Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Joe Drape in today's Times on female athletes posing nude (or nearly) for Playboy, FHM, and other magazines for guys whose hobby is jerking off.

No mention in Drape's article about LJ or Labella -- it's focused mostly on Amy Acuff, who appears on the cover of the August Playboy.

The slant of the article is that opinions have changed rapidly on this subject, to the point where no one really cares anymore. Just four years ago, Donna Lopianao said "Any exposure in a sports magazine that minimizes athletic achievement and skill and emphasizes the female athlete as a sex object is insulting and degrading."

Compare that to today's quote from Dominique Dawes, the president-elect of the WSF: "It's a personal choice, and if an athlete wants to portray herself in a certain light, it's up to her. It's not anything I would do, but sports and sex has always sold. I think women have earned the right to make those kinds of decisions."

But what sort of choice is this? Why does someone make such a decision?

Here's what Acuff told Drape: "I did it for the financial aspect. It's really hard to make that kind of money in the real world."

Finally, a female athlete who's honest about her reasons for taking off her clothes.

And that honestly brings to light the essential hollowness of choice- or consent-based defenses made by Dawes and lots of others.

People pose nude (and do lots of other things) in large part because they need the money. If Amy Acuff were a millionaire, she wouldn't be in Playboy. We live in a world where female athletes typically make far less money than male athletes. So women get pressured in to posing nude and men don't. So women end up making that "choice" and men don't.

Now that's obviously a dramatic oversimplification -- some people (e.g., LJ) don't do it for the money; not all male athletes (e.g., male pole vaulters) make a lot of money; a few female athletes (e.g., Serena) do; etc.

Maybe lots of female athletes would keep posing even if they made the same as men, and maybe that would be ok. Maybe it's great for women to revel in their bodies and their sexuality in the pages of Maxim. Maybe it's time for us to move beyond the sexual prudishness of Second Wave feminism.

Or if nothing else, maybe we must accept some of this for now so we can advance women's sports. Maybe it's ok for Sue Bird to get all nasty in Dime Magazine so that her daughter doesn't have to. (Even writing that sentence, however, gives me that kind of feeling like I want to firebomb something... like maybe Branson, Missouri, just for the fuck of it.)

It would take a whole semester in a women's studies class to analyze this fully, and reasonable people can disagree about the propriety of female athletes going topless.

But the point is: it's not enough to say "she chose to do it, so everything's ok." That's a cop-out -- an intellectually lazy response to a serious and complicated issue. It's not so much a way of analyzing the issue as a way of avoiding it.