Lingerie Football League: The Undakkening

LFL - Lingerie Football League players

Helen Razer doesn’t even like Lingerie Football League. She makes that clear in this article. But she goes to the wall to defend it against “feminist” (Boo!) critics. Somehow I feel compelled to reply, although it’s about as tempting as stripping nearly naked in Melbourne winter weather and running around on soggy grass.

Other writers and bloggers have already made the point that LFL isn’t so much a “sport” as a titillating curtain raiser for actual football, and that the comparison with Roller Derby is specious (Michelle Smith’s comparison with jelly wrestling is closer to the mark.) I have a depressing vision of a family of football tragics, the kind who, unlike me, actually enjoy field sports and are good at it. The boys are looking at the AFL players and thinking “when I grow up, I could do that. Awesome!” Their sisters girls are watching the LFL players and thinking “Crap, football is obviously not for us, unless we’re built like centrefolds and don’t mind that we’re just eye candy before the real game.”

Razer goes for three lines of defence which I think you’ll find familiar. The first is an old favourite from the 1980s-1990s culture wars:

Critics of LFL are humourless joy-killers!

Critics of this rarely played but much-discussed demonstration sport have included reliable wowser Melinda Tankard Reist and, somewhat little less predictably, ABC radio broadcaster and Chaser alumnus Dom Knight.

More lately, Melbourne academic Dr Michelle Smith wrote in The Age that the Lingerie Football League was ”undoubtedly sexist” and that the act of dismissing its impact on the social lot of women was not only itself sexist but evidence of ”insidious” sexism.

What Smith actually said, and she was no Robinson Crusoe here, was that

The LFL selects women who look like centrefolds in their bra and panties, not muscular or stocky women who might be athletically most suited to football.

Female athletes are regularly undervalued for their sporting abilities, but rewarded for their appearance…

(…and are contractually obliged to be prepared to be dakked on the field in front of thousands.) Seems fairly straightforward to me: That’s sexism. Or, as Twisty would say, it’s in accordance with the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women (a.k.a. the megatheocorporatocracy). But Razer chooses to describe Smith’s argument thus:

To be clear: it is generally agreed by feminist persons that the Lingerie Football League is sexist. The league is not only proof of sexism but a source of sexism. Further, if one elects to think of the league as less than sexist, one is sexist.
I was surprised by this reasoning, and not just because it was so dizzyingly syllogistic.

AKA: If my target’s argument isn’t weak enough for me, I have others. Or as commenter “Steve up North” has it, “It’s just a bit of fun, women perve as do men. Feminists are as boring as cardboard for breakfast and most of them wouldnt know a good time if they fell on it. Lighten up, life is too serious and some fun goes a long way to put a smile on peoples faces.” Really, with such a succinct criticism of the silly feminists right there, Razer’s article wasn’t even necessary.

Second, another old favourite which I thought had died a natural death: “Victim feminism”.

Crucial to the “feminist” critique of the Lingerie Football League is the idea that the participants in this spectator sport have no volition or are, at best, victims deluded into the idea of “raunch” liberty…
Surely there are few things more demeaning to women than the incessant reminder that they are being demeaned.

Talk about syllogistic! If you call out any kind of demeaning behaviour you’re responsible for demeaning the targets of that behaviour…

…Which brings us to that current favourite, the Working People v. the Elites! (Elites from Brunswick, who are the elitiest evil elites of all of the elite!)

Just by coincidence, Mr Denmore has just written about this very phenomenon, whereby if you’re opposing the LFL but your approval to the miniskirted warriors of Roller Derby, “(Y)ou’re just a latte-quaffing elitist out of touch with the Barnesian (as in Jimmy) concerns of real folks.” Razer’s post isn’t in the Murdoch media, but it’s a ripper example of the genre.

Just as the Minister for Sport is ”offended” by the debut of this faux sport, I am offended by the snootiness that sustains her critique. If Lundy is genuinely and knowledgably worried for women playing dangerous sport in brief and sexy outfits, then she must step in and immediately outlaw roller derby.
Of course, this will not happen because roller derby is played chiefly by middle-class women in Brunswick who wear their hotpants ”ironically”.

“Women in Brunswick” presumably means the latte-quaffing elitists Mr Denmore refers to, but it seems a bit rich to me, seeing as Razer spent the first half of her life as an inner-city public radio DJ bringing Nirvana and L7 to the masses. You would think that hipsterism had never passed her lips, perhaps she never inhaled. But it’s a strange stick to beat the rest of us with. Nevertheless, let’s look at the reasons these jackbooted elites want to spoil all the fun. If you follow the links you know the arguments the feminist joy killers have put forth: we think it’s bad for women in general and talented sportswomen in particular. Collective Shout have talked about banning it, but most of us unrepresentative left-liberal academic elitist swill (thanks, Mr D!) are simply pointing out why it is continuing the regrettable social norm of men as default human and women as sex class, in several different ways. This, Razer says, is “snootiness”.

Now let’s turn to the Razer article and look at the words used to describe LFL.

Gaudy, not very nice, (like) pole dancing, not terribly hygienic, sport-and-strip hybrid, pseudo-sport, tatty peep show, (signifying) a lack of taste and clothing, faux sport, tat.

So, in other words, we tut-tutting, cause-adopting latte set (Thanks again, Mr D!) are unacceptably “snooty” when we try to look at LFL with an analytical eye, while Razer can bag it out in terms which look undeniably snooty to me, but that’s all right, because… why? Well, I’ve come to the end of this post, or my patience, and I still don’t really know. but my suspicions have something to do with clicks, outrage and page views.

There’s also a passage which attempts to draw an equivalence between women and monster trucks but a great weariness has come upon me. I’ll leave the logical vacuity of that up to someone else, perhaps.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

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12 replies

  1. Obviously cheerleaders wear too many layers or something. I always thought they were scantily clad but obviously not enough. If someone wants to run around the footy field in their knickers, in the middle of winter, then more power to them but don’t pretend it is anything to do with sport.

  2. For some reason, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles lately which seem to assume that anything a woman “chooses” to do must be feminist, simply because she is choosing it.
    By that logic, suttee is feminist, too, since many of the women did (and do) it voluntarily (for some interpretation of the word “voluntarily.”)
    BTW, is it my imagination, or are a lot of ideas and arguments being labelled “feminist” nowadays that back in the 1980’s or so would not have passed the laugh test? I keep getting the feeling that a lot of what was considered common knowledge (e.g., internalized sexism/patriarchy) 30 years ago has been forgotten.

  3. How very brave and daring to defend the right of large corporations to pay young, thin women to appear in public in their underwear and be laughed at.

  4. Surely a simple reversal game works to show this up as, at best, kinda dumb, and at worst bloody awful sexist crap.
    If I held a netball comp that featured built, semi naked guys playing a “lighter” version of the game for a shorter period in their matching undies, I’d be held up as vulgar, and of course the players would be ridiculed for their engagement in a weak, silly, pretend sport.

  5. (and of course there’d be the what-about-the-children! Because exposure to the concept of female desire (or homosexual male desire) is more serious than even exposure to breast feeding images in its damaging potential.)

  6. I’m guessing Helen Razer doesn’t know the full story, but maybe by now she has read this which is doing the rounds on twitter today. Blood boiling.

    In the case of the LFL, as of March 2011, when the league officially became ‘amateur’, the players stopped being paid. In fact, instead of the ticket royalty splits they had been making per game, players themselves now have to pay dues for the opportunity to participate – about US$45 per game. If these women want to make a personal income from the sport, they have to negotiate ‘individual sponsorship endorsements’.

    I would also like to rescind my comment about this being nothing to do with sport – apparently these women are athletes and they aren’t just running around in their knickers, they are playing gridiron. But because of the rules around who can play gridiron, the only way they can play the game they love is in their underwear. They aren’t happy about it either.
    With any luck this crap version of the game will force a re-think so that women’s leagues can start for real. Or they discover women’s rugby while in Australia and play that instead, with real protective equipment and uniforms.

  7. BTW, is it my imagination, or are a lot of ideas and arguments being labelled “feminist” nowadays that back in the 1980?s or so would not have passed the laugh test? I keep getting the feeling that a lot of what was considered common knowledge (e.g., internalized sexism/patriarchy) 30 years ago has been forgotten.

    AMM: Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way myself. Then again, I’m in my forties, so I’m old enough to remember a lot of these arguments as they went through the first time (and were laughed out of the field back then). I have to admit to being somewhat puzzled by what could be termed “raunch feminism”, where we’re being told that by objectifying ourselves in the most blatant manner possible for the masculine gaze, we’re laying claim to our female power. I suspect a lot of this loses track of the point that all actions are performed within a context.
    Me performing a striptease for my partner in private would be an empowering activity, because in the context of my being a middle-aged, fat, non-standard looking woman, I would be asserting and celebrating my desirability (as per the experience of my partner) in counter to the popular notion that being desirable is something reserved to the young, the slender, and the conventionally beautiful. Me (as a middle-aged, fat woman) performing a striptease in a bar for money would not be empowering, because I strongly suspect I’d either be laughed off the stage, or booed off – instead of challenging the norms of the beauty myth, the experience would instead become a strong reinforcement of the dominant paradigm. The context of an action (who is performing it, where and when) determines a lot about the nature of the action.
    I propose the following basic test for “is this empowering for women?”: if the action in question would be equally (un)popular when performed by an old, fat, black woman as it is when it’s performed by a young, thin, white one, then it’s probably empowering for women.

  8. Mindy @ 6 – there are real women gridiron leagues in the US, but they are not professional. There’s perhaps more financial reward potential for those in the LFL though. A very small number of women have played in normal college/pro games.

  9. Thanks for that link, Mindy. There’s certainly plenty to get into a feminist rage about, completely apart from what they’re (not) wearing. They should be paid, they should have proper safety gear and insurance, they should be treated as footballers and not strippers. Because it doesn’t sound like any of these women are doing this because they want to be strippers, but because they want to play football.
    (As for the comment about how women can’t play a men’s sport without being required to be sexually titilating, see the long-running debate about the beach volleyball uniform. )

  10. AMM, you wrote:
    “By that logic, suttee is feminist, too, since many of the women did (and do) it voluntarily (for some interpretation of the word “voluntarily.”)”
    I read that and groaned! A real case of – wish I’d thought of that (head slap)
    There was a conference a few of days ago at which I was having a stand-up argument with a woman who was saying that religious women who indulge in rituals that are clearly misogynistic in origin can nevertheless re-imagine such rituals as feminists because… they choose to and who are we to say otherwise.
    The best thing I could come up with: that some women choose to stay in violent relationships. What’s to stop someone re-imagining getting the crap beaten out of her as a feminist ritual? Who are we to say otherwise?
    But your analogy absolutely craps all over mine and I so wish I’d read it a few days ago! I’m definitely saving it for future stoushes.

  11. If you haven’t clicked on Mindy’s link @6, please do – it’s an excellent article containing actual facts and information! So refreshing! And the facts don’t bode well for Lingerie Football. Like not getting paid. And a complete disregard for health and safety.
    You have to wonder how the participants end up, since the “sport”originated in the US where they don’t even have medicare.

  12. That is a great article. Now I feel really crappy for assuming they were being paid. Hey, modern Western world? When your choice is between getting to do the thing you want to do, but only if you do it in your knickers, and not getting to do that thing at all? Doesn’t count as a choice.

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