On Champagne, Cigars, Celebrating, and Chicks (i.e., female athletes)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Canadian women’s hockey team post gold medal controversial celebrations in the last 24 hrs.

My initial reaction was “What?, this is not good for women’s sports“. I have some new thoughts after taking a step back.

1. I realize my reaction was very US-centric and most Canadians feel this is not newsworthy (as Michelle posted in my previous blog) or a big deal. Is my reaction, and of those who share this viewpoint a result that Canada won the game and put a dent in American chauvinism?

2. This issue has definitely brought to light the double standards for behavior that exist for men and women, and athletes are no exception. On one hand I thought, “Why not? Celebrate, you won the gold medal!…the men do it all the time!” But on the other hand, is following the men’s lead or reproducing male celebratory traditions a good thing?  I keep thinking back to the 1999 World Cup when Brandi Chastain whipped off her shirt to expose her Nike sports bra after the USA secured the win in penalty kicks. Chastain’s behavior was both roundly criticized (that isn’t appropriate for women to do! She is sexualizing herself!) and applauded (finally we get to see a strong, athletic female body!). In an attempt to justify the post-bra incident, Chastain and others stated “the guys do this all the time”. Why is it that women have to justify their (inappropriate) celebratory actions following amazing athletic achievements with the disclaimer “the men do it!”?  This complicates the issue because it at once normalizes the behavior (see the men do it, so we can too) but makes it seem unladylike precisely because the men do it.

3. Many people I talked and listened to stated, “I’d have the same reaction if the men’s team did the same thing”. I’m not sure this is entirely true. What this statement does is erase the gendered component inherent in this event. Sports are not gender neutral or gender blind activities, so the reaction is inextricably linked to the fact the athletes were female and we have expectations for how men and women are supposed to behave.

4. I think one of the issues at play here is we just don’t get to SEE strong, powerful, female athletes celebrating in such a public way because women’s sports are so rarely covered in sport media. This type of celebration might be commonplace, but we don’t see it. When the Yankees win the World Series or the Lakers win the NBA Championships we see their celebrations–in fact an extra half hour is usually devoted to covering the celebrations both on the field and in the locker room.

I might have more thoughts about this, but for now…what do you think?

update 2/28/10: a Canadian colleague passed this article from The Winnipeg Free Press, that has an interesting and new point…happy athletes…oh my!

4 Replies to “On Champagne, Cigars, Celebrating, and Chicks (i.e., female athletes)”

  1. I don’t believe the reaction is US-centric at all, and I would have the exact same reaction to men celebrating the same way (disappointment). So perhaps for me it is less about a male / female expectations and standards, but more about behavior of athletes at the pinnacle of their careers…I would just hope for more. I think athletes should be happy, rejoice, and do things that illustrate what world-class athletes they are. A celebration with alcohol and nicotine on Olympic ice seems counter-intuitive to me. I realize, though, through reading many blogs about this and comments submitted, I am in the vast minority here! Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking posts.


  2. YES! i like this post much better than the one i commented on before! (sorry, only reading this one now). #3 hits it on the head: people (I suppose you could call them feminists) want these female athletes to PERFORM. TO be strong, fast, intense and passionate just like the men, yet they then hold them up to a stringent, Emily Post – like scale of decorum, to which the men are not subjected. They are in fact putting MORE pressure on these female athletes than the men. The women not only have to strive be equal to men “on the field”, but they must surpass them off the field. I understand all too well that there is inequality in sport – i come from a profession where prize money is often literally double for the men’s fields. but these standards to which women athletes are being held far surpass how we judge male athletes, and we are NOT helping women gain equality in sport when we flex this judgement so inconsistently.


  3. What a great point – Canadian media simply does not note this newsworthy. That says quite a lot, as in the U.S., people are starving for the quick, flashy news story positing a scandal over anything else.

    It’s simply not a big deal.

    Yet, it reignites the question of how women’s sports should be viewed – and to bring them into view in the first place. Bravo on a lovely article.


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