Archive for July, 2009


Mourning Neda

Today is the fortieth day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a citizen of Iran shot by the state while at a protest over the disputed presidential election. In Shi’ite Muslim tradition, the third, seventh, and fortieth days after someone’s death are especially important parts of the mourning cycle, when the deceased is publicly remembered.

Neda has become a symbol of freedom, of martyrdom, of all sorts of things, but in honour of this fortieth day, I’d like to take a minute to think about her as Neda, a twenty-seven year old with a fiance and two siblings, who was hoping to become a Persian pop singer.

Her death has meaning, but her life had meaning too.

Rest in peace, Neda.


Wimbeldon Sells Out for Sex Appeal

If you pay attention to sports, particularly tennis, you might have noticed an odd phenomenon occurring at this year’s Wimbeldon. Some of the best-ranked players (ex. the Williams sisters) were playing on the lesser courts, while relative unknowns played on the centre court. What gives?

…the All England Club admitted that physical attractiveness is taken into consideration.

Spokesman Johnny Perkins said: ‘Good looks are a factor.’

Johnny Perkins said court selection is ‘a great big mixture of where the players are in the draw, who they’re playing, what their ranking is’.

But at the end of the day, box-office appeal has to be taken into consideration.

‘It’s not a coincidence that those (on Centre Court) are attractive.’

Ah. It doesn’t matter how great a tennis player you are, if the All England Club decides you aren’t “pretty” or “hot” enough.

Thankfully, male sports writers have stepped up to the bat to decry this cheap sexism.

From ESPN’s LZ Granderson:

Yes, it’s sexist.

Great! We’re all on the same page.

“Anyway, if putting the athletic equivalent of [Britney] Spears on TV can help draw in fans, increase ratings and thus make the Women’s Tennis Association more money, by all means, go for it. Doing so might hurt some of the players’ feelings, but it’s not undermining the integrity of the sport.”

Wait, what?

As long as the players themselves respect the game and carry themselves as professional athletes and not sex kittens, I don’t see the harm. Some critics say it sends the wrong message to young girls — namely, you have to be pretty to be noticed. I say it sends several messages to young girls — one being that you don’t have to be some man’s trophy just because you’re pretty. That you can be strong, smart, competitive and pretty.” (emphasis mine)

Dude, how does that even work? How can you respect the game when you know it’s your looks and not your skill that’s bringing you the attention? When you’re treating looks as the main factor, skill will always have second place. And when you relegate Serena Williams to a side court, you are telling young girls very clearly that no matter how hard they work, if they are not judged to be “hot” by a bunch of men they will always be less than someone who is. (And I’m choosing right now not to address a recent column by Jason Whitlock on Serena Williams where he insults her ability to play while insulting her looks, because clearly to him they are one and the same.)

And the ‘sex sells’ argument being made to justify this decision? How come it’s almost always used to objectify women for the benefit of heterosexual men?

Women make up 1/2 the population, but, as a Guerilla Girls ad might say, are almost always the ones being exploited for ‘sex sells’-based advertising.

And in tennis, at least, it’s not even attracting men.

Dr. Mary Jo Kane, sports sociologist from the University of Minnesota, specializes in gender and sport for women and undertook a far-reaching study of images of women athletes putting their bodies on display for a wide-ranging focus group of both men and women. Kane found a very basic truth: sex may sell airport frat-porn like Maxim magazine, but it doesn’t sell women’s sports.

Kane believes these images “alienate the core of the fan base that’s already there. Women, age 18 to 55, are offended by these images. And older males, fathers with daughters, taking their daughters to sporting events to see their favorite female athletes, are deeply offended by these images.”

We need to recognize that “sex sells” really translates to “we are more interested in exploiting and objectifying women (as well as in typifying a certain “type” of attractiveness) in order to attract our idea of heterosexual men to our product than we are in advertising or selling to gay men, straight women, or lesbian women (most of the time, anyway, because I really can’t imagine they find penis imagery that much of a selling point).”

And that? That right there? The idea that the most important thing in any context, whether it’s an ad for a product that men and women use, or a movie, or a sports tournament is whether or not the women will appear ‘sexy’ or ‘fuckable’ to an abstracted heteronormative male? That is the fucking male gaze. And it’s making women’s tennis not about women or for women.