A blog post earlier today by Nicole LaVoi, a researcher at the Tucker Center for Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, has drawn a great deal of attention from national and international media.
It has also drawn a great deal of rage aimed directly at LaVoi. To summarize the LaVoi's post: She suggests -- based on research and a well-documented pattern by SI -- that the magazine's cover photo of skier Lindsay Vonn continues a pattern of general objectification and sexualization of female athletes.
LaVoi's observation isn't a stretch at all for women's sports advocates well versed in the ways female athletes have been depicted for decades.
The vitriol aimed at her in response to the post has been swift and ugly, however. I won't belabor it here (You can read it yourself.)
Although some of the comments clearly reflect -- in a civil tone -- disagreement with LaVoi about whether this particular shot of Vonn is meant to objectify or sexualize her, many comments aim to completely discredit LaVoi with a range of ridiculous accusations.
The fact is that women who attempt to speak with authority about sports have often been the target of sexist attacks. That's because sports have been primarily defined as a male domain -- a place where traditional "tough guy" masculinity is reinforced. The rights provided to girls and women via Title IX have certainly started to challenge that assumption, but scores of studies show that we're far from equitable on many fronts.
Women's sports advocates who speak out, then, run the risk of drawing a great deal of criticism because they are asserting their voices -- against the grain -- in an environment where women generally sidelined from having any real power.
But it is the voices of LaVoi and many others -- including those on the Women Talk Sports network -- that continue to challenge the norms and chip away at constricting gender roles for men and women in sports and the larger culture.
They may make many people uncomfortable -- even outraged. But they are essential.