One of the biggest issues for women athletes these days is the extreme hyper-sexualization many sports require women to participate in while competing at a highly advanced level. For example, car racer Danica Patrick has been very straightforward (and quite successful) about embracing her more 'feminine' side while letting her racing skills speak for themselves.
But even as many women are successfully and willingly embracing the sexualization of their sport, I've also sat in a classroom at an elite university with women athletes as young as 18 and 19 talking about how male sports web sites have gotten a hold of their pictures and had 'rate them' competitions where visitors to the site rated the girls according to 'fuckability.' A few girls in that classroom even mentioned coaches who encouraged them to wear makeup and 'sex it up' while playing to increase visibility and chances of funding.
To add another layer to this sexual mix, far too often the 'embracing the feminine' female athletes participate in are not-so-subtle attempts to distance themselves from the 'all women athletes are lesbo dykes' stereotype. And to be clear, these athletes don't want to distance themselves from the stereotype because they hate the stereotype--but because they hate lesbians and find it an insult to be so intimately linked to them.
And this doesn't even get into the discussion about how white sexuality is perceived as an asset to draw on for white female athletes, but a constant negative for women of color athletes. Would anybody think of calling Ms. Danica a monkey (http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_26-1-2003_pg2_11)? Or a nappy headed ho (http://mediamatters.org/items/200704040011)?
So, when you bring all these different layers under the 'sports' umbrella--the question has to be asked--given all the negatives of the sexualization of female atheletes/competition--is there a way to embrace this sexualization in a sex positive way? Is there a way to admit all the complications of hyper-sexualization of female athletes and still embrace that sexualization? Or challenge it, bend it, and/or otherwise reclaim it in a way that is political and centers the needs of female athletes around the world?
Or is that simply too big of a dream for something as small as the sports world to accomplish?
What do you think?