Friday, May 11, 2012

Empowerment VS. Exploitation. Where do we draw the line?

By Megan Coleman
Student Projects Assistant
Office of the Dean of Student Life
Enrollment Management and Student Affairs
Portland State University

I am currently taking the senior capstone “Sexual Assault Education Theater,” it’s a really fun class and I would highly recommend it. While in class we were discussing the media’s representation of women, and how that representation drives what society thinks women “should be”. During the presentation the Lingerie Football League, or LFL, was brought up. I had heard of the LFL before and knew that it was a real thing but I had never actually seen any of the games. All I knew was that the LFL portrayed women in minimal padding running around playing football.

We were shown a promo video for the league that was framing the athletes as strong women who where kicking butt, they even mentioned that this was “breaking down barriers”. I’m not saying that these women aren’t strong independently minded people who love what they do. If these experiences are empowering in their minds more power to them, but let’s really think about the motivations here. What barrier is a lingerie football league really breaking down?

There is a certain historical narrative with women not being allowed to play sports, specifically the more violent sports like football. So in that sense, yes having a women’s sports team that is nationally recognized is a great thing (even though there is already an independent women’s football league….). I find it hard to believe, however, that this is the true intention. The promo ads are certainly framing this league as a step forward in women’s rights but the videos of the fans of this sport would suggest otherwise.

My favorite video, linked below, shows a reporter at a tailgate party for the team Chicago Bliss asking the fans about the upcoming game. All the fans are incredibly excited and pumped for the game but when the reporter starts asking about their favorite players, who they think will win or anything about the actual sport they were unable to answer. It soon becomes clear to the reporter that the fans are not there for the game but for the view.

So if the fans themselves aren’t recognizing the sportsmanship happening on the field, what is the point? It was clear by the commentary of the fans that it was about watching women in lingerie not football. A few people in my class compared it to mud/jello wrestling or other such activities. I have a hard time being convinced that this is an attempt to bring credibility to female sports when most of the fans have no idea what is actually going on. The LFL website says its mission statements is, “The Lingerie Football League has become the Ultimate Fan-Driven Live Sports Phenomenon - Blending Action, Impact and Beauty." They even refer to the league as “true fantasy football” not really a compelling argument for a truly progressive idea.

There has been a lot of debate over whether or not the portrayal of women scantily clad is a form of empowerment. The “slutwalk,” where women protest the idea that dressing provocatively makes your to blame for any sexual assaults that may occur is just one example of how women use their bodies to make a statement. Many, but not all participating in the slutwalk dress provocatively to protest the idea that the way you dress puts you at fault for other people’s actions.

I think, honestly, it comes down to motivation. The people in the slutwalk are dressing in a dramatized way in order to protest a particular statement about sexual assault survivors. The LFL athletes are dressing in a particular way, from what I can gather, to sell tickets. To me there is a big difference but I think it’s a grey area that will have to be taken one case at a time. I am personally not convinced that there are any barriers being broken down by the LFL or that it is about female sports at all. I think that there is a huge difference between the ladies who play for the Independent Women’s Football League and the LFL. One is about the game and the other seems to be mostly about the exploitation of women.

Video Links:
LFL Fans:
Website Links:
Independent Women’s Football League:
Portland Shockwave, Oregon’s IWFL Team

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