Friday, February 05, 2010

Commentary on SI's Vonn cover: Why the outrage?

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.
--Marie Hardin


austin rivers said...

I think the pose is her natural stance, and that she isnt being objectified in any way. I think they are celebrating her dominance of the sport, and nothing more.

Megan L. Killian said...

It's amazing to me how much attention LaVoi is receiving (and that the WTS site has been crashed because of all the traffic). My first thought at seeing the cover of SI was: What if that was a dude in the same position? My guess?: It wouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

If this is objectification, sexualization then I can only assume that the answer is to ban any and all photos of top women athletes who are considered attractive by many. It's a great photo, she's a great athlete and I consider her an attractive woman.

Unknown said...

It is sad when a female athlete smiles for the camera it becomes objectification. While the photo was obviously staged in a way to depict Ms. Vonn skiing in a typical ski racing position she is missing 2 things, a helmet and goggles. That is all it takes to make this picture sexualize Lindsey?

Now the "Experts" are here to defend each other. All this article has done is set women in sports back even further. This isn't about a womans sports advocate who is speaking out on some injustice. It is someone looking to make a name for herself by greatly exaggerating the intent of this SI cover photo. Now we can add Marie Hardin to the list of overly sensitive fanatics that instead of finding something good to write about they find something to further hold back women in sports. All because of a photo that is marginally, at best, sexualized and that is only by the definition of the "Experts and Academics" The general public, and this includes women, obviously do not agree.

Philippe said...

It's hard to understand the connection you make between the post of LaVoi in itself and the fact "that women who attempt to speak with authority about sports have often been the target of sexist attacks."

She is not writing about sports at all. She is writing about a photograph picturing a woman - an athlete, yes, though it's definitely not the point.

Unknown said...

Why is it so hard for people to understand--nay, even to TRY to understand--a feminist scholar's point of view. I think the sexism is pretty obvious and the detractors here have already pointed out the reasons why; but they have dismissed them because the sexism in the media is so deeply ingrained (hegemony).

The most obvious illustration of the sexism, as it as been pointed out, is to imagine a similar picture of a male skier. Posed, crouched, head turned, smiling, all primped up and pretty. I don't think so. No goggles, no helmet. I don't think so. The only way a man would be pictured in this position would be IN ACTION.

Anonymous said...

does anyone realize SI did the SAME cover with a MAN for the 92 or 96 era olympics????

it was their own little inside joke