In years gone by, I had a sports column for a now-defunct weekly in Toronto, Metropolis. The following is an abridged version of my article, Pink Tights and Empty Net Goals, published on April 12, 1990:
The beer ads say it all, the same old glorified fantasy of breasts and buns, another ode to the faceless jiggles of procreative dolls. Women have never been accepted as equals in sports. In spite of the occasional accolade in tennis or track, they cannot shake the stereotype of cheerleader/parade queen, always the voluptuous muse proudly displaying her pearly whites and profound cleavage. Sports Illustrated’s bathing suit issue has become an institution, Cheryl Tiegs and Kathy Ireland well-rounded icons, while films like The Laker Girls and The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are common viewing. This is what some might call soft-core pornography, the portrayal of women as objects, as vessels to be judged by their flesh, rather than their ability, character and intelligence.
It’s not as if sports is anything but entertainment, a time to turn off the real world, but despite what marketers might think, that doesn’t mean that minds have to dissolve and comprehension be whittled to a twig of barbaric need. To have women constantly reduced to physical parts, demeaned into a position of sexual subservience at every commercial break and sideline shot, is to maintain the pathetic consciousness of master and slave, owned and owner. Men seem to have no need of female athletic heroes – unless synchronized swimmers can be dug up to substitute for a ‘disgraced’ demi-god (Ben Johnson) – no desire to cheer for “her” achievement when we can have “his”; “her” achievement is always second-best. Examples are inexhaustible: Grand Slam tennis always feature the Women’s Final first, the opening act to the Men’s; coverage of Women’s World Hockey Championships gave as much space to the color of uniforms as to the quality of play. Even in something as low profile as The Toronto Star’s “Stars of the Week” – a weekly feature on the sporting achievements of the city’s kids – it is a rarity to find even one girl in the lot. It’s as if women aren’t capable of anything physical except sex, as if they can’t run, jump and strive as well. A look to the sports pages in tabloids confirms this, where between the stories and statistics are the advertisements for strip clubs and phone sex.
Male domination seeks to portray women as a toy, a thing that looks great when wet, that acts as fodder for the mendacious, a perambulator for the lazy. Sport doesn’t need it, nor even insinuate it; sport is about the triumph of the body, not its exploitation.
Perhaps there has been a change in the last 20 years, in soccer but that’s about it. The ads and sideline shots are the same as always, and now we have beach volleyball in the Olympics, a much more popular event in the women’s division. I wonder why.