sex·ism – noun
1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp., such discrimination directed against women.
Arguing semantics gets a bad rap. When it distracts from the true points of contention, that’s understandable. Sometimes it’s all about the semantics though.
So when I call this piece by Mike Nadel sexist, you’ll forgive me for picking it part word by word. You see, there is a language to sexism, and Nadel employs it effortlessly, laying bare the attitudes behind the writing.
So, let’s look at the language.
Erin Andrews, the ESPN “it” babe who clearly isn’t afraid to flaunt it, sauntered around the visiting clubhouse, flitting from one Cubs player to another. Her skimpy outfit — designed to accentuate her, um, positives — had players leering at her. Some made lewd comments under their breath. Others giggled like 12-year-olds.
More on that later, as the scene was just one part of Bizarro Wednesday at Miller Park.”
That’s the lede of his column, “Nadel: Blonde bombshell can’t distract red-hot Cubs.” The column continues in the same vein. I culled the column for important (usually gender-specific) terms.
Key noun: babe, sexpot
Key verbs: flitting, flaunt
Key adjectives: skimpy, blonde, suggestively, bare-legged, high-heeled, low-necklined, good-looking
These aren’t the words you usually find in a sports column, but Nadel didn’t write so much about the baseball game as he did about ESPN’s Erin Andrew, a sideline reporter who has earned something of a cult following thanks to her looks and her laid-back, down-to-earth persona.
Nadel takes issue with both her dress and her approach to her job. I doubt he’s ever written a column about a male counterpart’s chumminess with athletes or a too-tight polo shirt. As a man, he feels free to put Andrews under the microscope simply because she’s a woman, and he uses a set of words that reveal the traditional stereotypes he’s staked himself to.
Because Andrews is beautiful, he calls her a “babe.” The term is based on her sexual appeal, so in effect, he’s identifying her by her level of sex appeal.
Instead of walking around the clubhouse talking to different possible sources, he says she is “flitting from one Cubs player to another.” This evokes the image of a girl at a party checking out various prospects and gauging their interest. It’s stomach-turning really.
His statement that she “suggestively” placed her hand on a Alfonso Soriano’s bicep demands one question. Suggestive of what?
Is he saying she was actually trying to use her womanly charms on him? Was Soriano given the impression that they could have a future together (if only for a night or 15 minutes)? Surely not, but the question remains. Andrews’ rebuttal explains the gesture, but it’s beside the point. Women and men touch each other differently during conversation. A man might slap your back; a woman is more likely to place her hand on your forearm. (That statement is made from observation and experience, not scientific studies, sorry)
I’ve been in the inside of the Texas football team’s locker room for the last two seasons, and if a writer initiated physical contact—it happened any number of times—I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I certainly wouldn’t have written about it.
The adjectives Nadel uses are even worse. Look at the photo. What the hell is “skimpy” about that dress? Skimpy could be defined as “an article of clothing I’d be uncomfortable to see my sister wearing.”
There’s nothing skimpy about the dress. To attach sexual implications to the baring of legs and the wearing of high-heels is positively frightening.
True: High heels and bare legs are sexy.
False: High heels and bare legs scream sex.
Who the hell are men to tell women what to wear?
It’s taken me a long time to ask that question, but that’s a major part of my argument. Everyone from Nadel to The Big Lead have opined on the appropriateness of the outfit, but I don’t see how their opinion matters. Certain countries in the Middle East with warped sexual views allow the men to prescribe how the women dress, and look how they’ve turned out.
Part of being professional, in my eyes, is dressing in a manner that makes your comfortable and expresses who you are. If there are strict rules, sure, follow the rules. If not, dress well and you’ll be fine. She wasn’t wearing Soffe shorts and a ribbed tank top; she was wearing a damn dress. A sweater and slacks would have been preferable? She needed two more inches on the dress?
Last thought on her dress: The idea that a woman’s dress should be analyzed in terms of sex says a hell of a lot, don’t you think? When a man dresses sharply, he’s commended for being oh so GQ. When he dresses poorly, he’s chided for not caring about his image. When he dresses in a revealing manner? I don’t know about that, but it’s certainly not deemed sexy. So what’s going on here?
It’s not like Andrews put on her FMPs before heading to some exclusive club in downtown New York. I’m sure she thought nothing of the outfit in terms of sex appeal. Sure, she might have said, “Oh, this is a cute dress. I’ll wear it.” But that’s no different than the types of thoughts anyone has when they dress, at least no different than my thoughts. (I tend to dress in a fashion that I think makes me look good, imagine that.) So Andrews throws on this dress and shoes and goes to work. Then men see her and translate her attire into terms of sexual desirability.
That’s going to happen as long as the day is long. If she’d worn jeans, the tightness of them would have been measure by ogling eyes. If she wore a different top, eyes would have fallen to her bust. That’s our fault, fellas, not hers.
As long as guys find girls attractive, they’ll make lewd comments. The fact that Nadel’s sexual interpretation of a platonic situation was published and has been commended by men and women alike show that our collective attitudes are still far from egaliatarian.
Really, I can hardly read Nadel’s column and the fallout because it disgusts me so much.
Nadel was interview by Deadspin and termed “quite a reasonable fellow.” For me the interview confirms that he is a sexist rather than a buffoon who wrote a misguided, sexist column.
When I was picking out “key words,” I paused on the verb “sauntered.” I didn’t like the way he used it, but the word is a rather masculine word that suggests confidence and ease. If I included it, I’d detract from the strength of my argument, so I left it alone.
It turns out, Nadel didn’t like the word either.
“I also wish I had used the word “sashayed” instead of “sauntered” in my lead. Good word, sashayed.”
Well that would have worked. Sashayed, a feminine word that plays a key role in dance lexicon. So instead of the confident feel of “sauntered.” He wishes he used the word “sashayed,” which would be as bad as saying she was “prancing” through the locker room. It would have been another gender-specific term used to attack the manner she walked. It’s just ridiculous.
Ed. Note: For the record, this argument isn’t coming from a bleeding-heart liberal. I’m a gun-owning, Republican-voting, truck-driving conservative. If I can see the ugly nature of Nadel’s commentary, anyone can.