The LA Times is reporting the story of Turkish basketball fans protesting the war in Gaza at a game against Israeli team, Bnei Hasharon (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2009/01/israel-the-gaza.html.)
Indoors, the mood was red-hot with crowds chanting slogans against Israel and supporting Hamas. Although police were present, things didn't cool down, and when fans threatened to charge the court, the Israeli team retreated and took cover in the locker rooms for three hours before being safely extricated. At 3 a.m., the team was escorted by armed policemen from its hotel to the airport, where police continued to chaperon the players until boarding. Upon returning to Israel, the team said that the general mood had been less than friendly from the start, but that protesters in the arena had "murder in their eyes" and that they feared for their lives. They called the event "a Turkish nightmare." The Union of European Leagues of Basketball intends to penalize the Israeli team with a technical loss for refusing to play after the mess had been contained.This is not the first time there's been violence (or threatened violence) at a sporting event. And it's certainly not violence that's particular to one sport; the Olympics, the NBA, the NHL, tennis, and soccer/football leagues throughout the world are among the many sites where violence has played out in sports. And while there are many who would rightfully suggest that what happened in Turkey was not violence, I would suggest that even if it wasn't, it was a site where nationalism played out. And if you unpeel the action of violence that occurs at sporting events throughout the world, you are left with nationalism more often than not. This is no big revelation of mine. The Munich Olympics and English soccer games in particular have been studied over and over again--I've read all the studies, seen all the movies, and still get confused as to why nationalism plays out at sporting events. But it was viewing the picture above that something sorta clicked with me. Something that helped me to make just a little bit of sense of it all. Specifically, where are the women? Now, before people throw out the easy answer (They are barbarians! They don't like women! They force women to stay home and have babies!), I want to twist this discussion around a bit. How many fights, rumbles, protests, riots, murders, etc have taken place at women's sporting events? And then let's couple this question with another one: Why are women's sports chronically suffering from lack of interest, lack of funding, lack of opportunity for growth, etc? Are the two questions related? They are in so much as how nationalism defines women's (and men's) roles in society. Speaking as a U.S. citizen, women's sports is only admired and supported by 'the masses' as much as the women doing the sports can be sexualized. Take, as an example, this list (which is not uncommon on male centered sporting sites) of the 50 Hottest Female Olympians (http://sports.popcrunch.com/the-50-hottest-female-olympians-of-the-2008-summer-olympics-40-31/). Almost to a tee--every single one of the women are young, traditionally slender (no weightlifters anywhere!), posed in traditionally feminine poses (i.e. wearing bathing suits, lying on beds, eyes downcast), and with one exception--white. And it's not like the representation of women in sports as young, white, assumed heterosexual, etc. is something new. We've talked earlier about how women are hyper-sexualized in U.S. sports (http://bitchmagazine.org/post/sex-positive-and-hyper-sexualization-in-sports-is-there-a-way-to-negotiate). To the point that most times, it appears that if you can play moderately well but qualify as a 'piece of ass' to the males, you will be a superstar. What the preference for a certain body type/personality does is point to what women are valued in U.S. culture and why. White 'available' looking women that conform to traditional representations of femininity are good for fucking.They're good for showing the rest of the world what 'our nation' truly is. The best of the best. As for the rest of us? The women who don't fit into the best of the best that our individual nations have to offer? Well, what good are women that nobody (i.e. white men in the U.S.) wants to fuck? Nationalism often hides how certain women are preferenced by focusing in on the men. "Non conforming" male bodies are written as deviant and/or sexualized--for example, the Turkish men at the basketball game had 'murder in their eyes' and were a 'Turkish nightmare,' thereby equating men who disagrees with the Israeli action in Gaza to terrorists (who else has 'murder in their eyes' or are written as just a tad beyond mentally psychotic?). But while there is so much focus on men being maligned by nationalism, the bodies of women are *also* being erased from the national politic. In other words--the focusing on male bodies as deviant, terrorist, swarthy, etc, reinforces the subservient, violated Muslim woman in need of saving from the violent swarthy brown man trope. It reinforces the idea that Muslim women, no matter what they are doing, how they are resisting (whether it be sexism, invasion or both), exist solely as Western eyes *imagine* her: helpless, covered, absent, abused. You see this in the U.S. as well. Take this passage from the amazing essay "You Told Harpo To Beat Me?": How Hip Hop Music Defines and Divides Black Women (http://celiesrevenge.blogspot.com/2008/12/you-told-harpo-to-beat-me-how-hip-hop.html):
When asked his take on the Don Imus controversy, Snoop Dogg said in defense of Hip Hop, "It's a completely different scenario. Rappers are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about ho's that's in the 'hood that ain't doing shit, that's trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things." Snoop Dogg stressed that rappers are not "old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on Black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them motherfuckers say we in the same league as him." Although he called what Snoop Dogg said ignorant and misogynistic, Black pro- feminist scholar Marc Anthony Neal defended Snoop Dogg in his piece "What's the Real Reason for the Sudden Attack on Hip Hop," by stating "At least he was being honest." Of course he couldn't bring himself to call Snoop's characterization of poor Black women elitist. A gangster rapper acting elitist?! That would fly in the face of Snoop's and Hip Hop's much needed image: processors of infallible "street cred." Never mind that there are tons of examples of Hip Hop music bashing poor people. However, as long as the targets are primarily poor women, it's all good!So in other words, the women who were *called* nappy headed ho's were almost completely forgotten as Don Imus duked it out with community defenders of black womenhood, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (and with the occasional shout of outrage from Snoop, et al). But even as they were forgotten--black women became little more than what black and white men *imagined* them to be: good girls worthy of defense and protection and bad girls worthy of disrespect--but infuriatingly, all of the women, no matter what type of girl they are, are *imagined* to be sexually usable/rapable. Although white women in the U.S. generally have much more success negotiating sports, nationalism and misogyny than women of color do, they are often cast in the same unenviable position as black women in sports--even those deemed "good girls" are deemed so because of their sexuality. And as such, 'good girls' are just as rapable as 'bad girls' are. So what is the answer here? When sports are so heavily intertwined with hyper-masculine, many times violent nationalism--is getting women more involved in sports really the answer? Or, like everything else in the world, is the answer much more complicated than that? Does it make a difference that men don't fight their nationalistic politics at women's sporting events? Yes. Because it demonstrates how little value men really place on the bodies of women. Women are objects that make sense in so far as they can be sexualized/fucked--they are not strident players and "deciders" in the game of politics. They are not people to take seriously with real opinions that must be deferred to. The culture of sports much be changed just as much as integrating women in to sports is must happen. How to do that changing, however--you've got me. What do you think?