About a month ago I was watching TV and saw a strange commercial for Always, a feminine pad hygiene product, with the tag line “Have a happy period” with a woman dressed in white pulling a pristine pad out of a box, like as in a magic trick. I couldn’t find that ad but did find a French counterpart in which…well just watch it.
The themes in the Always ad campaign connote freshness, cleanliness, and relaxation. All words that women think of while menstruating (not).According to a New York Times piece women who use pads versus tampons have a different attitude about their periods. Which leads me to….
Yesterday I was alerted by @mhueter to a TV ad for Tampax in which Serena Williams takes on Mother Nature in a tennis match. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure if it was hysterically funny and clever or super sexist. After watching it a few times, I’m going with the former. I love this ad! I love it because it uses humor to connect with women, rather than try to sell the idea of sanitary freshness regarding the process of menstruation (a rather mythical idea).
The Tampax ad uses strength, athleticism, physical activity, trash talking, and female athletes to promote a very different message to girls and women, than do the Always ads. The Always ad closely mirrors outdated gender stereotypes which were packaged and sold to women in the 1950’s, while the Tampax ad is a contemporary re-brand that females can do anything…and are not slowed down or marginalized by menstruation. I’m sure others out there find the video offensive, or as one colleague said “insipid”, but I’m sticking with funny. Sometimes one must put her critical lens aside and lighten up. Excuse me while I go watch it again. Game, Set and Match to Tampax 6-0, 6-0.
Discussion in the Tucker Center this morning was very lively around the topic of Serena Williams’ U.S. Open semifinal outburst, fine, and subsequent apology via her blog and Twitter account (also see picture here).
I have a few other thoughts on Williams’ ill-timed and ill-fated outburst.
1. From a sport psychology perspective one cannot control the calls made by the umpire or referee, regardless of if a “bad” call occurs on match point or the first point of the match. Let it go. An athlete can only control his/her reaction to the call. This particular reaction showed a lack of mental toughness. In her blog Williams wrote, “We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.” I’m sure it will also make her an even better competitor than she already is.
2. How has social media changed the way athletes interact with fans and the media? Even though Serena lost control of her emotions on the court, she took control of her “brand” off the court by quickly posting apologies using social media tools. It left us wondering if these tools existed when John McEnroe was in the heyday of his outbursts (which were much more frequent, prolonged and arguably egregious), would he of used social media to apologize? (NOTE: In a Google search for “John McEnroe apologizes” I found one result for apologizing for bad behavior, and one story of an apology for bad play.)
3. Then it got me thinking how race and gender intersect with the outburst issue. Do we expect female athletes to apologize more frequently than we do male athletes? We certainly expect female athletes to act “ladylike”, refrain from grunting loudly, not throw tantrums or have outbursts. How much of the criticism leveled against Serena Williams has to do with the fact she is African American? Would the public react similarly if the outburst came from a White female tennis player–for example Maria Sharapova? After perusing one of my favorite blogs–After Atalanta–it seems I am not the only one who noticed or is thinking about these issues. What do you think?
The U.S. Open Tennis Tournament starts tomorrow. After reading “Pets Are the Portable Part of a Tennis Player’s Entourage” in the August 30, 2009 New York Times online, I winced internally. Even before reading the story, I thought to myself, “I bet this story is all about dogs owned by female professional tennis players.” I read the story waiting and hoping that just one male player with a furry canine tournament companion would be mentioned. Nada. So it left me with many questions.
Owning a dog is an equal opportunity activity, so why does it appear that only women players have dogs as part of their entourage? The NYT article offers some explanations that are predictable such as companionship, relieves boredom, dogs don’t care if you win or lose their tails always wag, and dogs calm nerves and ease stress to name a few. But the doggie gender gap in pro tennis seems odd to me.
Are male tennis players dog haters? Are the women pros more lonely on tour than the men, therefore travel with dogs to ease the solitary life of tennis travel? Neither of these explanations seem likely or realistic. Do male players in reality travel with dogs but this is not a “media worthy” story? What does it say if a male travels with a dog verses a female player? A dog is an appropriate companion for women but not males? If females have a doggie buddy does it make them appear more feminine? Therefore if a male player had a little Poodle or Yorkie, it might not be perceived as manly–would his competitive nature be called into question? But male players could have a Pitbull or German Shepard or even a Yellow Lab, but I get that traveling with a small dog is much easier and cost effective. Facetiousness aside, why are the dogs of female pro tennis players newsworthy on the eve of a Grand Slam? Is there no other news in women’s tennis? Does coverage of dogs marginalize female players’ athleticism? Does it make them appear less serious and more frivolous…likening them to celebutante Paris Hilton? Does it somehow further construct a brand of femininity that is marketable? What do you think?
Besides news that (women’s) tennis has gone to the dogs, be sure to keep your critical eye on how the media covers two players who have something in common–their parents! Kim Clijsters returns after a two year maternity leave and Roger Federer is a new father of twins. Which player will we hear more “parent talk” about and more discussion of how parenthood affects one’s tennis performance? Any guesses?
note: picture from Free Dog Wallpapers.
If you haven’t seen the t-shirt Serena Williams sported in her post-match Wimbledon press conference, then you are missing out. Given the attention to attractiveness, court assignments, body parts (i.e., “back packs”) sex sells women’s tennis controversy at Wimbledon, Williams clearly has the last say. Perhaps it was in jest, but the point of the t-shirt which contrasts her athletic achievements (11 Grand Slam Titles) with a primary focus on her body, mocks the attention given to the feminine, attractive, sexualized nature of the dialogue surrounding her (and other female athletes) play over the fortnight. To hammer this point home….Just think if Roger Federer wore shorts to his press conference with print on the front asking “Are you looking at my trophy?”
For more critique, read the NPR piece “The Nation: Sexism On Centre Court” written by Dave Zirin in which Tucker Center Director Mary Jo Kane is quoted.
When I read this column about Serena Williams by sportswriter Jason Whitlock, I had to include it in the blog for obvious reasons. The column wasn’t about Serena’s third Wimbledon Championship or 11th Grand Slam title, but a critique of how good she could be if she would rid of her “unsightly layer of thick, muscled blubber, a byproduct of her unwillingness to commit to a training regimen and diet that would have her at the top of her game year-round”. Whitlock couches his comments by saying he is really a big Serena fan, that she “has limitless potential” and that people are going to accuse him of being sexist…but really he just has her best interest in mind.
Using flattery and sham transparency (I know you’ll call me sexist, so I’ll do it first, but I’ll say it anyway) to buffer sexist (or racist, misogynistic, homophobic) remarks is a classic diffusing technique used by those who make them. A real “fan” would not make such remarks as research demonstrates that sexist remarks have negative implications for the target’s (i.e. Serena) well-being and can lead to self-objectification. A real fan, let alone a sportswriter, would not focus on Serena’s “back pack” no matter how big or small it is perceived to be, and no matter how much it is perceived to help or hinder her play. The problem here is that instead of focusing on Serena Williams’ play and accomplishment, Whitlock is trivializing both. Whitlock uses his personal views to prescribe what he thinks is “hot and attractive”, perpetuates a narrow conception of beauty, reinforces the idea that only “in shape” women are attractive, and in the end proclaims that only attractive female athletes are worthy of being watched during prime time TV on Centre Court.
When you read about a sportswriter discussing the “back pack” of a highly accomplished male athlete and the writer’s preference for the “size” of the male athlete’s back pack let me know…
UPDATE: Listen to Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports radio spot in which Zirin rails Jason Whitlock’s column.
While I was out of town participating in the Up2Us Regional Sports-based Youth Development Conference hosted by the LA84 Foundation, a graduate student forwarded me an article link I felt compelled to share (thanks EH!).
A nydailynews.com article ran yesterday titled “Wimbledon turns Centre Court into Babe Central, giving players spotlight based on looks, not talent” which outlines that “hot, attractive” lower-ranked players were scheduled to play on Centre Count, and top-ranked players like Serena Williams were relegated to play on less prestigious courts. In the article All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins was quoted as saying “good looks are a factor” when scheduling matches on Centre Court, in large part it seems due to television coverage.
Greg Couch writes more about the “babe factor in tennis” on his blog where he states, “A few days ago, Maria Sharapova played Gisela Dulko, and on Wimbledon’s official website, the report of the match said, “As Sharapova and Dulko ran and stretched and lunged, most of the male spectators could not have cared less about their topspin forehands and would no more have recognized a western grip from a western movie — this match was about hormones, pure and simple.”
Unfortunately, it is also “pure and simple” another example of sport media and women’s sport promoting “sexy” athletes (which you could also read as White, feminine, & ponytailed) over athletic competence–which reinforces notions of what matters, what sells, and what is valued. If you want to read a new book out about this issue see D. Daniels (2009) “Polygendered and Ponytailed:The Dilemma of Femininity and the Female Athlete”.
A picture tells a thousand words and this picture is a perfect example of when female athletes are covered in the media, it is often in ways that highlight femininity-rather than athletic competence. For more on this subject read here, here, or here.
During the 2009 French Open Tennis Tournament Portuguese teen tennis star Michelle Larcher de Brito made a stir with her elongated “shrieks” when she strikes the ball. Wimbledon officials are now considering making a rule banning loud grunting for female players. While she claims it is just “part of the game” opponents and fans say otherwise.
As a former collegiate tennis player and coach, I get the distracting and annoying nature of loud grunting by an opponent. That is one side of the issue. Another side of this issue is the problematic and gendered nature of this discussion and pending rule.
First, male players on tour also grunt upon impact, therefore a rule should be equally applied to both men and women. However, there has been no parallel discussion of a rule application to the men’s tournament (although Connors, and Agassi were criticized for their noises). Second, the way Larcher de Brito’s grunts are being constructed in the media as “shrieks”,”screams”, and “annoying squeals”… it appears that males players grunts are expected. Third, this isn’t the first time the discussion of a “grunt/shriek rule” for female tennis players has surfaced. If you recall, in the ’90’s Monica Seles was the original purveyor of loud grunting on impact…and while there was much grumbling then, no rules were enacted. Maria Sharapova was also criticized early on for her grunting, but that seemed to subside as she took over the Kournikova mantle as the “poster girl” of the WTA.
Many scholars have documented how female athletes have to constantly negotiate the tension between the movements, noises, muscles, and bodies that are needed to perform optimally and adhering to a narrow ideal of femininity. Clearly, loud shrieking is NOT feminine and therefore is troubling and must be regulated (i.e., “make the offending women act more ladylike so we can enjoy the match!).
Update to post: June 24, 2009: NPR weighs in on issue “Tennis, The Grunting Game?” in which sports journalist Christine Brennan gives her take, and another commentary by Frank Deford “It’s Time For Tennis Players To Make Some Noise”. You can also read Pat Griffin’s take on her blog.