Monday, September 26, 2011

The LFL and Feminism

The Lingerie Football League:
A Feminist's Quagmire
I don't even know what this is called, but I know I can't do it.
I've actually been struggling for quite awhile with this question. I have several friend who play in the Lingerie Football League (ladies I met without knowing it was their sport). I won't mention who exactly, but you might be able to piece it together from my Facebook friend list. I'm also a feminist, so there's a pretty obvious conflict here for me. But I'm ALSO a lesbian into athletic women (see my girlfriend's abs for confirmation) so there are biological concerns as well. It's a whole mess and one I haven't really figured out an answer for yet.

For those of you who may not know what the LFL is, it's not entirely what it sounds like. When my friends did finally tell me where they were playing lingerie football, I was kind of horrified until I actually saw them play. And then I was horrified that they didn't have nearly enough padding for how hard everyone was hitting each other. There is a very small...loud...actually kind of large part of me that wishes they were given full uniforms so people would take the athleticism of it all more seriously. For a toughness factor, these girls have roller derby beat by a country mile, but when it comes to respectability, they're still lagging behind because it started out as a strange wet dream for really pathetic guys.
I can't be the only one who sees how the uniforms are fairly similar in size and composition.

Then something odd happened:  people started watching for the football. The models who couldn't run, throw, or hit vanished and women with far sturdier bodies (translate--thicker) and real athletic ability took their place. This isn't to say there weren't real athletes in the early days, they were just so ridiculously good by comparison that they obliterated the lingerie models every play. The uniforms still disgust me though.
You don't get abs like that without being an athlete; trust me, I've tried.
As a feminist, there are elements here to be proud of, but also a lot of gross stuff. It's televised women's athletics, which is good! But it's televised on MTV2, which is bad. It's women playing a professional contact sport for real money that was once only allowed to men, which is great! But they're basically only wearing underwear while they're doing it, which is bad. Right now, the women who are playing are real athletes who take real hits and receive real injuries and bruises from it all in front of a cheering crowd, which is good! But the stadiums also tend to be really empty most of the time, which is bad considering men's high school football sells out more often than the LFL does. The women of the LFL have realistic bodies (5'7" 148 lbs and heavier kind of normal), which is good! But they also sell game-worn "uniforms" on the LFL website, which makes my skin crawl it's so disgusting. I love my friends who play and I love that they're playing football, real professional football in front of crowds of people who paid to be there to see them play, and I'm so fucking proud when I see #1 make a really vicious tackle that would make most men cry. The supportive fan and lover of women's athletics really wants to like the LFL, but the feminist in me is screaming the entire time, "They shouldn't have to wear lingerie to be watched!"

How did anyone even tell them apart without uniforms?

One of the angles I've taken on this, and it's helped rationalize it a lot, came from the ancient Greeks. The original Olympics, which were men only, were participated in while entirely naked and often lubed with olive oil. I'm not going to get into the whole homoerotic side of this and the affinity the ancient Greeks had for all things man-love, but I am aware it exists. The point was, the greatest athletes of their era refused clothing for athletic competition at one point in human history, and it couldn't have been about turning women into sexual objects or pieces of meat, because those naked athletes were all men. When I look at the LFL uniforms and think of them more as gladiator armor designed to show off the marvel of the athletic form, which was the goal of the lack of uniforms in the games in ancient Greece and Rome (again, all men), it becomes slightly more tolerable as long as I ignore the real intent.

This didn't match my preconceived notions either.
Taking the feminism angle out entirely, there are some other, more pedantic, problems for me. When my LFL friends ask me why I don't go out for a team (there is one in LA when I lived in SoCal and there are a few in Florida so it's not like access is an issue), I always came up with a laundry list of excuses:  I'm small, I'm slow, I'm a baby about pain, I smoked up until very recently (so I can't really use that one anymore), etc. And most of those excuses were valid reasons, but my real conflict was...I don't want to wear the lingerie in front of people. I hate myself for having to admit this, but one of my major conflicts was the completely anti-feminist hangup of thinking people would think I didn't have a good enough body to be wearing something that skimpy. As enlightened and advanced as I try to be, I still have those hangups about how I look, and as brave as I like to think I am, these women who are clearly participating in a male-dominated fantasy, are braver than me when it comes to a positive body image. That kind of sucks to have to admit; I mean, I couldn't imagine how much worse my nose would be if it got broken playing tackle football or how my top would be largely ceremonial since I don't really have boobs enough to fill out most bikini tops. It's strange to find out exactly how far we really are from enlightened when something like this brings up all the ways we're just like everyone else in our shallow fears.
Maybe I'm just weird, but this looks like a lot of fun.

My wish would be that the more traditional tackle football leagues for women would gain more support and get the television contracts they deserve. Or, if the LFL does have to be the face of women's football, that it'd take more of a roller derby angle to it where the women get to modify their own uniforms as they see fit and have a more active hand in how the league is run. In the meantime, I'll just have to be conflicted about it all.


Anonymous said...

holy crap..i hate to sound like one of the pathetic guys but can you introduce me to your LFL friends? :D ..they look amazing - Steph (hopefully the only steph you know or else you have no idea who this is)

Jendeh said...

The first time I saw this sport I was a bit disgusted until I watched it and then all I could say is "holy crapzors its real". I would never insult those women because the weakest of the lot could snap me in two...although I might like that *wink*