Feminists are getting their panties in a twist because women's sports garner more attention by costuming beautiful athletes in sexy garb. The problem, as it turns out, is that most of the fans are men.
Consider the wildly popular Lingerie Football League (LFL). Attendance is up, and the league is expanding, despite uproar from women's groups who claim that it's sexist. It probably is, but who cares? Men are the contented "victims," delighted to splash the cash as the ladies laugh all the way to the bank.
Feminist writer Courtney Martin denounced the LFL as an example of "[o]bjectification at its most pernicious." So what? We're talking about sexy football, not salary equity or workplace discrimination. Most sports fans are men who don't mind forking over some hard-earned currency even if it encourages these scantily clad gridiron beauties to exploit our visceral pleasures.
Curiously, there was a revealing (pardon the pun) lack of feminist discord when LFL players recently donned their bras, panties, and garters to protest on behalf of animal rights, even on the chilly, rain-soaked streets of Seattle. I guess that's because it was orchestrated outside the objective of enticing a bunch of lustful men.
Reflexively condemning as sexist those who cheer feminine aesthetics in sport undermines the splendor of modern feminism.
For sure, sexism deserves our utter contempt, but some of the charges of sexism in sports are tantamount to waving an imaginary penalty flag. Perhaps they're an attempt to dovetail equality of opportunity into equality of outcomes -- the former may be requisite, but the later undermines competition and deserves its place on the trash heap of history.
Athletic opportunities have burgeoned for women, thanks greatly to passage of Title IX in 1972. Nevertheless, the disparity in outcomes (i.e., attendance, sponsorships) is proportionately greater than the disparity in opportunity. This is not subjective. Consider these average attendance figures from my favorite sport, soccer:
Last men's World Cup: about 49,000 (for 64 games)
Last women's World Cup: about 26,000 (only 26 games)
Major League Soccer, 2011: 17,872
Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), 2011: 3,518
Similar disparities prevail in other sports, like basketball. Average attendance during the 2010-2011 season in the WNBA was around 7,800; NBA games brought in an average of 17,300 spectators.
Sexier women's soccer kits will reduce these disparities, but woe betide anyone who suggests such.
Make no mistake: where sexism is proven, the penalty should be harsh. But as Sepp Blatter, the president of the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA), can testify, charges of sexism can be fraught with emotional baggage. They sometimes provoke such moral indignation that it becomes impossible to distinguish between sexism and "sexyism."
Blatter endured much wrath from the purveyors of sports egalitarianism when he promoted "sexyism" in women's soccer to increase its popularity -- a reasonable consideration given the established disparity in outcomes. He said, "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts." He was then utterly excoriated for uttering what could reasonably be perceived as a compliment: "Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so..."
Blatter is an old fuddy-duddy, for sure, and a bit out of touch in his FIFA ivory tower. But sexist? There doesn't seem to be a pattern of behavior. I bet that not even Gloria Allred could nail him. In fact, his big mistake was voicing what many female professional athletes already concede: sexy, athletic bodies attract viewers and sponsorships. That's why most female tennis players, for example, wear short skirts.
Actually, Blatter was somewhat pragmatic. Not only is the spandex worn by female volleyball players enticing, but many players testify to its practicality: comfort, mobility and flexibility.
He was also conservative; after all, to truly increase the popularity of women's soccer, he could have called for a Soccer Lingerie League.
Indeed, many female athletes are proud of their appearance. And why not? They worked hard to attain peak physical shape, and unlike modern feminists in all their splendor, they are not inhibited by feminist orthodoxy.
Sexism is intolerable. But we shouldn't automatically succumb to the Gloria Steinem generation of feminists to define the parameters; modern feminists are capable of flaunting it and commanding our respect and admiration. Image-conscious schoolgirls, of course, must wear appropriate athletic kits, but common sense suggests that the grownups can distinguish between dastardly sexism and its more genial counterpart, "sexyism."
Frankly, most sports fans are men. And most would agree with Blatter's observation that "[f]emale players are pretty." If it helps promote women's soccer, as it does other women's sports like tennis, what's wrong with the new generation of feminist athletes showing off their assets? At least allow flexibility within the rules by empowering each team to decide upon its own style of kit.
Ah, feminism...that's one "ism" we can tolerate in sports, especially if it encourages women to be all they can be; especially if it gives women more choices; especially if it celebrates their athleticism and beauty; especially if it promotes "sexyism."