Muscles vs. Miniskirts

In Which I Defend Hope Solo & Armageddon Arrives

I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars. Let’s get that out of the way. I’m not a fan of reality (“reality”) TV and I’m not a big fan of Hope Solo off the pitch, so why subject myself to that?

But as a soccer & USWNT fan it’s impossible to avoid reading about Hope’s stint on DWTS. Even my dad asked if I was watching. So I am aware of how she’s done thus far and I do truly want her to win. It would be great for soccer.

Then, come to find out, after Hope’s first dance, the judges warned her she’d have to be more feminine if she wants to win the competition.

Now, before I begin my rant about this, I would just like to know: did the judges also tell Carson Kressley he needs to be more masculine if he wants to win? I mean, I can’t imagine people thinking Hope Solo, of all people, is not feminine. But, you know, maybe compared to Carson, she seems so.

Then there’s the part of me that’s frustrated to even be having this conversation. What, we’re only allowed to celebrate powerful female athletes every four years? I don’t recall anyone ever saying Amanda Beard or Maria Sharapova were un-feminine. It’s been 12 years since Brandi Chastain took off her shirt and people were OMG SO AMAZED that she was ripped. Now Hope and her Shoulders of Doom are front and center on ABC and you’d think no one had ever seen a female athlete before. How many times do we have to talk about this?

This whole thing reminds me of when USA Today’s Christine Brennan went after fellow sports reporter Erin Andrews following the latter’s videotaping incident in 2009. Are women threatened by confident, fit women? Are they jealous? And truly, aren’t dancers just as fit?

Honestly, as someone who is in shape and who works hard to get that way, it’s a bit insulting to see Solo be treated as less-than simply because she’s not waddling around Wal-Mart looking for discounted Twinkies. And that’s what I’m wondering: if Solo danced the same but had a BMI of 42, would the judges still tell her she’s not feminine enough?

Blogger Jennifer Doyle wrote a thoughtful, intelligent post on the muscles-over-miniskirts topic, and the point that stood out to me was:

“I would rather the show play her strength and athleticism up than play it down.”

This sentence stayed with me for several reasons:

  • I’m tired of the either/or. Solo is strong, powerful AND feminine. So what if her shoulders rival Dwight Howard’s? What’s wrong with that? Not a damn thing. Enough of the “muscular = manly” overtones of having a cut physique. Hope (and others) work HARD to get their bodies in shape. It takes YEARS of working out and diet control – not a one-month free pass to a Zumba class and Caesar salads for lunch. I’d like to see people celebrate her dedication and sacrifice instead of implying her physical strength may be some kind of societal stumbling block.
  • Hope’s young fans will be watching this show. What does it say to them that this beautiful, accomplished woman is called less feminine basically due to that which helps make her successful? I’m going to say this clumsily, but if we assume in a very general sense that young girls want to be accepted in their little worlds in traditional gender roles (that little girls want to be girly), what does it say to them when Hope is dinged for displaying beauty via strength?
  • Those young girls’ parents likely will be watching too. Will they discourage their young children from following the same path for fear they might turn out that way and/or also be seen/treated as less-than like Hope was?
  • Childhood obesity is epidemic. Is it really necessary to put down a woman who is fit, strong and muscular simply because her athleticism might be contradictory to gracefulness (within the context of a dancing competition, of course. I find plenty of grace in soccer)?

To be clear: I certainly don’t think it’s the responsibility of this TV show to fight childhood obesity. And I hardly expect a dancing-show judge to be aware of the potential ramifications in a contestant’s fan base for suggesting femininity can be undermined by physical strength.

It’s the judges’ implication that Solo, and by extension other female athletes, are less feminine because they are fit that I take issue with. That muscles are unattractive on a woman (boy, I couldn’t disagree with that more). While one could debate the usefulness/importance/necessity of femininity in general, within the context of this dance show, according to the judges, it is essential for success.

So what is a woman to do? To what ideal should a young girl aspire? In a world where women and girls (and boys) fight battles against anorexia, bulimia, and obesity, Hope Solo is a fine example of a healthy, fit, beautiful, successful and yes, feminine woman. Whether it’s on a TV show, soccer pitch or magazine page (oh god), Hope’s musculature and athleticism should be celebrated on any and every stage.

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