By SocProf.

And keep the girls out!

“Last Tuesday evening, Mark Cuban, the famously outspoken owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, told ESPN that he would consider drafting Brittney Griner, the 6ft 8in center for Baylor Bears, to his team. Cuban said:

“If she’s the best on the board, I will take her … You never know unless you give somebody a chance.”

He followed up with a statement the next day to USA Today, in which he wrote:

“We evaluate every draft eligible player on the planet … As I told the media yesterday, she would have to excel in workouts to get drafted. I have no problem giving her that opportunity. I hope she gives it a shot.”

Cuban’s remarks about Griner and her ability were conditional, based on her trying out for the team. He wasn’t offering her a seat on the bench, merely a chance to determine if her skill level deemed her worthy of a Mavericks jersey.”

And predictably, at the slightest hint of challenge to the patriarchal and phallocratic order – by having a few women cross the borders into exclusively male territory – a sh*tstorm exploded:

“And thus was born the #GrinerNBA hashtag – which turned quickly into a cesspool of misogynistic and transphobic (“she’s a he!”) comments about Griner (sadly, a common event whenever Griner is the center of the conversation). The misogynistic comments tended to point out that Griner is just a woman and the NBA is not the place for women: “no offense she a girl”“NBA’s a man’s sport”“I’m all for equal rights but Women need to know their place.” And Cuban would “take a chance with her in the kitchen”“I would not like to see #GrinerNBA happen because it is a men’s league.”

And the usual threats of physical violence, rape and murder.

Now this is interesting in light of the case of Caster Semenya. Caster Semenya is the South African track and field athlete who had to undergo a series of degrading procedures to ascertain that she was really a woman, because she was too good to be a woman, so, athletic authorities had to check. She was then ordered to undergo hormonal treatment to lower her performance level closer to a “normal” woman level. Commentators indicated that it would be unfair to have her compete with women if she had an advantage (hormonal levels, for instance).

But, as Dave Zirin writes in his book Game Over, women cannot win when it comes to sports and the Griner case is no different:

“These misogynistic jokes discredit Griner’s ability to play ball with men by tapping into old sexist ideas that women are always less than men and that their specific space in this world is wherever men are not. The very act of getting on Twitter and saying misogynistic things about such a popular female sports star is an act of desperation. It means to set right the balance that was upset when Cuban floated the idea of allowing Griner to try out for the NBA.

With an irony not apparent to these commentators, the belief that Griner is “not manly enough” to play in the NBA is flatly opposed by the other offensive method people used to insult her: that she is a man. This is aclassic transphobic trope, or a fear that her gender presentation does not “match” the sex she was assigned at birth. For example: “she possesses man parts, so why not?”“Griner has a penis and would fit right in”“She looks and sounds like a man.” For much more, if you need it, in this vein, just check out the hashtag.

These transphobic jokes, like the misogynistic ones, devalue Griner because we live in a society that denigrates trans people in general and chafes whenever confronted by someone who does not fit into a neat box of “feminine woman” or “masculine man”. Because athletes are seen as “masculine”, female athletes, by being athletic, are no longer feminine.”

So, a woman athlete is either not woman enough (to play with men) or not a woman at all (in which case, she’s a freak and can’t play with men either).

What this framing does is (1) shift the discussion completely away from the actual skills of the athlete in question, (2) reinforces the gender boundaries: men and women in sports have to fit in neat, separate boxes, no overlap possible, no path back and forth allowed; gender is exclusively binary; (3) overall reinforces patriarchal and phallocratic norms where women cannot win (remember Durkheim’s functions of deviance?): fit in culturally and patriarchally accepted and enforced gender norms and one is seen as inferior to men; don’t fit in gender norms and enjoy the torrent of misogyny and transphobia coming your way. The safest alternative then is to step back in line and let gender status take precedence over athletic status.

One thought on “Patrolling Patriarchal Borders – Sports Edition

  1. Glad to see you commenting on this.

    You linked to the Guardian piece you’re quoting in your first sentence, but in the middle of this post, it looks like you’re quoting Dave Zirin when you’re still quoting Jessica Luther’s op-ed. (You lead into the quote with: “But, as Dave Zirin writes in his book Game Over, women cannot win when it comes to sports and the Griner case is no different:”)

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