No Olympics Gold for Gender

Since International Women’s Day falls on the heels of the Olympics this year, lace up your skates for some sportingly queer gender analysis.

The 2010 Olympics must have been unusually queer, because they sure stirred up all kinds of gender anxiety. In response to the Olympic gold win by U.S. skater Evan Lysacek—skating in a tenaciously masculine black onesie bedecked with a glittering serpent’s head and a few feathers at the wrists—Elvis Stojko opined for Yahoo Sports about the death of manliness in men’s figure skating:

How can you be Olympic champion when you don’t even try the quad [which silver-medalist Evgeni Plushenko did]? If you’re going to take the quad out, why not take out another triple axel and just have more of the other stuff so the International Skating Union can make it more into an ‘art’ recital.

As if an art recital wasn’t threatening enough, Stojko–a former Olympic medalist in men’s skating who always promoted the sport’s “manliness”–added:

More feathers, head-flinging and so-called step sequences done at walking speed–that’s what the system wants. I am going to watch hockey, where athletes are allowed to push the envelope. A real sport.

Ari Zakarian, agent to Plushenko (yes, skaters have agents) also called upon the appropriately butch hockey to counter future rinks full of girlish men in feathers, undoubtedly coached by RuPaul:

That’s why it’s losing spectators. I receive so many letters. They say they won’t watch figure skating anymore. They’ll watch hockey.

If men’s skating is getting fey, perhaps there is space for Zakarian and Stojko on the gold medal-winning Canadian women’s hockey team (none of whom have agents or are pulling in six figure plus National Hockey League salaries). Nary a feather nor a wrung-or–flung hand on this team, yet they are being investigated by the International Olympics Commission to see if their celebratory cigar smokin’ and drinkin’ photos were “harmful to hockey.” No other athletes, in particular hockey players, have ever celebrated by drinking or smoking, of course.

Following the Olympics was the last thing on my radar. With the public option in healthcare fading, with tuition dollars at public universities approaching the price of a small home and with reproductive rights being whittled away, there is much for a feminist organizer to do. And, with the promise of a parting gift of a one billion dollar debt for Vancouver (my hometown), the Olympics in a recession appeared, well, fortuitous.

Yet, while I was seduced by the promise of temporary distractions (I am just not going to mention the “aboriginal” costumes worn by the Russian dance duo), sport spectacles hardly offer breaks from the hetero-gendered and racialized politics of everyday life.

Remember the grotesque attempts to police the body and the constructed boundaries of gender after Caster Semenya’s breathtaking win at the 800 meter race at the 2009 World Championships? Far from being outside of our messy politics, these events offer us Olympic-sized opportunities to see inequities, stereotypes and garden-variety homophobia, misogyny and white supremacy. In live action. With feathers.

Read more women and sports coverage from Ms