retro-gender sports?
August 18, 2004 12:00 PM

Men's gymnastics have become much cooler than women's gymnastics. I don't know when this happened. I clearly remember the women's version being very elegant and dancelike to watch when I was a kid; the men's, by contrast, being rather repetitive and boring.

Now, the compulsory "dance" moves on floor and beam look silly and graceless. They were designed for women with the bodies of dancers and rhythmic gymnasts, for movement all about curved lines. Today's women gymnasts are serious athletes; they have the broad shoulders and substantial muscles need to do the insane tumbling and leaping that has come to dominate the sport. Those leaps and such are amazing; they require so much strength, but there are still these weird little leftovers - goofy music and poses that make the athletes look like dancing donkeys.

This was true in women's skating during the winter Olympics, too (and of men's skating, to a lesser degree). It's like the sport isn't aware of its own changes, despite the increasing difficulty of the "technical" (read: truly awe-inspiring) side. It's not about feminine beauty - at least not in the same sense - anymore. Move on! Please don't play another patriotic, upbeat floor routine song with the pretense that the tumbling is somehow related.

Men's gymnastics, by contrast, was never about pretty. And has become more compelling to watch because of it - the level of rigor and athleticism is more clearly a test of strength and agility and is just plan cool. Without the barriers of complete dorkiness that the women face, the men's sport started rocking.

On a vaguely related note, I can't resist commenting on the kerfuffle around the beach volleyball dancers. Because beach volleyball wasn't silly enough to match table tennis, the Greeks added dancing women in teeny bikinis between matches/sets/whatever volleyball terminology is. The dancing is incredibly goofy; one really expects Frankie and Annette to pop up.

What's at issue isn't the mockery of turning the sport into a beach blanket movie, but the objectification of women implied by having women in bikinis dancing to entertain you in between episodes of... women in bikinis whacking a ball. Presumably the latter are dressed for comfort and ease, while the former are, like any cheerleaders, dressed to titillate. And I can see the players' point - if there aren't any guys in bright orange speedos dancing about, it makes every woman more an object of sexiness instead of an object of, say, sport.

There's the question of why women playing beach volleyball wear little sporty bikinis while the men wear basically basketball attire [see pictures on], too, which I've heard people talking about the "appropriateness" of. It seems to have less to do with appropriateness or gender than it does with trying to imitate people frolicking on the beach - I mean, they wear hats and sunglasses. At night. So they can... so they can see (in the fake daylight). It's another case of a sport with a seemingly demented need to stay connected to its roots.

Which I don't get. But then I only even watch sports maybe 5 times in the average year (though the other 4 times, I almost never see such weird gender divisions among athletes).

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your wicked thoughts

I agree. I've always found it kind of embarrassing to see incredibly talented athletes having to prance around and strike silly poses, both in gymnastics and figure skating. And calling this silliness "artisitc" is both an insult to art and athleticism. It's what sells, I guess....

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these are the thoughts of asfo_del on August 28, 2004 02:59 AM

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