Tuesday night, I met several friends at William Penn Tavern–a popular Pittsburgh-area sports bar—for their weekly 30 cent wing special. While there, game two of the WNBA Finals happened to showing on the flat screen directly above our table. After making a few perfunctory jokes about the uniforms–Bing is written on Seattle’s jerseys instead of Seattle. No, Seriously. –and the Seattle Storm reserve who bared a slight resemblance to Justin Bieber, the topic shifted to what the WNBA could do to make itself more popular. Although everything from tighter uniforms to a 9 foot rim–so more players could dunk–was suggested¹, we all kept coming back to the same answer: Nothing
Now, this is no indictment on the WNBA. This league contains some of the most skilled and best conditioned athletes (male or female) on the planet, and the playoff games are just as intense and hard-fought as the NBA’s. But, sports culture–the players, the fans, the mythology–is decidedly and intentionally chauvinistic to the point of misogyny¹, and one of the bi products of this dynamic is the fact that, aside from a few exceptions, casual and diehard sports fans (male and female) are just not that into the idea of watching women playing sports.
This brings us to Ines Sainz.
Sainz, a reporter for Mexican television station TV Azteca, was reportedly sexually harrassed by members (players and staff) of the New York Jets last weekend. While the allegations aren’t especially vicious–she was apparently catcalled and whistled at a few times while attempting to interview Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez–I can understand how she might have felt objectified, disrespected, and even scared.
But, from her own words (read the tweets below), she was also dressed like this when at the Jets facility:
For the past few days, I’ve been trying to find a way to craft my thoughts about this situation in the most objective, politically correct and inoffensive way possible. I asked my girlfriend and a few of her friends for their take on this situation. I asked myself how I’d feel if Sainz was my daughter or wife. I even cited her possible cultural naivety–maybe she’s just not aware of how provocative her clothing is.
But, I’m also sure she has at least a peripheral understanding of the dynamics involved with sports culture, and I’m certain she’s aware that of all the major American sports, football is widely considered the most hypermasculine. And, when you enter that culture on their territory with an outfit explicitly suggesting your tits and ass are the only parts of you meant to be taken seriously, it shouldn’t be a big surprise when your tits and ass are the only parts of you taken seriously.
With this in mind, I can’t help but think she just got what she was asking for.
I realize the danger of that statement. Hospitals, court rooms, college dormitories, and graves around the world are filled with rape victims whose perpetrators would have said the exact same thing. For some sexual predators (and enablers), all a woman needs to do to “ask for it” is be born.
But, I think we’ve become so PC on the side of “a victim is always just a victim” that we’re reluctant to admit that victim-blaming isn’t always a wrong concept. This wasn’t a curvy woman getting harassed while walking to work or even a drunk college girl who was taken advantage of at a frat house. No, she’s a grown and perfectly lucid woman who made the conscious decision to dress in a provocative manner while at one of the most male-dominated, hyper-hetero places of business in the country.
If I get beat up, stabbed, or shot while walking through a known Crip area at night with a Chicago Bulls jersey and two red bandannas around my neck, sure the criminals need to be caught and brought to justice, but that sh*ts on me too. Did I deserve to get assaulted? No. Was my intentionally reckless behavior a major contributor to said assault? Yes. Admitting your personal culpability doesn’t absolve the perpetrators of any blame.
You know, the more I think of Sainz’s situation, the more I think this really had little to do with sex. Or, more specifically, it had little to do with her gender. Type-A, alpha male type of men–the type of men found in spades on NFL rosters and staffs–regularly intimidate, ridicule, mock, taunt, and sexually humiliate other men as a way to assert their status (they wouldn’t be alpha males if they didn’t do this), so it’s no surprise they’d treat an outsider, an outsider with attire suggesting they’re weak, whimsical, and irrelevant, that way. Trust me, they would have been just as quick to tease and taunt an inappropriately dressed man, and they probably would have been even meaner.
Through all of this, I’m not suggesting Sainz’s harassment should be ignored. I’ve shared my feelings about the ills of NFL culture before, and whoever’s responsible for this incident needs to be punished and even suspended. But, there are many other attractive female reporters in NFL locker rooms, women treated with respect and courtesy because they dress and act in a serious manner. And, if Sainz wants to treated professionally, she should probably stop dressing like she belongs to the world’s oldest profession³.
¹There were men and women at this table, btw.
²Sure, most of us would encourage our daughters to join sports teams and be active at a young age, but once you remove that personal connection, the fact reminds that aside from maybe hip-hop, there’s no other major industry that cultivates latent sexism the way sports culture does. The WNBA will always struggle to gain traction with the much coveted 21 to 35 year old diehard single male and 21 to 35 year old casual single female consumer because the things we associate with top athletes—hyper-aggression, cold-bloodedness, feats of physical prowess—are the complete antithesis of what most of us have been socialized to associate with femininity. Also, diehard sports fandom is largely driven by sexual vicariousness. Basically, while a base part of most diehard male fans wants to be Kevin Garnett and Peyton Manning, a base part of most diehard female sports fans wants to be with them, and I don’t think that same dynamic applies to top female athletes.
³For the record, I know saying she’s dressed like a “ho” is a pretty excessive, but I just thought titling it with the Chappelle line and ending it with the “professional/world’s oldest profession” play on words was cool. #contrivedbutstillcoolwritingdevices