Op-eds, Opinions

Tisch ’17: Let’s not objectify our athletes

By
Op-ed contributor
Thursday, January 26, 2017

Earlier this week, several events circulated on Facebook promoting a Brown Athletics department-sponsored meet featuring the gymnastics team and the wrestling team. This Friday will be the third annual iteration of the event, a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. Spectators are encouraged to #WearPink and #PackThePizz. As my life and the lives of many other members of the Brown community have been touched by cancer, I salute the athletics department and the teams involved for supporting this cause. But our lives have all been touched by the misogyny, sexism and traditional gender roles that have come to the forefront particularly in the election and Women’s Marches last week. It is for this reason that I implore the athletics department to take a long, hard look at why calling this event “Beauty and the Beast” is harmful and disrespectful.

The “beauty” in “Beauty and the Beast” refers to the gymnastics team. I cannot deny that the tumbling passes and dance elements of gymnastics are beautiful. But gymnastics and the athletes who participate in the sport are far more than just beautiful. Anyone who watched Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and the rest of the USA gymnastics team at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games witnessed the sheer power and athleticism of the sport. Any inflexible person (like myself) who has struggled to do a simple cartwheel can appreciate the strength, balance and grit this sport requires. To market these hardworking athletes as simply “beauties” is to objectify them. This is unacceptable.

The term “beast” is also problematic as it has connotations of wild aggression and hypermasculinity. Though often portrayed as a violent sport of domination, wrestling is actually a highly technical sport that requires tremendous care and skill. The misunderstood nature of the sport, combined with the hypermasculinity and aggression from the label “beast,” makes light of and normalizes these characteristics off the mat. Let’s not refer to these athletes with a label that implicitly condones hostility and violence.

While “Beauty and the Beast,” the 1991 animated Disney film to which the event name most likely refers to, is regarded as a classic, it has been criticized by activists and scholars alike for promoting domestic violence. The anthropomorphic teapots, utensils and household utilities that inhabit the Beast’s mansion in the film live in fear of his violent tendencies and aggressive outbursts. Though the Beast never directly strikes Belle or causes her bodily harm, he intimidates her, silences her and holds her hostage. By no means is this an example of a healthy relationship. By no means should the athletics department compare two teams that represent the University to this dynamic.

In the context of last week’s Women’s Marches and the growing marginalization of people who are not cisgender males, I urge the Brown Athletics Department to change the name of this event. It is especially inappropriate for an event that aims to showcase athletes (many of whom are not cis-males) and raise awareness for breast cancer to have a name so loaded with misogyny and bias. The new name should not speak to the presumed gender of the athletes on each team. The new name should not play with harmful stereotypes or traditional gender roles as portrayed in the media. The new name should not refer to works of popular culture that promote toxic relationship dynamics. I suggest a new name that either highlights breast cancer awareness or the equal athleticism and humanity of each team. This cause is important, and these athletes are talented and hardworking. It is more than enough to market this event for exactly what it is.

Charlotte Tisch ’17 can be reached at charlotte_tisch@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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