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Monday, June 18, 2018

Female athletes always gendered even before they perform

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You hear certain stories that attempt to feign some form of concern only to know that it bound in some sexist ideal. Girls shouldn't bike for so and so reasons. It usually depends on a "virginal" part of the girl tearing though that could happen in other ways.

The Guardian has an article titled "Philippa York says macho culture prevents cyclists coming out." York was a king in bicycling in 1984 Tour De France. She was then competing as Robert Millar but then transitioned fully into a woman.

York talks about how the world of cycling is seen inherently, cis, White and straight. She things it will take time for these things to chance as the culture does seem to celebrate a form of toxic masculinity.  She says any form of weakness is eschewed and gayness and anything on the gay spectrum is treated as a weakness.

I open with York because the Guardian interviewed another female athlete who brought it in the #Me Too movement's platform. Donald MaMcRae's interview with tennis player titled "Garbiñe Muguruza: 'For some people it's hard to allow an athlete to be feminine.'"

Muguruza won Wimbledon in 2017 but she feels she has to balance herself a lot on the court. She says that people do not like to associate the words "feminine" and "fighter" together. People think women who want to look good while playing, as in wearing nice sportswear, are actually like "models" and not at all focused as an athlete.

Muguruza explains that they are; just because someone wears nice sportswear doesn't mean they aren't concentrating on their game. She says that it isn't either/or as in you may want to feel good and also perform your best.

She talked about crying about losing in 2017's French Open. She says it is normal and human. It humanises people and that despite gender people may still do it in the locker rooms.

She was happy she could express his fatigue and vulnerability as she was three hours in the court. When she does win she says she is happy: "So the best moment is when it's over and you've won." This doesn't mean she doesn't feel adrenalin or any less excitement when playing. She did mention that her hours in training paid off.

The fact that one can't look fashionable and play is seemingly contested in women's sports. As York has mentioned it seemed to bring out a feminine, women are meant to repress on the court. I find this hard to understand given that in male sports athletes wear uniforms tailored by sponsors to feel empowered and feel worthwhile.

I feel that this is a form of nit-picking and sexism. After all, it seems to come from people who want to believe that sportsare essentially "masculine" and that women who become exposed as women (as if somehow the court hid that) they will be critiqued.

Femininity is not completely the factor here; it is but one factor. Serena Williams have faced so much racism being a well built and toned women athlete that people like to say she is more a "man." The idea that women's bodies must all be petite and fragile is defied a lot by Williams.

This internalised misogyny and racism are abundant on and off the court. A recent controversy came to light when Maria Sharapova's memoir was published.

Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004 and with it, as mercurynews.com. However, Williams beat Sharapova in 18 straight matches. In 2016 when they squared off again Sharapova was caught using an illegal drug and was banned for 15 months.


In her memoir, Sharapova acts as though Williams was acting entitled to the competition and then her win against was like she claimed something Williams thoughts was always hers. Williams has never acted in such a way and mercurynews.com did feel that Sharapova is the one obsessing over Williams.

Sharapova's description of Williams is such: ""First of all her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV," wrote Sharapova. "She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It's the whole thing - her presence, her confidence, her personality…Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl."

EzinneUkoha's article on Medium titled "Why Maria Sharapova's Rivalry With Serena Williams Echoes The Practiced Fragility of White Women" shows the justifiable frustration of Ukoha as she tries to show that Sharapova seems to be acting helpless against Williams.

She seems intimidated by the body of Williams but Williams is only six years older than Sharapova. So, talking of her experience and her body image as something that is "superhuman" makes Ukoha state as those it is implied that the stakes are not fair against Sharapova.

This is not the feminine that Muguruza seemed to have been talking about. She does not at all compare her bodies to other female athletes and she had won against Venus Williams, Serena's older sister. She wants her femininity to empower her not to show that she is somehow disadvantaged in the court.

These are two different narratives but they coalesce. "Feminine" or "masculine" female bodies can be very different and like all athletes of any gender everyone is different. Female athletes seem to face the pressure of either being too feminine thus not a fighter as Muguruza pointed out or as being masculine thus not qualified to even be a woman.

Ukoha also addresses that the sports world holds this narrative when they are photographing Sharapova and Williams: "That and the fact that Williams has endured societal lashings of disapproval when it comes to her body image.

The media has only helped to reinforce the stereotypes of desirability between the two lifelong competitors. The images selected for Sharapova?-?showcase her femininity and her skillful prance around the court she rarely dominates. Williams is usually displayed with arrogance?-?and a mouth agape with the breath of a dragon."

When we see male athletes they can be charming, gregarious, toned, slim, muscle heavy, lean muscled or even a bit small in stature. They can also be handsome and have a large fan base. However, their looks and physical appearances are not categorised as effeminate or traditionally masculine in media, at least not highlighted.

Their physical appearance and what they are wearing are all secondary to how they perform. This is not the case for people like Muguruza and Williams who must battle for respect and recognition because they don't fit some "mould" that is out there.

The mould is usually misogyny but add racism to it and you get other frames. As Ukoha observes: "We know that if Serena Williams had been caught doping?-?she would be stripped of more than just the loss of endorsements. Her status as a disgraced Black woman brought to her knees by fate?-?would be beyond resuscitation." Yes, that is true. People have been after Serena Williams for a long time.

They do want her to be out of the tennis courts. She wouldn't get a 15 month ban she would probably be permanently banned, much to the glee to those against her.  She wouldn't get to go to Harvard Business School as many news sources cited even after being caught doping.

We live in a world with many misogynistic practices. One of them is to gauge women on how ideal their bodies are and even if they seem to fit an ideal how they are not fit to do certain things. Female sports have been long underrated and not given much importance too.

The psychological pressure of sexism and racism is at times daunting even to potential athletes. However, we can respect athletes like Williams and Muguruza who seem to want to be themselves, which means both women and professional athletes.


The writer is a copy Editor of The Asian Age

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