Male Audiences Prove to Only Accept Particular Feminine Presence in Sports

The world of professional sports has become one of the most lucrative businesses in history, running parallel to other industries such as Hollywood movies and music producing record labels. Networks rake in billions of dollars every year and more and more complaints have arisen in recent years regarding the large salaries of athletes (Zirin). It’s unlikely that this will change as audiences take it all in, using social media as a tool to discuss games and strategies and advertising their favourite teams. However, it is quickly becoming apparent that the large business of sports is a less than friendly place, particularly on social media. It was on Twitter that actress Ashley Judd was bombarded with misogynistic, vulgar, and violent comments and threats in response to a tweet sharing her opinion on a basketball game during March Madness (Alter). An avid basketball fan, Judd was shocked to see such an intense response (Judd). The tweets ranged from family insults to threats of sexual violence that became increasingly more common and sinister (Judd). A victim of sexual assault, Judd chose not to remain silent and instead pressed charges and wrote an opinion piece for an online magazine in the hopes of unpacking the connections she saw between social media and misogyny (Judd). Unfortunately, Judd’s case is not unique. Many women face the response she faced, although seen on a larger scale than most due to her celebrity status, every day in relation to sports and the largely masculine connotation it carries.

The response Judd received can be largely attributed to capitalism as a system of power and its use in the realm of sports. The need to make a profit and sale forces many corporations to focus its attention on a target audience. In the world of sports, networks capitalize largely on gender expectations. Almost all major sports networks such as ESPN and CBS Sports are marketed almost exclusively to men. Their marketing targets men by placing them in almost all systems of expertise and power, and provides a code of conduct and expectations for boy and manhood (Aulette, Wittner, 444). As sports rely heavily on physical skill, this suggests men are exclusively capable of meeting the physical proficiency required for success. Their branding of sports encourages hyper masculine behavior (Aulette, Wittner, 444). These behaviors base themselves around a dominator model in which violence and threats are used in order to maintain position and stability of a hierarchy, particularly one in which males are on top (Aulette, Wittner, 271). Physical dominance, often in the form violence can be seen both in game play as well as in athlete personas. Sports such as football, hockey, and wrestling foster games that are often violent in nature. These activities are full of punching, tackling, and body checking (National Football League, Section 3; National Hockey League, 67-68). Players cannot opt out of these components of the game if they wish to be successful and maintain the credibility of their team. Their physical dominance is rewarded through their wins and additional commentary provided by the network as they draw attention to themselves and their playing (MacGregor). As a result, the audiences become more aware of violent players, encouraging and cheering them on (MacGregor). In addition to this, many athletes are recruited and encouraged to participate in additional violence outside of gameplay, becoming entertainment for the viewers who now relish the idea of their favourite players asserting themselves against others (MacGregor). Audiences are conditioned to believe that these highly successful male athletes have earned their place as a result of their physical dominance, and as a result feel inclined to follow in their footsteps.

Sexual dominance is also given positive reinforcement by professional sports networks. The male viewers relationship with women in sports remains highly misogynistic, placing women into the role of eye candy, or non-participatory, not allowing them to take part in active or expert way. Women are almost never granted positions on expert panels, and are lucky to receive jobs as sideline reporters (Morrison). They are separated from their male counterparts, suggesting they are classified in an “other” group. This further asserts men as the only active participants in sports, and the only ones with enough knowledge to share any opinion. The largest role for women on these networks is in their presence as eye candy for the target male audience who can now be determined as heterosexual. In searching through Google Images for examples of cheerleaders in the NHL, NFL, and NBA, a great deal can be revealed about female presence in sports. Female cheerleaders can be seen wearing flashy, tight fitting clothing that exposes a great deal of their body, hypersexualizing them (Aulette, Wittner, 414; Baltimore Ravens). These outfits are not conducive for extensive physical activity and so they can be largely seen dancing, often in a highly sexualized manner, and being lifted into the air by male counterparts (Baltimore Ravens). Male cheerleaders are dressed in plain athletic wear to indicate that they are not the main focus, and are not present in dance sequences but are used for intricate stunts requiring additional strength (Baltimore Ravens). Their gender based roles in cheerleading further strives to suggest that women are only capable of physical skill that does not require strength, and are therefore unable to fully assert dominance through physical and violent means, and can therefore not advance in the hierarchy; whereas the males are shown as fully capable of this. Their contrasting outfits condition the audience to believe that women are being presented for heterosexual men on a platter in between game play. Their revealing costumes suggest females in sports are only to be objects of the male gaze, they are dehumanized and replaced instead as sexual objects to be consumed, and not true members of the sport (Aulette, Wittner, 429). As the subject of the gaze, females can do little to assert themselves sexually, allowing males to again be placed in the dominant position.

Judd’s commentary on the March Madness college basketball games broke the established rules set out by the capitalist intentions of the world of sports. Not only was she not participating as a mere subject of male gaze, and instead dared to have an opinion on the play of the game, which the audience has been carefully conditioned to believe is not possible. This idea of sports being a sign of masculinity was tarnished, suggesting it may be a place for femininity and feminine thought. The male audience therefore felt their masculinity, as active viewer jeopardized. Based on their conditioning for sports to be a place of masculinity, which is characterized by dominance, it is unsurprising to see men feel the need to reassert this dominance. The threats of violence against Judd show the need for physical dominance, while the graphic and vulgar sexual assault threats combine this violence with sexual dominance. Their goal was not to perform these acts, but rather to scare Judd back into her rightful place within sport and allow for masculinity to be reinstated.

Works Cited

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. Time, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

Aulette, Judy Root., and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

“Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders: Photos.” Baltimore Ravens. The National Football League, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

The Dylan Ratigan Show: Are Professional Athletes Paid Too Much? By David Zirin. Perf. David Zirin. NBC News., 25 Oct. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Goodell, Roger. “2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League.” National Football League, 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Can Kiss My Ass.” Mic. Mic Network Inc., 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.

MacGregor, Jeff. “Players Fight Because We Let ’em.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 12 Apr. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.

Morrison, Sara. “Media Is ‘failing Women’-sports Journalism Particularly so.” Poytner. The Poytner Institute, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 06 Apr. 2015.

National Hockey League. “National Hockey League Official Rules 2014-2015.” – The National Hockey League. National Hockey League, 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.


Unpacking the Harassment and Violence Against Trans Women of Color

Laverne Cox has recently become one of the media’s most talked about and popular members of the LGTQ community. Cox portrays a transgender woman in the series Orange is the New Black as a MTF (male-to-female) transgender person herself. She is consistently praised for both her performance and her activism against transphobia. Cox gave a public speech in which she described her own experiences of street harassment and violence and discusses her theories of why transphobia is perpetuated upon transgender women more severely, particularly among those women of colour (Cox). Cox’s argument is convincing and brings forth various systems of oppression that she, as a black trans woman, experiences on a regular basis. Her speech suggests to the audience that transphobic men feel trans women threaten their masculinity and therefore act in a way they believe will reassert their masculinity often through acts of violence and harassment. Among men of colour, this is often a result of the hypersexualization of men throughout early colonialism and globalization in order to emphasize white supremacy.

Cox begins her discussion in describing an encounter she had with two men, one black and one Latino, who had argued over her gender (Cox). One of Cox’s key observations is that the Latino man was attracted to her as a woman, however upon realizing she was trans, suddenly became disgusted (Cox). The idea of threatened masculinity is not exclusive to transphobia but is also present in homophobia and biphobia as well. Many men feel that they are not only unable to be attracted to anything remotely masculine, but doing so will force them into a more feminine position (Matani). The hegemony theory states that the media perpetuates a view that sticking to the status quo is not only necessary but is the only option (Aulette, Wittner, 431). In this context, the status quo is that of the sexual script of heterosexual relationships (Aulette, Wittner, 120). Men must follow this script, which states they must find women who are inherently feminine attractive (Aulette, Wittner, 122). In these relationships there is only room for one feminine partner, and one masculine partner. If they deviate from this script their masculinity will be subordinated and they will therefore become the feminine partner (Aulette, Wittner, 8). In finding a trans woman such as Cox attractive, these men were finding something masculine attractive and therefore taking on the feminine roles within the relationship. In cases such as this, many men feel they must reassert their masculinity. One of the many characteristics of socially constructed masculinity is the concept of being aggressive and finding power in physical control (Aulette, Wittner, 7). This is why transphobic men act out in violence towards trans women; they use it as a means to become the masculine partner.

Another one of Cox’s points focuses on the idea of trans women of colour who are assaulted and harassed by men of colour (Cox). She touches on the fascination with black male sexuality in our current society that has been perpetuated throughout history (Cox). During the period of white colonialism and globalization through the Trans Atlantic slave trade, the Europeans used black male sexuality as a means of oppression (Aulette, Wittner, 105.) Black men were described as hyper sexualized in that they were more aggressive and sexually powerful which as attributes of hyper masculinity (Aulette, Wittner, 105). This hyper sexualization was used to dehumanize the black male and as rationale for surveillance and severe punishment particularly of those stepping outside of sexual norms (Aulette, Wittner, 105). This was often done in the form of demasculinization and was used to emphasize white supremacy and increase the masculinity of the white male. Cox’s describes in her speech the lynching that took place in the United States in which black men’s genitals were mutilated, pickled, and sold in and effort to emasculate and therefore desexualize these men (Cox). These systems of oppression and the fear of male sexuality are still in effect today as the image of the black rapist is still seen in the media (Aulette, Wittner, 106). Cox suggests that many of these black men in present day are feeling the pain of those in the past who were emasculated and as a result, feel the urge to reassert their masculinity in even stronger ways (Cox). They see Cox, as a MTF transgender person, as an embodiment of emasculation of black men and feel aggression towards her, which they use to assert their own masculinity (Cox).

The speech Cox delivered was both powerful and informative to an audience who likely do not understand the oppression she faces not only as a trans woman, but a woman of colour. Her intersectional analysis of her own experiences allows students like myself to see how these societal groups such as the trans community, the LGBTQ community, the black community, and so on cannot only be considered as separate groups with their own unique problems. Rather each individual within those groups belongs to many of these groups each with issues that affect them in different ways and are linked and associated with the various groups they are apart of.

Works Cited

Aulette, Judy Root., and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

Laverne Cox on Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Color. By Laverne Cox. Perf. Laverne Cox. Youtube. Keppler Speakers, 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

Matani, Maria-Teresa. “Transgendering Citizenship.” Kingston. 12 Mar. 2015. Lecture.

What it means to be a girl in “Girlhood”

Girlhood (Bande de Filles) is a French coming of age drama directed by Celine Sciamma, who has made a name for herself in international cinema for her different takes within the genre (Bramowitz). This particular film follows the life of Marieme, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a low-income suburb of Paris as she attempts to overcome her home situation and reach a life she is proud of (Sciamma, Girlhood). The film flows in episodes that explore the many climaxes in the protagonist’s life as she makes both good and bad decisions, causing many situations and plot elements to be left unexplained and without any true resolution or conclusion (Sciamma, Girlhood). The eldest daughter in a family of four children, Marieme is responsible for her younger sisters while her mother works as a hotel maid and is verbal and physically abused by her elder brother (Sciamma, Girlhood). She finds solace in an all girl gang led by the fierce and confrontational Lady and features her friends Adiatou and Fily (Sciamma, Girlhood).. The girls rebaptize her as Vic, for Victoire, and she begins to alter her dress code as well as her quiet mannerisms in favour of a more aggressive attitude (Sciamma, Girlhood). Together the girls take on the neighbourhood, getting into physical altercations, stealing money, and partying in hotel rooms (Sciamma, Girlhood). However as Vic’s home life deteriorates, she chooses to leave in the hopes of making a newer and better life for herself, and must also leave behind her friends (Sciamma, Girlhood).

The atmosphere at Reelout was very hard to identify. When entering the theatre, the town and gown feeling was very present as two distinct age groups were present as university students, and baby boomers in about their fifties or sixties. However there appeared to be no animosity between the groups, with people interacting and discussing their expectations of the film. The space itself felt very appropriate for a small, niche festival in a local independent theatre and everyone appeared very comfortable in the slightly overfilled auditorium. During the film, the atmosphere changed from one of excitement to confusion very quickly. Sighs of exasperation and noises of disbelief slipped more than once. I believe this was due to the structure of the film. Much of my viewing time was spent attempting to put the pieces of the episodes together, however there were too many missing elements or no clear link between them. In fact as I left the theatre, I heard many people continue in their attempt even as they walked down the street, just to understand the exact point Sciamma was attempting to make. This almost created a continue sense of community as people began to listen to different groups and chime in with their own theories.
The film relies heavily on intersectional analysis in order to convey the narrative with focus lying primarily with class, gender, race, and sexuality. One of the topics most central to the story is Vic’s desire to reach a different life full of success that she cannot see in the place she lives. Early on Vic is seen facing an invisible school counselor begging to be allowed to repeat the year for the third time in the hopes of getting into high school rather than a vocational school (Sciamma, Girlhood). The suburb Vic resides in is predominantly working class and likely the majority went on to such institutions if they continued in education at all. It is revealed that although Vic wants to move forward, she has a number of oppressive forces against her such as her position in the working class and her female gender. No father figure is present in the film and Vic’s mother works long hours as a hotel maid, a career path Vic aggressively denies, and her character becomes almost obsolete due to her excessive working. Vic’s family appears to adhere to typical gender essentialism ideology that states men are not responsible for domestic duties such as child rearing, cleaning, and cooking but are more suited to working outside of the home to provide (Aulette, Wittner). Although Vic’s elder brother has no steady employment, these responsibilities are instead left to Vic, who cares for two younger sisters, the elder of the two is also forced to assist and eventually take over after Vic’s departure. It is clear that the duties that lie within the home where her family needs her and her education becomes an afterthought. Vic chooses not to attend vocational school and drops out all together along with her friends.
A subtler note Sciamma makes is in the social constructions, which are norms or beliefs created by media and culture and shape behaviors within society, associated with the girls’ hair related to their feminine expectations (Tolmie). The image of hair also has implications upon their race as women of colour. One of the most common manifestations of this in society is that of long, smooth, silky hair. This image is constructed by the typical hair type possessed by white women who the estimated majority female population in France (World Population Review). Upon meeting Lady, Adiatou, and Fily, Vic changes her entire appearance overnight (Sciamma, Girlhood). The most drastic of these changes is seen in that of her hair from dreadlocks to straight, smooth hair (Sciamma, Girlhood). As a woman of African origins, Vic’s hair is coarse and curly naturally, growing outwards rather than downwards and therefore not matching the white perpetuation of beauty. The majority of the girls in the film, including Vic’s small gang, all have been most likely either chemically treated their hair with a relaxer or appear to wear extensions or wigs in order for their hair to achieve a similar look. Shortly after her transformation, Vic’s unattainable crush Ismael suddenly becomes interested and strikes up a secret relationship (Sciamma, Girlhood). This focus on hair is also seen in another scene in which Lacy is beaten in a physical altercation with another girl posse (Sciamma, Girlhood). As punishment for the loss, Lady’s father cuts off all of her hair becoming a hot topic of gossip among the teenagers (Sciamma, Girlhood). In the aftermath, the boys Lady once considered her friends and equals call her, “[…] just a chick,” who is unable to fight and state that her hair makes her look unattractive yelling at her to leave (Sciamma, Girlhood). In both of these instances, Lady and Vic are attempting to meet not only the social constructions of beauty, but also that of exaggerated femininity (Kwiat). Exaggerated femininity is the idea that women must conform themselves into a woman possessing socially constructed perfect feminine qualities in order to satisfy male desires (Kwiat). Both girls are shown by the men in their lives that positive attention is given when possessing the long straight hair, and isolation is given to those who do not.
Vic’s relationship with Ismael comes under extreme strain throughout the last third of the film as a result of both her gender and its relation to her sexuality. After her first sexual experience with him, Vic is branded as the neighbourhood slut. This emphasizes the idea of the cult of the virgin, which identifies the societal belief that virginity is the most important virtue one possesses, particularly in women, and is clearly still strong in Vic’s community (Tolmie). Vic feels this as her community ostracizes her and her brother brutally beats her for bringing shame upon herself, the family, and most importantly him (Sciamma, Girlhood). In an attempt to assist, Ismael even offers to marry Vic stating it is the only way to improve her reputation, as his public image remains untarnished (Sciamma, Girlhood). One of the most key scenes in the film is between Ismael and Vic after she has left her home. Vic has cut her hair into a short style and has begun wearing larger clothing making her appear to look like the male figures surrounding her (Sciamma, Girlhood). As the couple begins to get intimate, Ismael removes her shirt to reveal Vic has begun bandaging her torso in an attempt to disguise her breasts (Sciamma, Girlhood). This is a typical technique used by female to male transgendered individuals who feel that although their genitalia are biologically female, they identify as a male (Gray). Ismael is horrified stating that it was just like her hair change and he becomes disgusted with her and leaves (Sciamma, Girlhood). This is another example of the exaggerated femininity that Ismael expects from Vic, which she has now refused to comply with, causing her to be left alone (Kwiat).
Girlhood as a film as fantastic to watch, particularly for the sake of analysis. Intersectionality appears to be at the forefront of the movie’s issues. Sciamma attempts to make the audience recognize that Vic’s struggles do not stem from one part of her being, but rather stem from the various forces of oppression that she is faced with. The audience predominantly sees the bridges between Vic’s gender, socio-economic class, and race, but due to the nature of the film’s many intentional plot holes, the viewer must look deeper in order to see the connections to her sexuality. The entire question of this is never truly addressed, and Vic never explicitly experiments with females or makes clear if her dress choices are now permanent. This was one of the main questions asked by the crowds gathered outside the theatre, and I can only hope that the other audience members were able to reflect and discover how sexuality intersected with the many other factors to determine Vic’s life.

Works Cited

Aulette, Judy Root., and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. Third ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Bramowitz, Julie. “Céline Sciamma’s Newest Film, Girlhood, Changes the Face of the Coming-of-Age Story.” Vogue. Conde Nast, 30 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Girlhood. Dir. Celine Sciamma. Perf. Karidja Toure, Assa Sylla, Lindsay Karamoh, Marietou Toure. Strand Releasing, 2014. Film.

Gray, Ira. “Chest Binding 101 – FTM Binder Guide | FTM Binding, Chest Binder, Breast Binders.” TransGuyscom. Trans Media Network, 06 Sept. 2010. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Kwiat, Paulina. “Exaggerated Femininity.” Prezi Inc., 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

Tolmie, Jane, Dr. “Ads, Images, and Visual Culture.” Biosciences Auditorium, Kingston. 26 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

Tolmie, Jane, Dr. “Entertainment.” Biosciences Auditorium, Kingston. 12 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

World Population Review. “France Population 2014.” France Population 2014. World Population Review, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.