I know I won’t be buying tickets to watch the Lingerie Football League because I have no interest in football. If I did and the women were good at it, I’d probably think about it.
What I do know is that players wearing lingerie neither entices nor repulses me. I have concerns about injury to exposed flesh that would make me squirm in visceral sympathy were I to witness that. However, in my experience exposure to flesh is interesting for a nano second, unless I’m personally and privately engaged with that flesh, which is a whole other ball game, so to speak.
Commissioner of moral police Melinda Tankard Reist is outraged at the possibility of the Lingerie Football League coming to Australia, to the degree that she has ordered her troops to set up the usual petition and boycott of every business with an interest in promoting what they perceive as sexualisation of women in sport.
One of the claims made by Reist’s battalion is that women who wish to play football at this level are forced to do it in their underwear because there are no options available. This is apparently untrue. A small exaggeration, by those who don’t let the truth get in the way of their propaganda. In the US, home of the LFL, there are three women’s football leagues, none of which require their members to play in their undies. So presumably the women involved in LFL are there because they want to be.
You’d never know this from reading Reist’s rant on the subject. Once again, women are positioned as victims, forced by men into sexualised exhibitionism if they want to play their sport.
In this interview with Derryn Hinch, Reist admits that she doesn’t like beach volley ball either because the uniforms, while not styled by Victoria’s Secret, are nonetheless far too skimpy. Wearing skimpy garments is exploitative of women, the argument goes, who only want the chance to play their sport. Men don’t watch the sport they watch the women’s bums and breasts, desperately hoping for wardrobe malfunctions and a bit of accidental nudity.
I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is, it doesn’t seem so extraordinary. Heterosexual men are generally on the lookout for a glimpse of female flesh as far as I can tell, and I’ve yet to understand why that is regarded as offensive. Of course there are situations in which it is entirely offensive, but that isn’t every occasion and circumstance.
I have to admit that if I find myself trapped in a room with a television broadcasting the football, especially if it’s the Sydney Swans, I watch their bodies. I very much admire their athleticism and their bums. I suppose I’m objectifying them, but I mean them no harm. I also like to look at female athletes, especially the gymnasts. Human bodies can be powerfully beautiful. There is a very strong link in the human imagination between beauty, the erotic, and the sexual. When all is well with us we know better than to act out this link unless invited.
It is ludicrous to demand that the human gaze be bereft of sexual interest. To be sexually stirred by a human body is not to inevitably objectify. We are capable of simultaneous reactions: admiration and desire are companions.
The bottom line (sorry), as Helen Razer put it in a tweet yesterday, is that it’s demeaning to tell adult women they are being demeaned. One has to assume a position of vast superiority in order to do this. Whatever their reasons, the women of the Lingerie Football League have freely chosen their careers. Reist et al claim, as they always claim, that many women don’t know when they are being sexploited. These women are dumber than Melinda, in other words, and need to be taught what’s really going on here by taking their jobs away from them and telling them they don’t know their own minds.
This ongoing fight about sexualisation and objectification of adult women is really all about dress codes. As someone else said on Twitter, we wear bikinis to the beach, not bras and pants, but the amount of flesh revealed is the same. Reist and her gang start from the premise that the female body is a dangerous thing, dangerous for its inhabitants and dangerous for heterosexual men. Therefore it must be kept under control and one of the methods of control is how it is allowed to be clothed.
If to sexualise, that is to make sexual, is “wrong,” then it follows that sex outside of prescribed circumstances is wrong. To “sexualise” apparently means to display flesh and wear garments suggestive of the privacy of the bedroom. If we “sexualise” the adult female we are apparently inciting heterosexual males who do not own her in marriage to inappropriate desire. Reist is primarily engaged in a form of attempted mind control: she doesn’t want men desiring women unless they are married to them. She is incapable of distinguishing between desire and objectification, therefore desire is her enemy.
I have no problem with Reist holding her opinions on sex and its purposes. She’s entitled to them. But what she must one day realise is that these opinions are not shared by everyone, and she has no right to attempt to impose them as the norm.
I give the final word to my friend H: “If we cannot do what we want with our own physical vessel (when it does no harm to others) we have/are nothing.”