By Julia Siedlanowska, Contributor
My initial reaction to the Lingerie Football League (LFL) was one of repulsion and disappointment. “This is a huge step backwards for women’s rights,” I thought. I was appalled. “This is disgusting,” I said to my boyfriend and his buddy with the cover of The Province featuring an LFL player in action. Their nonchalant response was irritating. A shrug of the shoulders and a smirk is all I got. “And don’t look at it!” I thought.
Was my strong response to this story something other than what I recognized as feminism? Was I intimidated by the thought of beautiful women exposing their bodies to make a profit? This issue suddenly became less than black and white. My response was both personal and political—as a woman, how could it not be personal?
On one hand, women shouldn’t have to wear lingerie just to be able to play professional football. I think that a lot of integrity is lost when the definition of “professional” is only that the athletes are paid. If these women wanted to be treated as “real athletes” would they not refuse to wear anything less than professional gear? I’m surprised the LFL players aren’t running around in heels! During the Olympics this summer, there was great controversy over whether or not judo athlete Wodjan Shahrkhani should be allowed to wear a hijab due to possible safety hazards. The very little padding allowed for the LFL players, and the garters around their necks don’t seem to be a concern, but more of a highlight. Let’s not try to ignore the fact that this is indeed a niche, a gimmick to attract the fans. If we wanted simply to play football, we’d join or create a women’s football league with clothes.
On the other hand, it did cross my mind that this may be an act of feminist rebellion. To which my girlfriend said, “I really don’t think that the majority of the players on these teams are raging feminists.” True. However, if the only way to get a crowd and get paid is to use your “womanly charms,” could this not potentially be seen as a feminist reclamation of both personal and economic power? I guess the argument is, if you’re going to get objectified anyways, why don’t you use it to your advantage? Besides, wouldn’t you get a little kick out of being gawked at as a sex object? Isn’t that every woman’s dream? To be hailed as the ideal of female sexuality? The only problem is this is sexuality through the eyes of men. The same men who will be buying the tickets to the game, I suppose. I also question the tryouts—if you’re asking the girls to wear “cute workout wear,” are you picking the hottest girls or the best players? As I try to look at the other side—to clear my conscience—and also to oppose the “Bible belt” pastors and citizens of Abbotsford who are themselves trying to enforce another kind of patriarchy, I find myself losing my own argument.
Perhaps this is another thing that attracts me to the contrasting side of the “traditional” feminist argument. When I find myself on the same side as the conservative religious majority, I think I should consider the opposites. Am I not just being a little bit snooty? I find myself remembering scenes from Gone with the Wind, married women swooning at the thought of a brothel. Not saying that brothels are nothing to swoon about, but there is a certain side to both male and female sexuality that cannot be denied, no matter how hard we try. Remember Ralphie’s hand in A Christmas Story reaching out to touch the leg lamp? “It’s like glowing sex!” It would be a form of oppression to try and stop these women from playing. After all, objectified or not, this is arguably a form of sexual expression, and has equal potential for gratification from both sides.
If feminism is about equality, women should not have to objectify themselves (or join organizations that objectify them) in order to get paid for playing sports (let alone make a living off of it.) If feminism is about freedom of choice, the Lingerie Football League must not be condemned (these are not women who are joining out of desperation.)
Though I will not be inviting my boyfriend out to watch the BC Angels vs. the Saskatoon Sirens any time soon, I can’t decide whether I condemn the league as a whole. Is it harmful to female society as a whole? I don’t know. Is it to be regarded on the same level as stripping or Hooters? I think so. I do know for sure that for me, on one side of the fantasy is the glory of it, and on the other is the feeling I get when I imagine the creepy old man sitting in the back staring at me in my underwear and saving it for later.