FOUR out of five Time magazine special-issue Olympic covers feature women athletes, including hurdler Lolo Jones, above. Four out of five. Magazines often emphasize Olympic women gymnasts and ice skaters, but here we see traditionally male domains such as soccer, which has a relatively small following on the women’s side, and javelin, which has an even smaller following. These photos offer the androgynous ideal of hyper-masculine, Spartan warriors.
Photos of male athletes don’t present the same perverse opportunities. Muscular male athletes don’t suggest femininity so they don’t assist the pervasive effort to get everyone, male and female, to undergo a psychological sex change operation.
These photos are a craven appeal not to women who will ever realistically be athletes but to normal women. Be hard-charging. Compete like a man. There is something supremely wasteful and non-commercial about feminine tenderness, which is why popular culture, soaked as it is in materialism, stands so adamantly against it.
A man becomes more masculine by engaging in intensely competitive sports at the highest level. A woman becomes less womanly, except in sports that allow an explicit expression of feminine aesthetics, such as ice skating and gymnastics. That’s a fact of life. It may very well be harmless for a minority of women to make these sacrifices, either temporarily or permanently, but the glorification of aggression and competitiveness in women that now comes with Olympic sports extends beyond this small minority, and is not harmless.
This 1900 photo of Charlotte Cooper, the first woman champion in the Olympics, suggests that conformity to a masculine ideal is not new to women’s Olympic sports.
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I would also argue that these female athletes are featured on the covers of magazines for the same reason Sports Illustrated has a swimsuit edition: to appeal to men. These covers are close to softcore porn, and I would imagine men are buying the magazines as a result. There is no shame in reading Time Magazine, a man can tell himself. Moreover, he can applaud himself because he is so progressive that he supports female athletics. For example, a 30-something guy I work with, who calls himself a “feminist,” makes it known that he watches both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, and he always talks about how great the women perform. None of the other guys care to watch the women’s tournament, and my colleague usually goes to a bar alone to watch. To the extent the men in the office ever comment on women’s athletics, it to note that this or that athlete is “smoking hot” and has an “awesome body.” So, in the end, the women, no matter their prowess on the field, are objectified by most men.
Yes, of course, and it’s ironic that feminists think this is all in their favor.
And I would argue that many female athletes are aware of this reality and that, whether they are like it or not, this awareness creates a level of self-consciousness that interferes with their concentration.
Charlotte Cooper, on the other hand, wasn’t softcore porn.
Interesting post on the masculine Olympians who happen to be women (though not by much, judging by the covers).
I, too, am appalled at the masculinization of women in sports, and so undertook to write the International Olympic Committee. I floated the proposition of a new all-women’s contest: Competitive Cup-Filling, and copied the missive to Christina Hendricks, whom I recommended as Coach for Team USA.
Much as I hope they smile on my recommendations, I worry about the British and Russians. They are forces to contend with.
SJF writes: “So, in the end, the women, no matter their prowess on the field, are objectified by most men.”
Is that any longer in doubt?
I had occasion to make a social visit to a Soviet fishing trawler back when the Wall was up. We were told to make ourselves welcome and that we should smuggle in booze and porn, as both were forbidden on the ship. We got in, and noticed these horny sailors – who were very glad to see a few issues of Playboy my companion brought aboard – had lined the bulkheads of their cabins with photographs of female athletes in tight shorts.
Josh F. writes:
I suggest that there is something else to this glamorization and exaltation of the “masculine” FEMALE and that is sheer cover-up for the overwhelming failure of radical liberation. My generation of females (Gen X) are disproportionately “worn out” spiritually, intellectually and most obviously, physically. Ten to twenty years of going at it “like a man” will tend to do this to a female as you explicitly covered in your post about the female “Marine.” Females of my generation are hitting the wall in droves and they are wearing the degradation quite unconsciously. This in turn requires of the activist liberationists an amplification of the propaganda to insure that such females stay in this unconscious, but increasingly painful, state. The vitality they see is not the vitality they feel, but both sets of female are doing the same thing? So why the dis-ease between what should be and what actually is? None of my sisters told me about this wall I would crash into at 30-35 years of age. I still have 50-60 years to go. OMG!!!
Fred Owens writes:
It’s actually very simple. Cover photos of women outsell cover photos of men in any magazine, at any time. Ask any magazine editor or look at a magazine display rack, and you will see the smiling faces of good-looking women on most covers. Most magazine will intersperse the occasional male cover subject, for a change of pace, and to lend an air of seriousness. But in the world I live in, women are better looking than men. And even de-feminized women on cover of this week’s Time are still attractive to me, although less so than I would wish for.
The appearance of women dominates all cultures to some extent, but an image-centered culture is an especially woman-centered culture.