Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Britt and Becks: Sports and Gender Identity

The photo here is inaccurate (as in Not-Brittney), as was pointed out to me by a reader when I first posted this piece.  But the image did appear when I searched for a photo of Ms. Griner, so I'll keep it up.  And I'll stand by my point herein too.

Yes, I did watch the men's basketball Final Four last night, with a particular eye toward spying Blue II, Butler University's glorious fawn-and-white bulldog mascot.  (I also keep an eye out for Uga, Georgia's glorious white bulldog mascot, though I cannot begin to make it through a football game.)

It seems that basketball is everywhere, even in the style pages of the New York Times, as Guy Trebay writes about Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8-inch first-year student and player at Baylor University.

There she is, dunking a ball, and far above, with David Beckham at the Espy Awards. I think she looks confortable, attractive, and like a young woman, unmodified, in both photos.

Trebay discusses how traditional female standards of beauty have been vexed for female athletes, and I add how those athletes have often engaged in the "feminine apologia"--dressing up in hyperfeminine clothing off the field to mark their gender, or posing provocatively for Sports Illustrated magazine, among others.

Trebay's article seems intended to be a positive one, focusing on embracing Ms. Griner's beauty, but the quotes he culls are troubling.  Professor Terry Castle, for instance, situates Ms. Griner as a "slightly androgynous female"; the model scout Paul Rowland connects Ms. Griner to "amazing creatures." 

While these expressions are within the context of both sources appreciating Ms. Griner within a feminist dialogue--they and the other sources all agree that traditional beauty, represented by women of a certain height, weight, with particular features, no longer stands--the language they choose is extra-ordinary.  And while I'm down with being extraordinary, I don't want other people to provide those labels.  Let people name their own identities.

It's fitting to see Ms. Griner standing next to Mr. Beckham, as he is a male athlete who has been critiqued for being too feminine--the nail polish, the hairbands, the preening in photoshoots; hence, perhaps the ultramasculine Armani underwear ads: the masculine apologia. 

And yes, she has two of those Espy balls, while he has one.

That elephant in the room, though, is utterly coincidental, a non-symbolic happenstance that coincides with trophies won, not gender identity.  Brittney Griner is a beautiful young woman on and off the court and it's getting tiresome to have to read articles that "defend" or "explain" that fact.  In fact, I'm feeling tired just writing this!

Time for a nap.


Make Do Style said...

Gosh exhausting - when will it stop. She looks amazing, a fine figure of a woman and what more is there to be said. I love that she is wearing heels and cares not a jot what anyone thinks - you can tell this from her photo. I would quote Judith Butler but nothing springs easily to mind! Although I would add why does Brittney Griner have to be defined, other than as she is leading her life as a female basketball player of great talent.

WendyB said...

I'm glad I'm 5'4". Life is easier and I don't feel obligated to play sports.

Miss Whistle said...

Ah! Now I know who Blue II is. He's the cutest thing ever. I missed him last night. Thanks for enlightening me.

La Belette Rouge said...

I am 5'9 and I was told by my pediatrician that I would be 6 feet. I have always felt ripped off by not having those few inches. I love being tall. However 6-foot-8-inches and heels is beyond tall. She looks like what I imagine Athena might have looked. And, I love-love-love that she wears heels.

s. said...

I remember many years ago, our magnificent Silken Laumann was saddened by school kids' horrified reaction to her muscles: "women shouldn't have such big biceps;" "how weird;" "Gross" etc. She challenged them to rethink their views on beauty and feminity. I, for one, would rather my hypothetical daughter aspire to look like an Olympic athlete than, say, a model or a centrefold.

Anonymous said...

The woman pictured with Beckham is Candace Parker, who is 6'4', and a
professional basketball player with
the Los Angeles Sparks, of the WNBA.

Miss Cavendish said...

Eeeek! Then why does this photo turn up in an image search of Brittney Griner? Oy vey.

Anonymous said...

That’s Candace Parker pictured with David Beckham at the Espy Awards. Brittney Griner is no where near as beautiful and sexy as Parker is. She looks too much like a dude to be that fine. CP3 baby!!!!

Anonymous said...

First of all this is Candace Parker in this photo...so the photo needs to be retracked...and Brittney is doing her thing at Baylor College...Candance and Brittney are both tall just another way to show that women are beautiful in all shapes, heights, and form....Candace has open the door and here comes Brittney...best luck to all women athletes who are changing the game!!!

Anonymous said...

Um thats not brittney standing next to David Beckham? it's candace parker and you can see that she is wearing high heels, even though she is already tall. She plays pro already and she is 6'4'' not 6'8''

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter people candace or brittney there both beautiful black female athletes.