Writing new discourse: Taking the sexy out of women’s athletics

So I am going to veer away from my usual topics for a moment to discuss something I have always found very interesting: writing new discourses. What does that mean? Well for the non-communication majors in the crowd, a discourse is (simply put) the way we see something.

When looking at the social impact of Rent, you must do so through the looking glass of early 90’s America. To understand the implications of the language of Shakespeare, you must put on the mantle of the Elizabethan Every-man. Looking at it with modern language and text in mind will simply muddle the meaning behind the words.

That being said: there’s a lot of ‘sexy’ in women’s sports.

In modern America (and beyond our borders in this international community called the Internet), sex sells. There is also a belief that ‘no one wants to see women play sports’, so in order to entice an audience to watch what little athletics there are, we over-sexualize the participants.

To look at it from a psycho-analytical perspective, the mainstream media (primarily consisting of the male gaze) feels threatened by women who present themselves as strong. The media must either soften them to make them less threatening to the men by converting them to sexual objects, or must over-masculinize the women to make them non-threatening.

Search on google
Google search of “Women’s Beach Volleyball”. The internet says: “Don’t focus on the fact that she can bench press more than you because look at DAT ASS.”

(I don’t know if you can see it or if the screen shot is too small, but the other recommended searches? “Women’s Beach Volleyball camel” and “Hot women’s beach volleyball”)

While beach volleyball is not doing much to combat this overly-sexualized image, other sports are taking a more proactive stance.

If you have read this blog, you may have picked up that I play roller derby. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association has been focusing their PR and marketing efforts for the last three years, especially, on re-writing the discourse in which we see roller derby. We no longer want people to think of :

Yea. We don't usually look like that.

Yea. Sexy.
Yea. Sexy.

We want people to think of this:

dave wood oly
Gotham vs Oly – Hydra Championship Bout
Dave Wood Photography Used with Permission

Or even this:

Dave Wood Photography Used with permission
Atlanta Derby Brat
Dave Wood Photography Used with permission

Going above and beyond to present the sport of roller derby as that – a sport – has been a challenge for the W.F.T.D.A. when you have competing roller derby organizations who are not on board with the same public relations mission. While flat track derby is very focused on the athleticism, the O.S.D.A., M.A.D.E., Renegade and R.D.C.L. organizations continue to present the public with bank tracks, fishnets and cute girls who skate (“tee hee, isn’t that hot?”). NOTE: This does not imply that these organizations are not seeking athletic credential for their skaters or that their skaters are any less legitimate in their training. I’m talking public image here. Creating a new discourse in this situation is exceptionally difficult.

Some people just don’t want understand the athleticism and prowess necessary for the sport. Well. Until they watch Sandrine Rangeon (yes that’s her real name) score 45 points in one jam when her team is down by 35 and a Bronze medal at Championships is on the line. Then you might get it. Or seeing Bonnie Thunders leap half the track, or On’Da Sligh spin, hop and slide her way around every opponent. Then they go .. “OOOOoooohhhhh. I get it now.”

Let On’Da Sligh blow your mind… she’s the one in the blue with a star on her helmet.

With the first Roller Derby World Cup having been played in 2011, those of us in the derby community are hoping that people soon to take our sport seriously. Next step might be the Olympics.

Speaking of the Olympics … SEUGE WAY!!

At least roller derby lacks one obstacle that another sport, a sport that will be making it’s first appearance in the 2016 Olympics, has: STRIPPERS.

I am speaking, of course, of Pole Dancing. They’re not even calling it “Pole Aerobics” or “Pole Gymnastics”. Nope. Cut to the chase. There seems to be identity crisis issues happening within this subculture of athletes. Yes, athletes. Like in derby, there’s an element of sex that is part of the culture. Ok, let’s be honest here. The culture of derby has been linked to sex through psycho-analytic means.

It’s more than culture for the dancers I have met recently. They understand that sex has been the reason that the sport has been created, but it’s no longer just about sex. Not for the athletes. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand. How could derby not be accepted into the Olympics, but pole dancing was? Well, just like seeing Sandrine Rangeon score 45 points at Championships, I was shown a video that made me go “Oh. Damn. DAMN! That was awesome!”

The athleticism, balance, strength, endurance and control the women who perform have is unmatched. If I said some of them perform with Cirque du Soleil, would that make their skills more viable? Would it make them more accepted? Many of them do. Many of those at the top of the competition circuit hold regular jobs or are performers in other rights.

So the PR question that they are facing is not only “How do we change people’s minds?” but “What is our identity?” While flat track derby has focused down it’s mission to being Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary. (Huh? See. New discourse) The pole dancer community must decide how much sexy to keep in their core.

And beach volleyball? Well. I just don’t think that’s ever going to change.

This definitely changed my mind about a vertical pole and the athleticism. This is Jenyne Butterfly, arguably the most talented in the field right now.

2 thoughts on “Writing new discourse: Taking the sexy out of women’s athletics

  1. I immediately thought back to this entry when I read about the rebranding of the Lingerie Football league (http://offthebench.nbcsports.com/2013/01/10/theyve-taken-the-lingerie-out-of-the-lingerie-football-league/). I like how they are becoming more sporty, but it’s still upsetting that it gets more public attention then the Independent Women’s Football League (www.iwflsports.com) who dress like male football players and keep their abs covered.

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