Thursday, July 01, 2010

On Soccer and Attractive People

Anyone who follows straight female soccer fans on Twitter has seen at least a few tweets about the hotness/notness of several of the players. (Cristiano Ronaldo, Landon Donovan, and, oddly, Yoann Gourcuff seem to be the ones most mentioned among my tweeps.) I, personally, like it - I'm not used to seeing men drooled over in the same way we straight men drool over women. It's a refreshing step towards equality. But the question still arises: is this:

different from this:

(That's Brandi Chastain, for those of you who don't remember the '99 Women's World Cup at which she scored the winning PK in the shootout final against China.)

My thought is no, of course not. But Irin at Jezebel explains why there's some doubt:
In our current universe, men do not have trouble being taken seriously based on their looks or perceived sexiness, nor is their worth in society primarily judged by them. Our drooling over Benny Feilhaber isn't just a drop in the bucket — it also won't contribute to the overall oppression of men, soccer playing or otherwise. They will not be told their primary value is based on whether women want to fuck them. They will not be paid less on the dollar or subject to violence in representation or acts. They will not be treated like meat or chattel. Period.
(Benny Feilhaber? Really?)

Good points, all, and I understand that women are judged based on their looks at a far higher rate than are men (although men are also judged on their height and amount of hair loss). And I'll accept that women's sports are taken less seriously than men's - I've had to remind several fellow soccer fans that the Women's World Cup is next year, and that we have a shot at winning. But do those of us who pay attention to women's athletics really have trouble taking female athletes seriously? And can we really be worried that straight male fans of the sport are objectifying the athletes?

Irin goes on to discuss the reasons why she enjoys ogling male soccer players, and among them is this rather telling one:
4) They're having fun doing what they love.

This needs little explanation. No sexyface, no corpse-like poses, just spontaneous shirt-shedding and teammate grabbing.
We can go farther and say this - she recognizes that these men have value beyond their appearance. They're talented soccer players who are known for doing something besides putting on a show for women. And so when they do put on a show, as they do on the Vanity Fair cover I posted earlier, the world recognizes that they're soccer players who also happen to be hot. I'd point out that the same should be said for Chastain, a talented defender who also just happens to be hot. And that's the same way I and my fellow US women's team fans look at the women who play on that team. Sure, Hope Solo's hot, but what matters is that she keeps the ball from going in the net. (And that she doesn't talk smack about Brianna Scurry. Let's keep the USWNT a no-jackass zone please.) These women enjoy playing soccer, they're good at it, and yes, many of them look very, very good doing so. So what's the problem with me enjoying their looks as well as their talent?

The worry, I suppose, is that men would dismiss a female athlete who they don't find attractive. I'm not sure I agree. I'm not particularly attracted to Abby Wambach, but damn, can she find the back of the net. She's a gifted goal scorer and that's what matters. (And considering the problems our men's team has with strikers, this is no small issue. I honestly wonder who's going to step up and score goals if Wambach has to be out. Can I trust Heather O'Reilly? Or Lauren Cheney? Wait, I'm getting sidetracked.)

I understand that the assumption is always going to be that a man who comments on a woman's attractiveness is dismissive of other aspects of her personality. This tends to not be true of my group of friends, but I also recognize that most women have experienced this sort of disparagement before. So I don't begrudge women the right to make that assumption. Hell, if I were in their shoes I'd make the same assumption, no doubt. But is that going to stop me from talking about how hot Cat Whitehill is? No. I know that I respect her as a defender (for both the USWNT and the Washington Freedom) and I'll just have to hope that my female friends will trust me when I say that I do.

1 comment:

Matthew B. Novak said...

I've been thinking about this a bit since reading your post. And after watching Olivia Munn do terribly on The Daily Show last night, I think I've come to a disagreement with you...

You wrote:
I understand that the assumption is always going to be that a man who comments on a woman's attractiveness is dismissive of other aspects of her personality.

I think the problem might actually be the opposite. People wrongly let attractiveness stand in for other abilities/aspects of personality.

Sure, Olivia Munn is attractive. But does that mean she's the best/funniest person for The Daily Show's new correspondent position? No. There's probably someone funnier out there who wasn't given the chance. Not because of any assumptions about that other person's ability, but rather because we let Olivia Munn's attractiveness substitute for ability.

Maybe these all just run together and don't really cut against each other. But I feel like the people don't really make assumptions about other skills based on a person's attractiveness so much as they allow attractiveness to serve as a sort of universal substitute for ability. If a person is attractive they can use that as a sort of wild card to make up for whatever deficiencies they might have.

Sort of like Jon Hamm on 30 Rock.

Yup, Daily Show and 30 Rock. I am so still-under-30.