The Fine Line
By Evan Senn
Feminist activism had its main attention-grabbing hay day back in the 1960s and ‘70s. Nowadays, those feminists have grown up, and think younger generations of women today have gone backwards in time, reverting to older and worse standards for equal rights and fair treatment between the sexes. They may be right—feminism is much quieter now, but is it gone? There seems to be a small movement of young feminist artists, writers and activists dedicated to trying to level the playing field between men and women in contemporary culture, job markets and gender roles in our society. Of course, in our media-heavy lifestyles today, it gets harder and harder to be heard. Advertising across the board objectifies women more than ever before, and though women and men are competing for the same wages, jobs, and may have the same treatment in other areas, there is no doubt that the television stations and advertisers are over-saturating the media with female sexuality to a point of discomfort for many.
One of the big cases of this over-sexualizing of women in the media is the Legends Football League (LFL). The LFL is a women’s 7-on-7 tackle American football league, created in 2009, with games played in the fall and winter at NBA, NFL, NHL and MLS arenas and stadiums. The league was founded by Mitch Mortaza as the Lingerie Football League in 2009, and was rebranded as the Legends Football League in 2013. Don’t know about Legends Football? Well what if I told you that it is completely made up of gorgeous women playing in bikini-style uniforms? Interested now? Right.
Some LFL players have responded positively—unlike many critics, families or organizations promoting feminist thinking. One player was quoted as saying “I just appreciate playing football, I don’t care what they put me in.” Another player favored the limited clothing, saying “It’s more comfortable this way.” Adrian Purnell of the Tampa Breeze said that the outfits are only for marketing purposes. But that is the main problem with much of the objectification and sexual exploitation of women in media today, isn’t it?—The women involved don’t seem to mind.
A few women in the spotlight—Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah, Katie Couric—proudly stake feminist ground, with Oprah declaring: “You’ve got to beat the drum loudly. Nobody listens to you if you go quietly into the night.” But others still lament the state of modern day feminism, noting the lack of feminist action and saying women now won’t care about their rights until those rights are gone. “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys,” author Erin Hatton says.
Online feminism is entirely normalized, however. “A generation of young women are growing up with feminism . . . explicitly feminist blogs and communities at their fingertips. That’s a revolution,” says feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem. “Computer screens and typing fingers don’t make the most compelling documentary imagery. But as it turns out, they do change a lot of minds. Women online are beating the feminist drum, and loudly. And it’s helping to carry feminism forward.”
Critics say the LFL degrades female athletes through “pernicious objectification,” and particularly through the players treatment and uniforms—tiny, spandex bikinis with logos and numbers on women’s breasts and buttocks. Other players are quoted as viewing the uniforms as a necessary evil, with one saying “Maybe one day, girls won’t have to wear lingerie to get people interested [in women's football].” Liz Gorman, a player with the Tampa Breeze, stated she’d rather wear a conventional uniform: “I mean, I don’t like it. We’d rather wear full clothing. I have a bunch of scrapes on me.” She did express a notion that the league is likely to change to conventional uniforms in the future, though, “You look back at basketball, you used to have to wear skirts. Obviously it’s changed, they have the WNBA now. So if you look back, women’s sports have constantly evolved and I think that this sports league is going to end up changing the uniform.”
Women’s professional sports have been struggling against disrespectful and sexualized views for decades. It is a larger issue than just the LFL; the LFL seems to be reversing some of the hard work professional female athletes have been striving for with gender equality in professional sports.
Is that where we have come—to have “necessary evils” of playing a rough sport in our underwear to get any positive attention for the sport? I hope not. But this “football league” seems to be pushing those boundaries as far as possible; maybe just to provoke conversation and attention, maybe to just make a buck. Regardless of the reason, the LFL has won attention across the board, and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. We can only hope that games like this won’t affect our cultivation and education of future generations of female athletes.
LA Temptations vs. Seattle Mist (Legends Football League) at Citizens Business Bank Arena, 4000 E Ontario Center Pkwy., Ontario, (909) 244-5500; www.cbbankarena.com. Sat., May 4, 7PM.