I was all set to post on a completely different topic, and then a friend posted the following ESPN op-ed What Brittney Griner says about us by Kate Fagan on Facebook, and now I feel the need to respond.
The op-ed focuses on the media backlash against Brittney Griner and her supposed masculine energy. Brittney Griner is a 6-foot-8 senior who plays basketball for Baylor. During the NCAA Women’s Tournament, she will attempt to help Baylor win their fourth consecutive national championship. This is a big fucking deal. She was in a feature for ESPN in the fall about the three top female college basketball players, and the photos at the top of the feature demonstrate one of the major issues that the op-ed points out: the need to keep female athletes within certain gender roles.
For the record, my sister plays basketball for a Division I school, and insulting female basketball has always been a surefire way to piss me off. I have a friend who has, more than once, told me that he finds women’s basketball boring. He thinks that the score never reaches the right level or some such nonsense. I have told him he’s a ridiculous moron. Multiple times. And that he can feel free to talk once his short ass learns how to get the ball into the basket.
According to Fagan, both the media and basketball fans take issue with Griner and her outstanding record because she isn’t “as good” as male athletes (most women can’t dunk, which is some sort of basketball quality standard – Griner does, FYI), but she also isn’t feminine enough. How does that work exactly? How are women supposed to compete and look like models while doing it? Fagan states “Women’s basketball is maligned for not being as athletic as the men’s game, but as women become more athletic, these players are often labeled unfeminine, and therefore unwatchable. Feel free to pause here and scratch your head.” And you should scratch your head because it’s just stupid.
Fagan goes on to say “Even though we’re viewing these athletes in a space we’ve all agreed is designated for competition (in this case, the basketball court), we still expect them to represent traditional gender roles.” Crazy, right? As if female athletes don’t feel self-conscious enough about their bodies. These women who are pure muscle and gorgeous feel like they have “man shoulders”, and society reinforces it while telling them that they’re not as good of athletes as men. And let’s talk about male basketball players for a moment. There are some truly fugly NBA players who are lauded as gods. But a talented woman isn’t respected because she looks “masculine.”
Don’t believe me? When was the last time you read about the WNBA draft or season records in the headlines? Can you name even one major WNBA player? According to Fagan, this is due in large part to the fact that most of their time is spent overseas.
And just to reinforce Fagan’s point, check out the comments section at the bottom of her piece. It’s amazing how ignorant people love to hear themselves talk (or see their words in print.) I had to take a break from reading them when I came across a man who claims that Griner isn’t entirely female. Apparently her hormones levels need to be tested to prove that she doesn’t have an unfair advantage. Because, you know, she’s genetically too much of a man. Seriously?
I respect how far women have come in the Western world, but I also recognize how far we still need to go. We still live in a world where blaming the victim for rape is okay because she was drunk and unconscious. We live in a world where the Violence Against Women Act was allowed to die, even temporarily, by Congress. We live in a world that doesn’t take into account that women need access to reliable and safe daycares in order to continue to work and that not every woman has the option to be a stay-at-home mom. And we live in a world where female athletes- basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball, ect.- are ridiculed for their powerful bodies because they have too many muscles.
It’s a matter of challenging the way that we as a society thinks, and it is an uphill battle.