Feminine Athlete Means Homophobic Now?

posted by Chantelle Says
Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:00am EDT

All topics, irreverently discussed.

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Dear anyone who has a problem with female athletes (and those associated with them) celebrating, and even flaunting, their femininity,

I don’t understand why you are often so quick to accuse those who celebrate the feminine female athlete of being homophobic, and trying to rid women’s sports of "big bad lesbians". They are not always the same thing!

We are female before we’re athletes, and we will still be female when we’re done being athletes. Wanting to wear make-up and dresses doesn’t mean someone hates gay people. Neither does embracing other traditionally female images while playing sports. It just means she likes makeup, dresses, and such, like many other girls do! Heaven forbid.

You are not helping women’s sports, or female athletes, by yelling “sexism” or “homophobia” every time someone highlights how hot and feminine a particular athlete is. Don’t you see…you’re making the problem worse for all those girls that aren’t gay and really want to play sports. Girls that desperately need the lessons, guidance, and benefits of playing sports, yet don’t want to feel they have to dress and act like boys, or forfeit all dreams of ever having a boyfriend, to get them. You can choose to make this a never-ending campaign defending the right for gay girls to be who they are, but in doing so, you’re hurting other girls that just want to play.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had young ladies tell me their classmates call them “dykes” just because they play sports. Most of them don’t appreciate the assumption that playing sports makes them a lesbian (even if they are one!). But just because girls don't want to be stereotyped that way, doesn't mean they hate lesbians. It just means it's important to reassure girls that they can be feminine AND play sports to combat the messages they’re getting from other places. If they feel forced to pick one, most will pick being feminine, and in doing so, miss out on the countless benefits sports offer them.

Furthermore, the gay crowd includes some of the most confident, self-aware people I know, who have no problem celebrating who they are. Gay pride parades, gay clubs, the women’s Final Four, wherever the venue, they are not shy. Yet some feel forced into the closet because of prejudices and societal norms. It’s not right but sometimes you have to play a role to get what you want. Having been in the public eye for so long, I understand that more than most.

Still, is criticizing an athlete for celebrating (and even flaunting) her natural femininity any less wrong than the ignorant people who criticize homosexuals for being who they are? When programs say they have a "Christian atmosphere", or show their coach with his or her "traditional family", let's not automatically assume it's about trying to bash homosexuals on the sly. What if it’s about celebrating their beliefs and showing off their family to people who want and/or have the same things?

Truth is, most girls want a "traditional family". And even if they don't, most of their parents want to believe they do. So selling that to your audience doesn't mean you hate lesbians. It just means you're selling to your audience. And just like I cheer for the Lakers without bad-mouthing the Celtics, you can also highlight what some people see as a positive without talking bad about anyone else.

Just because it sucks that most gay coaches feel like they can't celebrate who they are without damaging their careers, doesn’t mean straight people shouldn’t be able to celebrate who they are without being accused of homophobia. Don’t try to force straight and/or feminine women into the closet because some gay people choose to, or feel forced, to stay there. Plus, there are a lot of gay, feminine athletes. So what’s their angle? Are they only “acting feminine” so people won’t figure out they’re gay? Of course not.

Do I wish publicity was based more on skill and less on looks in women’s sports? Sure I do. Despite being a kick-ass skier, Lindsey Vonn wouldn’t have gotten half as much publicity if she weren’t hot. And there are great Olympians whose names we’ll never know because they aren’t as hot as she is. Same thing with Becky Hammon or Maria Sharapova. But life isn’t fair. So instead of complaining that the athletes who aren’t feminine and/or pretty don’t get any pub, and insisting it’s because everyone is homophobic, chalk it up to men preferring to look at pretty, feminine women, or the fact that most little girls still grow up wanting to look like the girls in the magazines. Sports and sports coverage is still, after all, a business.

Of course there’s prejudice and homophobia in women’s sports. But crying foul every time a female athlete is photographed in a dress, or even a bathing suit, is unproductive. One, its not always true. And two, it will damage credibility next time the issue really is about sexuality. The big picture is that in this country, the definition of beauty is dangerously narrow. And the more female athletes that appeal to the mainstream, the closer we get to showing people that strong, aggressive, and good at sports doesn’t automatically mean manly. As long as she can be feminine without compromising her skill (i.e. Jenny Finch, Candace Parker, Lisa Leslie, etc.), who really cares?

So, let’s just support female athletes in general--the pretty ones too--and stop throwing the term homophobic around so freely within our circles. Thanks in advance.


An athlete who believes we should be able to check both the feminine AND the athlete box without being criticized

P.S. In my upcoming autobiography, I address this issue as it pertains to my own experiences, with more honesty and candor. But these are my thoughts for now. I’ve always lived my life out loud to an extent, and I think other people should be able to also, whether they’re straight, gay, or otherwise.

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There are 11 comments on this post. Join the discussion!

KoleBigEars says:

"Don't try to force straight and/or feminine women into the closet because some gay people choose to, or feel forced, to stay there."

How about ARE forced...Penn State anyone? Alot of men and women ARE forced to stay in the closet just to survive much less to get anywhere in life. Just look at the military.

Interesting article but I wonder WHO it is that has an issue with a female athlete looking feminine. Most women I have seen either look like they want and don't care what others think, or they glam it up so they can be in magazines and/or "popular."

In a perfect world NO ONE would ever be judged on what they look like, what they wear, who they love, or what they do for a living. Unfortunately I will never see that in my lifetime.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:31am EDT

seattlegirl says:

Uh.. yeah, so like I'm sure you'd be ok with folks celebrating their"whiteness". Get a clue about your heterosexual privilege "Ms". chantelle. Way to get device. Please walk a mile in a lesbian's shoes before you sound off about how terrible it is that you can't be feminine and an athlete. It is damaging when women athletes are forced to act feminine or somebody's idea of feminine. IT can be VERY damaging. Yes, see the penn state story to understand how damaging it is. Nobody's stopping you from wearing whatever you want. You totally missed the point.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 1:11am EDT

khawk says:

Interesting response to P. Griffin's blog on J. Finch's retirement. I think you both make valid points. I do very much agree that women who play sports have always had to 'prove' they are straight, and 'normal'. At least this was true when I was growing up. I hope it's a bit less these days. Sexism and homophobia are still rampant in our society however, and I can see that this can polarize female athletes, if we let it. But, we are supposed to be teammates are we not? I would gladly support a gay or straight teammate's choice to "femme it up" as much as I would support anyone not wanting to do so. Girls should always be girls in any way they choose to be. Yes, sports has always carried some stigma for girls, but that doesn't mean we have to give in to the pressure to somehow "feminize" ourselves, or sell our selves in a sexy photo shoot. That being said, if we want to do that, we should do it! This is all about choices, and those choices should be just that - a choice, not mandated, and not ridiculed either. So I do see both sides. Hopefully we are moving as a society away from damaging stereotypes and the prejudices that they cause. As women, we need to support each other, and not impose our prejudices, or support the prejudices hurled at each other. Yes, unfortunately sometimes "family oriented/Christian" is code for heterosexual/normal, and it has been used for so long against lesbians that you can't fault gay people for being a tad sensitive to these things. I truly don't think that anyone is proposing a 'closet' for feminine athletes, and they are hardly what anyone could reasonably call a persecuted minority,(as lesbians are), so with that point I do take exception. I believe both articles are saying, in the end, that should just be who they are, support each other, fight for each other and celebrate human diversity. In other words, women, gay/straight and everything in between, need to stick together, like, well, teammates!

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 1:34am EDT

Chantelle says:

SeattleGirl - Lol. First of all, you don't know what shoes I've walked in, so chill out on that.

Second, this post was a direct response to another blog posted on this site criticizing Jenny Finch and the "pretty face of softball". It was suggested that her being feminine, having a kid, and wearing make-up was a plot to make people think softball players weren't gay. It also implied that little girls looking up to her and wearing ribbons in their hair while playing somehow compromised the game. I disagree with that, so I wrote about it.

I'm not saying there's no hetero privilege. But as damaging as it is to force lesbians to act feminine when that's not who they are, it's also damaging to make other girls feel like they have to sacrifice their femininity in order to play sports. Maybe that doesn't happen to you, but it does happen, A LOT. And that's not right either.

Maybe you were too upset at what I wrote to actually read it, so I'll summarize.
Point 1: It's important to tell girls they can play sports AND be feminine, so more of them will still want to play sports.
Point 2: Just because people are being "straight" in public, doesn't mean they dislike lesbians. It just means they're straight.

I at no point said lesbian dom chicks should be forced to act fem, or that feminine athletes were persecuted. I just said feminine girls should not be called homophobic for being themselves! Is it really so terrible that Jenny Finch encouraged girls that they could be a great athlete while being "perfectly put together" too?

And on the "whiteness" comment - ha. White girls go around in public all the time tossing their naturally long hair, talking about tanning, and doing other "white girl things". You don't see me running around accusing them of hating black girls because they act like the white girls they are, even though they are the majority and in most cases, the standard of beauty in our society. Haha - nice try though.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:04pm EDT

Chantelle says:

KoleBigEars - If someone is gay, they are not FORCED to keep it a secret. For most people the consequences are not life and death (I do realize there are some extreme cases where they are and thats disgusting). They can decide they dont like whatever the consequences of coming out are for their particular situation, and so decide not to. But its still a choice. Its still in their control.

Call me crazy, but Im pretty sure any of the athletes that went to Penn State probably had other scholarship offers. Rene Portland has been talking about her no lesbians policy in the media since at least 1986. She didn't lie or misrepresent her stance on the issue. Yet they CHOSE to go there. And they CHOSE to stay there. Did they not believe her? Or did they think she would change her policy for them? I'm not justifying the prejudice AT ALL. It is VERY wrong. Im just saying they did have a choice in putting themselves in that situation.

In most things, even when we don't feel like we have a choice, we do.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:21pm EDT

Chantelle says:

Khawk - I see both sides of the issue as you describe them. And I agree that no one should be made to feel inferior. The post I responded to showed one side and so I responded by showing the other. It wasn't to be divisive and get lesbians and "straight girls" fighting. It was just to show both view points.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:34pm EDT

seattlegirl says:

Ms.CHanelle. Wow! I want to really give you a break about some of your points. Please rent "Training Rules". Your comments display a lack of understanding of what it is like to be gay in this country. For starters, if it were so easy to come out, as you seem to insinuate, then more women would. Do you know that it is perfectly legal in most states in america to fire you for being gay? It is absolutely true!As far as your comments on why girls went to Penn State even if they knew about Portland's stance, well there are many reasons. Homophobia is complicated. You man know that you're gay and not want to accept it is one reason. Two, these players are making decisions about college when they're 17 18 years old. Not everybody knows their own sexual orientation at that age. I for one did not come out until I was 21 and I was at a Catholic University at the time.. that was a lot of fun. Believe it or not, I actually went to a Rene Portland basketball camp as a teenager, back in the 80's. I didn't know that I was gay then. Plus, she had such a powerhouse of a program that everybody wanted to go there. And finally, Portland went after women who also LOOKED like lesbians. What does a lesbian look like? Hence, stereotypes are reinforced, girls are forced to try and look "feminine" and worst of all, make sure that you don't associate with anybody gay. Portland got rid of women who even associated with lesbians. So let me ask you, what kind of teammate would you have been? Would you have stood by your teammates even if they didn't look feminine? Please rent the movie. This story applies all over sports. Where are the "out" players in the WNBA?

I'm glad that you acknowledge that there is heterosexual privilege. If you understand privilege, (which I would hope that you do), then you have some responsibility with how you use it if you want to bridge the gap, not put a wedge between it. I actually think that you are making my point, especially when you note that it is white women that determine what beauty is. That's the point!!Who decides what a female athlete should look like, act like? Straight feminine women have that privilege. Why the sarcasm? ("nice try though"). It wasn't a "try". I have studied the topic for years and years.

As far as not knowing what shoes you've walked in, I don't. Say more... If you're gay, then please come out.

You are also taking Pat Griffin's comments out of context. She did not say that being feminine is homophobic. She was referring to the comments that Mendoza made about coming along way in sports and people not assuming that you're lesbian just because you play sports. OUCH! So not being called a lesbian is progress? Do you not see how absolutely hurtful that is?

Please wear whatever you want. But please also know that words do matter and that being gay in this country is extremely difficult especially depending where you live. I live in Seattle and people are still gay bashed. Seattle for crying out loud!

And finally, yes I too would rather we all work together on this issue. We as women need to do a better job of supporting each other, all women. Homophobia is still a very big and damaging topic. Women are killed all over the world for coming out as lesbians. A lesbian soccer player in Africa, (can't remember which country at the moment), was raped and killed for coming out. I would just love to see a straight woman who keeps letting us know how straight she is, (ie. Lisa Leslie, CP etc.) come out in support of all players, including lesbians and stop trying to separate themselves from lesbians, (intentionally or unintentionally). I would just love to see one of these women use their privilege and say "look, I am against homophobia period. As you noted, nobody should be made to feel inferior. But nobody is getting fired, raped, murdered or ostracized for being too feminine. Thanks for posting and for reading.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 1:08pm EDT

khawk says:

Thanks for the response Chantelle, as always I like to hear from a variety of view points. I know you see both sides, and have many friends in the gay/lesbian and straight community. It is obvious to me that you were not trying to divide straight/gay girls. I think those who are responding so angrily to your blog are really aiming at the bigger target, sexism and homophobia, and kind of taking it out on you unfairly. But you did stick up for lesbians as well. I think this is just such an emotional topic, especially for lesbians who have also faced blatant homophobia which is still mostly acceptable today.Personally, I do think that my response was more in reaction to the woman quoted in the Finch article as advocating one style over another, namely straight appearance, not anything you said in particular. It is always dangerous when women are divided, and I, like you and so many others on this topic agree, we should all continue to honor each other as women and athletes, and be on the same team when it comes to sticking up for each other no matter our orientation! Keep the blogs coming! Thought provoking as always.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 3:53pm EDT

Chantelle says:

Note to self: rent "Training Rules". I may not have had your same experiences, but I do understand how a person's sexuality can change and evolve as they get older, or as a result of certain events. I'm not saying dealing with it is easy. I'm just saying there are options as far as what you subject yourself to, whenever it is that you figure it out. Sometimes you make the choice to leave...sometimes it's to stay and deal.
You ask what kind of teammate I would've been. I know that I don't like my hand forced and so if I felt persecuted for any reason, whether it was for my own sexuality or that of my friends, I would have found a way around it, or left. I'm sure it would've been hard, but there are many things that are hard in life.

I know lots of players in the WNBA, and other people in general, that live their lives as gay women. Do they come out and make an announcement? No, they don't. But do they hide the fact that they're gay by what they do, who they associate with, and how they carry themselves? Absolutely not. I don't think that's living in the closet. That's being who you are without feeling the need to make an announcement about it. Is it really necessary to "come out" when you weren't hiding in the first place? In some situations yes, as in with your family or close friends. I'm sure they would appreciate the announcement. But to people you don't know, what for?

Yes the "white women/standard of beauty" argument is the same point. Just being a white woman period grants privilege. It's something I understand and live with every day. You say it's legal to fire someone for being gay, but people are denied jobs everyday for being black. I'm not trying to turn this into a racial debate. I'm just saying we all live with things. Yes gay people are more persecuted that straight people. But that doesn't make what I wrote about a non-issue.

Not being assumed to be a lesbian just for playing sports IS progress. Not because there is something wrong with being a lesbian. It's progress because the more people realize that being strong, aggressive, successful, and confident doesn't automatically put you in any box as far as sexuality is concerned, then the better off women will be as a whole. I love to tell girls they can "have it all" as far as being smart, pretty, strong, successful, and have great relationships. They need to know that if they want to chase the "strong and successful part", they can still have the "man part" too, if they want it (which is an issue for successful women outside of sports too). I just don't want our girls to feel like they have to choose playing sports over being feminine, or being straight. That%u2019s as unfair as making other girls feel they have to be all "femmed out" when that's not them.

I don't condone any of the awful things that happen to homosexuals. In fact, they sicken me, and I feel very strongly about people's right to be who they are, whoever that is. I do see both sides. And I have written about the fact that an athlete's sexuality shouldn't matter, or affect her status as a role model. But because only one side was discussed in the blog I was responding to, I felt the need to write about the other side here.

I appreciate the discussion, and you taking the time to respond. =)

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 5:06pm EDT

seattlegirl says:

Fair enough...I appreciate your response and your willingness to rent the movie. I'll give you points on that one. You can get it on netflix..

To borrow one of my favorite sayings, "we are more alike than we are unalike".. the great Maya Angelou.. I think we agree on more than we disagree. Racism homophobia, etc. will rile up those who have been impacted. And one can't be more hurtful than the other.. if you have pain, you feel it. They all hurt. Just the same, privilege comes in many flavors, straight, white, male, beauty, height, income history etc. Those who have it, can make a difference to those who don't. But first, you have to know that you have it.

Point taken.. putting anybody in a box is not useful. I do see your point of view. I think that Mendoza could have been more sensitive in her statement given her position in the WSF, (which was founded by Billie Jean King of all people).

Anyway, good discussion.. good weekend to you..

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 7:34pm EDT

GinaLA says:

Thanks to Chantelle for addressing Pat Griffin's original post in which I believe she took unfair and unwarranted shots at both Finch and Mendoza, a pair of athletes that are easily among the greatest women softball players of all time.

It's always interesting to observe how quickly some lesbian athletes and / or their supporters want to make any issue all about them, regardless of the facts. Mendoza's quote spoke to the positive impact Finch had on expanding the pool of young girls that would consider participating in organized sports. Any truly objective observer would pretty much agree that is a good thing. While it isn't a surprise that some have decided to pile on Chantelle for her post, I think it speaks volumes to their lack of objectivity and acceptance of the views others which seems more than a bit ironic given the context.

It's nice to see that someone like Chantelle with a legitimate athletic pedigree had the guts to step up to this in spite of the standard political correctness that passes for objectivity on this subject.

As long as I'm being politically incorrect I would add that the recent glee concerning the Quinnipiac Title IX decision is another manifestation of certain elements in the women's athletics power structure and the attorneys that make a living on Title IX litigation trying to impose their vision of women's athletics on society. Given some of the "questionably athletic" sports currently endorsed and approved by the NCAA and Title IX it is ludicrous that true competitive cheer programs would not be considered legitimate sports for Title IX purposes. Anyone that has spent any time around true competitive cheer activities knows the level of athleticism and teamwork involved. The fact that young women can earn college scholarships in sports like badminton and bowling but not competitive cheer says more than I could ever say about the situation.

No small part of the Quinnipiac decision is due to the political incorrectness of the "cheerleader" aspect of competitive cheer in the world of women's sports. The truth is that there is a school of thought out there that has a problem with overt femininity in sports and they are trying to control the dialogue. That is discriminatory, it's not right and it's no more fair than the shots taken at Finch and Mendoza or the responses to Chantelle's post.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 11:21am EDT

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