Thursday, February 18, 2010

NBC: World's best girls give it their all in the women's downhill

As Julia Mancuso whipped around the gates during the women’s downhill at the Vancouver Olympics, the NBC announcers noted the icy and difficult conditions. “She likes a course that is rough and bumpy,” said analyst Christin Cooper. “She says that it eliminates some of the advantage of the larger girls that have more mass that can kind of go like freight trains down a smooth course.”
Later, Cooper said during Elisabeth Goergl’s bronze-medal run, “These girls have got to really nail it aggressively all the way down the course.”
In fact, Cooper repeatedly referred to the women’s skiers as girls, something that also appeared on NBC’s liveblog of the event, which noted that “it's scary to see these girls go down at such speeds.”
Calling the women’s skiers girls trivializes and delegitimizes women’s sports participation in two ways.
First, each instance in which the skiers were labeled as “girls” came at a time when the related description violated gender norms in some way. For example, femininity is at odds with the notion of a “big” female moving like a “freight train.” In the same way, aggression is culturally marked as masculine, and attacking a mountain at break-neck speed is hardly a traditional feminine quality. Calling the skiers girls in a context where they are being described in terms that often reference masculinity neutralizes that apparent oxymoron – and ultimately preserves a more traditional representation of gender.
Second, “girls” playing sports don’t violate gender norms in the way that “women” playing sports do. When you are a “girl,” it’s okay to engage in trivial and fun pursuits like sports; women, on the other hand, are expected to perform traditional forms of femininity, which is at odds with the masculine notions of competition and sports.
This logic also adds another level of explanation to Deford's question about the lack of attention given to the UConn women's basketball team. The undefeated Huskies do not enjoy the fan adoration Lindsay Vonn receives, which Marie Hardin notes is largely because Vonn participates in a sport that doesn't challenge gender norms in the way that contact sports like basketball do (see below).
Still, the Huskies have a much stronger following than any WNBA team -- after all, they're still college "girls," which makes their violation of gender norms in a contact sport less egregious than the professional women.
--Erin Whiteside


Helen said...

While I object to the use of "girls" I'm often taken by the fact that it is women who use the term to describe themselves...

As for your point about the followers of the UConn women -- I'm not sure I buy your premise -being both a UConn fan and a W fan.

The reason to follow a college team v. a pro team is very different. College fans are in to following players for four years. Watching them grow, developing a relationship. Not really possible in the pros - especially in a pro league that plays in obscurity and in a compressed time.

And, as I'm sure you know, the Huskies receive PLENTY of fan adoration -- legendary, in fact, as is "the Horde" of media that covers them. It's the rest of the world that hasn't caught on - not UConn fans.

It's been interesting to watch them develop an interest in the W as more and more of the UConn alum become pros -- and successful pros. They have a connection -- which many other potential fans do not.

N.M. LaVoi said...

Nice post Erin! I too noticed the "girls" language. I wouldn't be as concerned, is we hard similar language that referred to the men/males athletes as "boys"...but then again we'll RARELY hear that I suspect.

Anonymous said...

Young women in our culture are frequently referred to as “girls”, where as young men are rarely referred to as “boys”. Most of the females competing in these games are in their 20’s so I don’t think there is anything to read into this.

Furthermore, is there anything wrong with protecting a female athletes femininity? I'm pretty sure most of these women wouldn't mind the media "neutralizing" the more masculine aspects of women in sports. Just cause a woman is an athlete doesn't make her manly, and why should the media invite the comparison?

jffairness said...

Isn't Christin Cooper a former Olympic skier herself.........

Lauren Zierer said...

Erin, I thoroughly enjoyed your argument and concern about this topic. It is something that I was unaware was happening until I read this post. It is an issue I can't help but agree with being an ex-college athlete. Women have worked hard in the realm of sports to be even considered "professional" athletes. The fact that this recognition is being stripped of them so easily by calling them girls is outrageous. I have taken notice that female athletes, especially college athletes, are constantly referred to as "girls" in comparison male college athletes who are almost always called "young men," not boys. Frankly male athletes would be highly insulted if they were to be called boys. However, women athletes are called "girls" all the time and it is taken with stride and basically accepted by the public. This is something that has not been addressed by the public or the media, until recently.

However, when you state "after all, they're still college 'girls,' which makes their violation of gender norms in a contact sport less egregious than the professional women" you neglect to recognize that many professional athletes, especially in the Vancouver Olympics, are in fact the same age as college athletes. In saying this, calling college athletes "girls" has the same degrading and delegitimizing effect as calling a professional athlete a girl instead of woman. Yes the difference in skills range from professional and college athletes, but that is not why female athletes are usually referred to as girls. They are more likely to be called girls due to their age more than their stature as a pro or college athlete. For example, pro tennis athlete, Anna Kournikova, was younger than most college students at the peak of her career. As well as current women's Olympic skier, Alice McKennis, who is twenty years old which the typical age of a college sophomore or junior. So when making this claim I cannot help but defend the college athletes who you legitimize being called girls when they are of the same age as numerous professional athletes.

Anonymous said...

Hmm that's interessting but frankly i have a hard time understanding it... wonder what others have to say..

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!