and say “Aww, damn, she’s not acting like a playboy bunny?”

I, for one, am a lot of more optimistic. I think the current sports media audience can handle it. I really do. And I know that I, for one, would be a lot more likely to buy sports magazines if I thought the women in them would be portrayed as professional athletes.

So that’s what I think the sports media should do: depict athletes as athletes. It doesn’t even take a whole lot of gender analysis or consciousness raising. You just have to do your damn job, and make sure all the pictures in a photoshoot of professional athletes showing off their skills are, in fact, pictures of professional athletes showing off their skills.

In other words –

Less of this:

Volleyball Nellie Spicer Art Streiber ESPN Magazine

US Volleyball Team Member Nellie Spicer, Photographed by Art Streiber. ESPN Magazine.

More of This:

Sprinter Carmelita Jeter Francesco Carrozzini ESPN Magazine

Sprinter Carmelita Jeter, photographed by Francesco Carrozzini. ESPN Magazine

And also, more Sara Robles. Obviously.

It’s not that hard. All those women ESPN hired to do the shoot – all the ones with the coy smiles and the model-esque positions – they all have incredible skills to show off.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see them portrayed as athletes?

Those are the bodies I want.

***

And now I’ve just gone and written an entire post about nude pictures. Because my twelve-year-old brother asked me to write about sports.

I don’t even know, man.

***

Postscript:

For shits and giggles (and for more concluding evidence), I managed to dig up a SECOND slideshow for this year’s body issue. This one with ONLY female athletes in the shoot.

You’d think things would get better there. But if you’d think that… you would be wrong.

Total Photos: 13
Photographs of the Athletes in active poses: 5 (38%)
Photographs of the athletes in passive poses: 8  (62%)

Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 16
Female Athletes who are active at least ONCE: 7 (46%)
Female Athletes who are NEVER active: 9 (56%)

Your honor, I rest my case.

Related Posts:

Snow White and the Huntsman: Kissing, You’re Doing It Wrong

Final Thoughts on American Idol and the Season of the Robot Women

Female Friendship in Sci-Fi and Fantasy


Final Thoughts on American Idol and the Season of the Robot Women

So, you know how sometime, I stop covering Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and instead write about gender and race issues on American Idol?

… yeah, this is one of those days. I’m sorry. But for some reason, I cannot rest until I finish writing up my thoughts about this season. I need to give my thoughts on the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon. I need to talk about the continued robotization of Female Contestants. I need to talk about Jessica Sanchez’s race problems. And I need to squee about the awesome singing.

If it makes you feel better I promise that I will not write another American Idol post until… next season.

My fascination with American Idol began in Season 10, when I fell madly in love with Haley Reinhart, the blues-rock singer who never got the respect she deserved.* By all rights, my fascination should have stopped after Season 10 – Haley Reinhart was gone, and I’d never been a fan of the show in the first place. But I kept watching. And then I got obsessed.

Haley Reinhart What is and what should never be led zepplin

Haley Reinhart (still my favorite)

Partly it’s the singing. Yes, in spite of all my cynical presuppositions, there are some bloody incredible singers on American Idol. And I love watching them.

But mostly? Mostly it’s the sociological stuff. I find it fascinating  – and disturbed – that the five last winners were all white men (with guitars). I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the ways the fans act. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by American Idol commentary. I’m fascinated – and disturbed – by the producer manipulations.

Frankly, American Idol is a bizarre back window into America’s psyche. And I just can’t look away.

1. The Phillip Phillips Victory and the White Guy With Guitars Phenomenon

Remember when I randomly wrote a giant post explaining why women can’t win American Idol? And then a few weeks later, I wrote a second post expanding on the lack of female winners?

Guess what?

A woman did not win American Idol this year.

Phillip Phillips beat Jessica Sanchez in the finale, making him the fifth “White Guy With Guitar” winner in a row on American Idol. The other four are David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee Dewyze and Scotty McCreery. [White Guy With Guitar is often abbreviated as “WGWG”]

I am shocked [okay, that’s a lie. I’m not shocked at all].

Watching the fandom reaction to Phillip Phillips’ victory was… interesting. To say the least.

Someone would say: “Oh, boo, another White Guy With Guitar.”
Then the next person would say: “You’re a racist.”

Or someone would say: “And that’s 5 WGWG winners.”
Then the next person would say: “That’s racist! You’re discriminating against Phillip Phillips because he’s white and male!”

I never entered these discussions –  I was already violating rule #1 of keeping one’s sanity on the internet (Never Read The Comments). I was not going to violate rule #2  (Never Enter A Comments Argument).

The thing is, I’m one of those people who thinks that the five-year winning streak by white men is troubling. And it’s not because I hate all white men, or because I think Phillip Phillips is untalented, or because I think Phillip Phillips’ gender and race disqualifies him from victory.

So let me explain myself.

First, I want to clear something up: it is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that Phillip Phillips is a white man. It is not racist, nor is it sexist, to point out that he’s the fifth white man in a row to win American Idol. These are facts. If you’re arguing that Phillip Phillips doesn’t deserve to win idol because he’s a white man, then yes, that is discriminatory. And if you’re arguing that the WGWG streak proves White Men are better singers, then yes, that is racist. But to remark upon the phenomenon is not discriminatory in-and-of-itself.

When potentially problematic patterns emerge – when, for example, five white men win a competition in a row – it is normal and responsible to ask questions about the process.

And that’s the key here: the pattern. If you voted for Phillip Phillips over Jessica Sanchez, good for you! If you prefer a male contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you. If you prefer a white contestant in any given year, I have no problem with you [if you always like the white contestants and never like contestants of color, however, you might want to examine your internal biases]. The problem is not with any one person’s individual voting decision. The problem is with the pattern. Because once we rack up all the individual choices made over the last four years, and we map them out, the pattern is pretty damn clear: white men have a much easier time on Idol.

Again: I think it’s perfectly fine a white male singer to be the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. My problem is when people start trying to argue that every white male singer was the best, most consistent and most original singer on any given year. I don’t care what you say, there is no way you can argue that every single white male winner was a better, more consistent and more interesting singer than all his competitors. There is no way. And yet all five of these white male winners not only won their seasons, but none of them ever appeared in the bottom 3 contestants, no matter how poorly they performed

Women have a much harder time on Idol. People of color have a much harder time on Idol. And women and people of color cannot win Idol anymore. This is a fact. At this point, there is literally nothing a woman or a person of color (or a woman of color) can do to win the show. It has all been done.

This year was a case study in proving that no matter what female and non-white contestants do, they cannot beat a white male contestant. With Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez, Skylar Laine and Hollie Cavanagh, we had the best group of female singers on Idol in at least five years. They were original, they were interesting, they had an enormous amount of talent, they all had huge shining moments.With the exception of Hollie Cavanagh, who had a few bum weeks but then came roaring back, all of these women were consistent: they made very few mistakes. Meanwhile, with Joshua Ledet, we had – as far as I’m concerned – the best male vocalist on Idol since Adam Lambert. Joshua Ledet was incredibly consistent and high-powered; he almost always exceeded expectations.

I will gladly admit that Phillip Phillips had a good run. But I defy you to argue that he was more consistent than Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet. I defy you to argue that he was more original than Skylar Laine or Elise Testone. I defy you to argue that he had as many standout performances as Jessica, Joshua or Skylar. I defy you to argue that Joshua’s take on Runaway Baby, or Hollie Cavanaugh’s turn on Bleeding Love deserved a bottom three finish while Phillip Phillips’ Time of the Season didn’t. I defy you to argue that Phillip Phillips’ pitch problems were any less egregious than Skylar Laine’s country twang.

My point is: Phillip Phillips had flaws; he had bad performances, but they never seemed to matter. No matter how good, how exceptionally incredible Phillip Phillips’ competitors were, or how terrible Phillip Phillips was, he was never shaken. He never went to the bottom three. And they had no chance of beating him.

And that’s my problem with the White Guy with Guitar phenomenon. White men have it unfairly easy, while anyone who isn’t a white man has it unfairly hard. It’s a perfect example of white male privilege at work. It’s not that the five WGWG winners were untalented. It’s not that they didn’t work hard. It’s not that they don’t deserve good things, or that they’re bad singers. It’s just that, for them, things were easier. The standards were obviously lower (again: they never landed in the bottom three. Ever). Meanwhile, as I’ve detailed in my prior two posts on American Idol, the standards were much higher for women and for people of color. To completely purloin John Scalzi’s explanation of white male privilege: white men play the Idol game on the lowest difficulty setting. And women and people of color play it on a much, much higher difficult setting. [If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s post on the Lowest Difficulty Setting, you should; it’s brilliant]

As Michael Slezak once put it: “Am I going to argue that women have had an easy time on Idol in recent years? Absolutely not. You have to perform better than the men to stay in the competition […] and sometimes that doesn’t even work.”

The playing field is not level.

That’s my problem.

2. All Women are Robot Members of the Robocalypse

Speaking of American Idol and Gender issues! I’d like to share the #1 thing I learned on American Idol this year: all women are robots. They’re probably also all preparing to kill us in an attempt to institute the robocalypse… but I’m not sure about that yet.

a) All Female Contestants on Idol are Robots

Jennifer Lopez, critiquing Elise Testone: “they [the audience] want to know that you’re a person. That you feel things.”

After Jennifer Lopez said this to Elise Testone, I may or may not have thrown a magazine at the television screen (there were no witnesses. You can’t prove anything).

First, Elise Testone is a person. She doesn’t need to prove it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica; contestants aren’t required to take Cylon detection tests.

Second, Elise Testone is the last person I would call robotic. Elise Testone is the anti-Lady Gaga. She has no poker face. Over the course of the season, it was nearly impossible for Testone to hide how she was feeling [a problem, since she couldn’t hide her disappointment, anger or sadness].

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Elise Testone was called out for not being “human” enough. Because there is not a single female contestant this season who has not been called “a robot” or “inauthentic” or “soulless” either by the judges or by the fans.

Every. Single. Female. Contestant. has been called a robot. Every single one.

Men, on the other hand? Almost NEVER get the robot criticism.

Case in point: On the final performance episode, the top 2 singers have to repeat their favorite performance. So both singers are, by definition, doing something unoriginal. And neither Jessica Sanchez nor Phillip Phillips (this year’s top 2) made any radical changes to their re-interpretations of their chosen songs.
Let’s look at Jennifer Lopez’s critique of the two, shall we?

“I’ve seen Jessica do that before. And I just feel like that’s authentic Phillip right there.”

Wait, what? You’ve ALSO seen Phillip Phillips do that before. You’ve seen him do exactly. the same. thing.

Two contestants repeat a song. The female one? Inauthentic. Mimic. The male one? Authentic.

Yeah, no.

This whole thing leads me to believe that the “inauthentic” and “robotic” criticism is a lot less about the individual singer, and a lot more about… their gender.

Yes, indeed, all female contestants are robots.

b) All female fans are robots

Random fan critique: ” Oh Please. WGWGs win because young girls always vote for the cute guy.”

There is no myth floating around the idol fan-o-sphere that drives me more nuts than the myth that “teen girls are ruining the show because they always vote for the cute guys.” It’s also, sadly, the most pervasive myth. [And it’s the reason behind my original Why Women Can’t Win Idol post]

One of the more disgusting things about this critique is that it makes “cute guy” equal to “white guy.” So men of color can’t be cute? Girls aren’t attracted to guys of color?

Joshua Ledet Crazy Little Thing Called Love

I must not be a girl because I find this young gentleman (Joshua Ledet) very attractive.

Also, it’s incredibly heteronormative. Has anyone heard of lesbians? And bisexual women? They exist.

But what’s most annoying about the “teen girls always vote for the cute guys” myth is that it assumes that teen girls are entirely ruled by their hormones, and that they’re thus incapable of making an informed decision. They can’t just like Phillip Phillips because they like his music. No, it has to be because he’s a cute guy. That’s why.

And it needs no evidence! No market research, no rigorous studies, no sample size, no nothing. Because everyone knows that when a cute white guy strums on his guitar, teen girls become mind-controlled drones and start speed-dialing the cute white guy to safety.

Teen girls are robots. Their programming?
Vote for the cute white guy.

… Does anyone else see a trend here?

I find it endlessly hilarious (and by hilarious, I mean rage-inducing) that if fandom isn’t blaming the White Guy With Guitars phenomenon on teenage girls being completely mindless robots, we’re blaming it on female contestants being robotic.

What is it about being female that makes it so easy for people to compare you to a machine?

Female performers cannot be authentic. They can be great  singers. They can even be perfect singers. But they cannot be authentic, real, human singers.
Heart and soul? Only guys have that. Women just sing the notes.
Authenticity? Only guys have that. Women can only mimic.
Charm? Only guys have that. Women are cold and soulless.

Female fans cannot be authentic. They cannot vote for a contestant because they like that person’s music. They cannot vote for a contestant because they enjoy their performance style. They don’t watch Idol because they want to see true music.
No, they can only watch for the cute boys. And they can only vote for the cute boys
Only men can be real fans. Men vote for the best singer. Men watch the show because they care about music. Women watch the show for eye-candy.

So, from my viewing of American Idol, I have concluded that men are people and women are robots.

It’s the robocalypse, people. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

3. Jessica Sanchez and Racism

Okay, let’s be clear. I am supremely unqualified to discuss this topic. I am white. I also know almost nothing about discrimination against Asians in the United States; I know even less about discrimination against Filipinos in the United States.

Thus, my ability to analyze the discourse surrounding Jessica Sanchez is… limited. To say the least.
Usually in these circumstances, I go: “hey, look at all the smart, qualified people who have written about this! Read their stuff!”
But unfortunately (and bizarrely), no one else has really talked about this issue.** Or if they do, they aren’t doing it in any depth – it’s all “Jessica Sanchez was voted off, so America is racist!” Or”No, America isn’t racist!”

But the issue of Jessica Sanchez’s race, and how it played into her run on Idol, deserves some discussion.

So I’m going to try here. [If you’ve seen or read any pertinent commentary, please let me know. I’m begging you.]

Point the first: Jessica Sanchez is American. [This will be important later]
Point the second: Jessica Sanchez’s father is Mexican American. Her mother is Filipina. Jessica Sanchez is thus of both Latin@ and Asian (Filipino) heritage. She’s mixed race.

Jessica Sanchez Stuttering

Jessica Sanchez performing “Stuttering”

Crucially, Sanchez’s Mexican heritage was almost never discussed, either on the show, in American Idol commentary, or in fan circles. She was described as primarily Asian-American or Filipino-American.

I’ve written two long posts about how American Idol systematically disadvantages female contestants. But in the case of race – at least, in the case of race this year – I did not see a lot of institutional discrimination. The show itself was not putting Jessica Sanchez at a disadvantage because of her race (although they did put her at a disadvantage because of her gender).

But the fans and the critics are another story.

I’ve seen loads of comments on fan sites and on American Idol articles that say that Jessica Sanchez’s talent is a “cheat” because her “Asian parents” have been raising her to “compete” from “childhood.” She’s a “trained-since-birth” robot. Because her family is Filipino, they’ve “chosen one child to train as a prodigy.” She has a “tiger mom” who has trained her “since birth” to “win Idol,” and thus Sanchez doesn’t “deserve to win.”

It’s the “Well, of course she’s doing well in Math. She’s Asian” argument.

This, to me, is on the same level as the “Asian-Americans are stealing all the science jobs” rhetoric we see in the news. Or the massive”Asian-Americans have an easier time getting into college” freakouts.

As I like to put it when I’m being particularly sarcastic:”Oh no! Americans of color are actually doing okay! They’re doing well in school! They’re doing well on TV shows! They’re getting decently-paid jobs! Only real [white] Americans are allowed to get those things! We have to panic now!”

And the whole makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.

[Fortunately, I don’t live near any cliffs]

This “She’s successful because she’s Asian” argument is a particularly vicious way of dismissing Jessica Sanchez’s achievements. By these standards, Sanchez didn’t get to American Idol through hard work, determination, talent and luck. She didn’t get there because she loved singing. No, she got there because her family was Asian, so they “trained” her.

Moreover, Idol commentary and fan discussions have made Sanchez’s hard work the equivalent of an “unfair advantage.” No one is going “look how focused and dedicated Jessica Sanchez is.” Instead, they’re acting like her hard work is the equivalent of cheating.

I’m sorry, someone’s going to have to explain this to me: Jessica Sanchez is a hard worker, therefore she’s a cheater? Wait, what? Isn’t working hard to achieve your goals the opposite of cheating? [If working hard makes people cheaters, I think I’d best turn myself in to my University’s Academic Counsel]

I keep wanting to tell these people: You don’t think Phillip Phillips worked his butt off to get where he is today?

But somehow, it’s okay for Phillip Phillips to work hard. On the other hand, it’s suspect for Jessica Sanchez to do the same thing.

Frank Wu, a critical race theorist, explains this better than I will: “The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans themselves. It is two-faced. Every attractive trait matches up neatly to its repulsive complement, and the aspects are conducive to reversal. […] To be hard working is to be an unfair competitor for regular human beings, and not a well-rounded, likable individual.” (Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White)

People perceived Asian-Americans as being an “unfair competitors” for regular human beings – and by regular human beings, they mean “white Americans.”

I think this is exactly what happened to Jessica Sanchez. Because she was perceived as a hard-working Asian singer, people saw her as having some kind of “unfair” advantage over other (mostly white) contestants like Phillip Phillips. Where Phillip Phillips’ hard work makes him a likeable individual, Jessica Sanchez’s hard work makes her robotic and unlikeable.

So yes. It’s racist. And it’s disgusting. And I’m sick of reading this kind of commentary. If you don’t like Jessica Sanchez’s singing, fine. Just say that. If you prefer another singer, fine. Just say that. If you think Jessica Sanchez has no emotional connection to her lyrics, fine. Just say that. But don’t accuse Jessica Sanchez of being some sort of Asian dragon-lady with “unfair advantages” over her competitors. Because yes, that’s racist.

The other really disturbing thing I see in commentary and fan forums is the discussion around Jessica Sanchez’s appearance.

Around top 8 week, I started noticing that, on the fan forums I visited and on youtube clips of Jessica or Hollie Cavanagh’s performances, there was a kind of universal consensus that Hollie was the beautiful one, and Jessica was…  not. Even people who said they preferred Jessica as a singer would say things like “but she’s not pretty like Hollie.”

This turned into a mini-phenomenon. I saw it everywhere. If you do a google search, you’ll find that there are a whole lot more results for “Jessica Sanchez ugly” than for “Hollie Cavanagh ugly.” And most of the negative commentary on Jessica’s appearance also talks about her race.

There were also entire lines of comments that argued that Jessica Sanchez shouldn’t win Idol because she doesn’t “look American” and it would be confusing if the winner of Idol wasn’t American. I counted fifty of those comments when I was compiling youtube clips for this post, and then I couldn’t do it anymore.

Pardon me for the temporary rant: Jessica Sanchez is an American. Jessica Sanchez looks American. Because she is an American. The End.

Someone, somewhere, will have to explain to me what these people mean by “looking American.” Because I think they mean “white.”

And, you know, I realize the internet can be a terrible place. I do. I really do. I know that people are asshats. But that doesn’t make their conduct okay, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Let me put it this way. If there were no racial bias, Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanaugh would probably get the same amount of “ha ha, she’s ugly” trolling. But because we tend to see white people as the “standard” of good looks, Jessica Sanchez gets the brunt of the “ugly” criticism.

Hollie Cavanagh American Idol Season 11

Hollie Cavanagh

Jessica Sanchez American Idol Season 11

Jessica Sanchez

Oh, yes. Now that I see their photos right next to each other, it’s SO CLEAR that Hollie is prettier than Jessica.

//sarcasm//

I would probably have let the ugly/pretty rant drop if it weren’t for the fact that the exact same thing happened with Phillip Phillips and Joshua Ledet.

Again, many commentators pegged Phillip Phillips as the winner, because they argued that women and girls would vote for the cute boy.

But no one ever said Joshua Ledet has a chance of winning the “cute boy” vote. Once Colton Dixon was gone, everyone assumed that Phillip Phillips was the show’s only male heartthrob.

Phillip Phillips Heartthrob American Idol Season 11

Phillip Phillips

Joshua Ledet

Joshua Ledet

Oh, yes. It’s so obvious that Phillip Phillips is the only attractive one of these two guys. SO OBVIOUS.

[This is one of those cases where my personal taste goes completely against the public consensus, because I happen to think Phillip Phillips is somewhat bland, while Joshua Ledet is a Stone Cold Fox.]

My point here is: there’s a pattern where only white contestants are labeled – either by fans or by commentators – as attractive. The entire “girls will only vote for cute boys so White Guys with Guitars will always win” inherently assumes that only white guys count as cute. This is probably not that surprising to anyone who has studied race issues in the United States, but it’s still disturbing. And we should talk about it.

So yes. Racism has an impact on American Idol. And we should talk about it. We’re probably not going to, and if we do, it’s going to be along the lines of “white people experience discrimination too!”… but I’m holding out hope.

AHEM!

Now that I’ve finished covering the year in misogyny and racism, let’s… end on a high note, shall we?

Here are some of the great things about American Idol this year:

1. Michael Slezak, Melinda Doolittle and Jason Averett

Michael Slezak remains my favorite American Idol commentator of all times. There is no one who is funner to read or to watch. His boundless enthusiasm, his passionate love for the show and the singers, his burning hatred of producer manipulations – he’s amazingly addictive.

Slezak is my hero. Someday, if I work hard enough, and hide my female roboticness long enough, I might aspire to be half as entertaining and incisive a writer as he is.

Some actual quotes for our edification: “I can’t fathom what (aside from Uncle Nigel sending volts of electricity into their chairs) prompted the judges to give Deandre a Standing O for a vocal this week that was about as pleasant as listening to a Snowy Owl sink its talons into a frightened prairie dog and carry it back to the nest for disembowelment.” (Top 9 recap)

On Skylar Laine’s “Show Must Go On” “It was like watching the very first space shuttle take off, and you didn’t know if it was going to make it up into the atmosphere, and then it was like – oh my god, we’re in outer space. We’ve conquered outer space.”

Michael Slezak is also one-third of the team behind Idology, a weekly American Idol video recap where Slezak joins Melinda Doolittle, the third place finisher of American Idol Season 6, to discuss the week’s results.

Melinda Doolittle Michael Slezak Idology

Idology with Melinda Doolittle and Michael Slezak

I love Idology with the passion of a thousand hopeful American Idol contestants. I love it because Slezak and Doolittle are having so much damn fun – sometimes Doolittle makes Slezak laugh so much I worry they’ll have to call an ambulance. The two have incredible chemistry.I also love Idology because the producer, Jason Averett, intercuts each video with amazing, hilarious clips from movies and TV shows. And it is glorious.

Averett is the invisible third commenter who makes himself known through his editing and his hilarious captions. During the first few weeks of the competition, for example,  Slezak and Doolittle argued over whether Colton Dixon or Phillip Phillips had a better shot at the title. Averett kept intercutting their discussions with a photo of Phillips and the caption “Spoiler: This Guy.”

Anyways. I love Michael Slezak. I love Jason Averett. I love Melinda Doolittle. I love Idology. I can’t wait for them to come back next year.

I only have two small quibbles [because you know me; I can’t ever just like something. I have to find all the problems]

One: Idology is too short. Last year, we had thirty minute episodes, so Slezak could really get into the nitty-gritty details. And he could invite guests, he could have guest performers etc. If possible, I’d like the longer length back, thank you very much.

Two: I really appreciate Slezak’s commitment to calling out the anti-female shenanigans on Idol. But I would also really like it if he stopped calling JLo a skank. Look, she’s a terrible judge, and I’m fine with you making fun of her and her singing and her terrible critiques. Just don’t use gendered slurs to insult her. You don’t use racist terms of insult Randy Jackson; don’t use misogynistic slurs to insult Jennifer Lopez. And stop saying that she’s setting back the feminist movement, or women’s rights. It’s annoying. One of the main points of “rights” is that they don’t go away just because one woman acts badly.

Reason #2 American Idol was awesome this year?

2. There were some damn fine Singers

It bears repeating: there were some damn fine singers. I don’t think there’s been a season where I’ve liked as many people as I did this year. Moreover, when we got to the top 10, there wasn’t a single singer that I actively disliked. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hollie or Phillip, particularly near the end, but I thought they were fine.

In contrast, last season there was exactly ONE singer I still liked by the time Top 9 rolled around (the inimitable Haley Reinhart).

Haley Reinhart House of the Rising Sun

Gratuitous Haley Reinhart Cameo!

This season, I fell madly, passionately in love with Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez. They were phenomenal. Unbelievable. And earth-shatteringly good. Joshua was all whiskey-soaked raspiness, unbridled emotions and glorious, explosive energy; Jessica Sanchez was gorgeous, finessed vocals; lovely rawness combined with a perfect range and a magnificent, terrifying power.

I don’t care what they sing. I will buy all the CDs. And the singles. Whatever. Everything. All the time.

Jessica Sanchez Joshua Ledet Knew You Were Waiting For Me

My personal top 2 this season

I was also deeply in love with Skylar Laine and Elise Testone. They are tremendous. Elise Testone is bluesy and rocky and her voice is so wonderfully bizarre. Skylar Laine proves I can enjoy country music: she was artistic, original and gutsy, and she had a massive voice on top of everything else.

Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On

Skylar Laine

Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love

Elise Testone

So yes. In spite of the misogyny, the racism, the producer manipulation, the judging issues… there were still damn fine singers on American Idol this season, and they gave some damn fine performances.

Because it’s my blog, and I’m ridiculously self-indulgent, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite twenty performances this season. And because it’s my blog, I don’t even have to be embarrassed that more than 1/2 of them are Joshua Ledet or Jessica Sanchez performances. [Okay, I am embarrassed. But I’ll live]

In conclusion! Hurrah for Season 11! And thank god I’ve got six months to recuperate before Season 12.

[These performances are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Don’t hurt me]

0. Jessica Sanchez You Are So Beautiful (also known as “suck it, trolls)

1.Elise Testone Whole Lotta Love (also known as “Hey, robots sing pretty good, don’t they?”)

2. Skylar Laine Stay With Me 

3. Jessica Sanchez Love You I do (also known as “C.D. falls madly in love with a contestant for the first time this season”)

4. Joshua Ledet No More Drama (also known as “Wait, why didn’t he make the final two again?”)

5. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet’s duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (also known as “C.D.’s personal top 2 make the world explode through sheer awesomeness”)

6. Hollie Cavanagh Bleeding Love

7. Joshua Ledet When A Man Loves A Woman

8. Elise Testone No One

9. Jessica Sanchez Everybody has a Dream 

10. Joshua Ledet Ready For Love (also known as “Joshua becomes C.D.’s other favorite contestant’)

11. Skylar Laine The Show Must Go On (also known as “Michael Slezak thinks this is the equivalent of conquering outer space”)

12. Phillip Phillips Volcano (I will admit, I’ve never really gotten Phillip Phillips. But I got him on this song).

13. Jessica Sanchez Sweet Dreams (also known as “the best song I’ve bought on iTunes in months”)

14. Jessica Sanchez Bohemian Rhapsody

15. Jessica Sanchez The Prayer (also known as “I’m not religious and I actually started crying in the middle of this song”)

16. Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick and Candice Glover It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (Candice better come back next year, is all I’m saying)

17. Jessica Sanchez And I Am Telling You (I actually held my breath for the last minute. The entire song was like jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet and landing in a side-split handstand)

18. Joshua Ledet It’s a Man, Man, Man’s World (with Jessica Sanchez’s And I Am Telling You, the best ten minute block of the season. My brain almost exploded when these two songs happened back-to-back. The awesome was impossible to contain).

19. Jessica Sanchez’s duet with Jennifer Holiday on the finale (I take it all back. This was the best three minutes on the show on this season. Period. No questions asked. Do not mess with these two ladies. They will destroy you.)

Public Service Announcement: Haley Reinhart’s first CD, Listen Up, just came out. Buy it; it’s incredible.

P.S: Apologies for the spotty posting schedule. Fair warning: it may get spottier. I’ve been having some health-related problems, and they’ve been getting steadily worse over the past week or so. Hopefully I can keep a two-to-three post a week schedule… but I just started a medication that’s supposed to help my migraines and the side effects for the first two weeks are brutal. So if I disappear, my apologies.