Friday, August 26, 2005

WILY TV 8/25/05: Of Pony Tails and Clam Diggers (Or the Double Standard Rears Its Ugly Head)

Last evening I was watching the tennis match between Tommy Haas and James Blake at the Pilot Penn Open in New Haven. It's the final event in the US Open Series of hardcourt tennis events leading up the the final leg of tennis's Grand Slam, the US Open.

As I watched, I was reminded of what a cosmopolitan sport tennis is. The players' coiffures were particularly illustrative of the point. Tommy Haas was rockin' the wavy, girly pony tail and James Blake, a cople of years removed from his dreds, sported the headband-without-hair bald shave.

It's intersting how many tenni-tails there are out there. Check out Feliciano Lopez, Roger Federer (up until last year), Lleyton Hewitt (who rotates between the tenni-tail and the close-shorn look), Xavier Malisse, and Gaston Gaudio. In a sport where the women have undergone a radical makeover from the unabashedly buff, butch, and lesbian Martina Navratilova to the overtly feminine and (hetero-)sexual marketing by the WTA (though the latest campaign comes close to self-mocking in that regard), the haute couture style-over-substance (Kournikova, party of one, your table is ready) and jail-bait-in-the-making undercurrent to the women's game (remember, some of these players are still in their tender teen years) just hasn't caught on among the men.*** Venus Williams designs her tennis outfits with the likes of Diane von Furstenberg, but Rafael Nadal wears the lamentably low-fashion clam diggers and sleeveless shirt combo. We won't even bother to comment about the horrid mullet craze among the Argentinian men (see, e.g., David Nalbandian and Guillermo Coria).

Of course, this is just another incident of sexism at work. "We don't mind if you ladies are physically fit and phenomenally talented, as long as you look sexy doing it." I don't like it. And I applaud players like Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo, who obviously take pride in their fitness and general appearance, but have no time for the sexualized and vacuous promotion practices of the WTA. I wish more of the players would take a stand.

(Don't get me wrong, I have no interest in dictating how the players present themselves. If a female professional tennis player feels comfortable or empowered by wearing short, tight skirts and enjoys dabbling in fashion, and/or just likes to feel and look sexy, more power to her. I just wish the WTA didn't focus on that to the exclusion of the remarkable tennis skills of the players. Moreover, I wish I didn't have the sneaking suspicion that the WTA pressures the players to present the girly sex kitten image.)

It's an age old story: men are appreciated in spite of (because of?) their general lack of fashion sense, while women must conform to some constructed definition of femininity and sexuality in order to be appreciated.

What I Learned Yesterday on TV: Even on the tennis court, the gender double standard is alive and well.

***Out of fairness, I should note that the (thankfully) abandoned "new balls please" campaign by the ATP a few years ago was not without it sexual overtones.


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