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Naked rugby? I prefer prom dress rugby personally…


I hate it when women’s sports raise funds by selling naked calendars. Okay, “hate” is too strong. I’m annoyed. It makes me grumpy. There’s a photo of a cute dog accompanying this post because I didn’t want to include one from the calendar!

The calendars bug me a lot and it’s not that I’m a prude. Nor do I think they’re in bad taste, whatever that means. I get that sexy photo shoots can be fun and even that we can admire and appreciate athletes’ bodies while at the same time respecting them as athletes.

I’m not an anti sex, second wave feminist. Really, I’m not. *Insert foot stomp here.*

I’ve even bought a couple of these racy fundraising calendars in the past, not for sports teams but one for burn victims featuring semi naked fire fighters (of course) and the other was the best sex bloggers of 2012.

Since I don’t actually use paper calendars I don’t think I hung either of them up but I’m digressing.

I object though when sports teams do it because it seems they ought to have better options. I guess I can’t have my wish which is that athletics be one area of life where women’s performance counts for more than our appearance.

It’s especially problematic in sports that run up against traditional feminine norms, like rugby, because one suspects that the women are doing it in part to persuade the public that they can play their sport and be sexy too.

Prom dress rugby takes the clash between sport and femininity and has fun wth it. Read about why I like prom dress rugby more than lingerie football

I started to think about these issues thanks to Charlene Weaving, a Western kinesiology graduate student, now faculty member at St. FX University, who wrote her doctoral thesis about the sexualization of female athletes and about women athletes posing nude. I learned a lot serving on her thesis committee.

It’s not new news, this naked Canadian women’s rugby calendar. It’s a 2013 calendar after all and we’re more than halfway through the year. But the images from the calendar came up first in an image search for women’s rugby in Canada when I was looking for a photo to accompany my blog post on Canadian women’s rugby. That bothers me too.

Here’s a quote from Metro News writing about the calendars: “It’s a softer side to all the rucking and mauling.Members of Canada’s national women’s rugby team have bared all in a calendar aimed at promoting positive body images and raising a little cash ahead of the reintroduction of the sport into the Summer Olympics in 2016.”

And here’s more from another news story about the calendars:

“Every woman on this team works so hard at being physically fit and eating properly,” Barbara Mervin, a flanker on the squad and spearhead of the calendar initiative, said in a news release. “It is a reward to have these pictures taken so we can see our bodies in a beautiful light. ”The calendar features tasteful black and white photos. It follows a long-established trend in fundraising amongst teams from a variety of sports.In fact, this is the fourth time Canada’s rugby women have stripped down for a calendar. They did it for the first time in 2004.The team has tried traditional fundraising in the past, from selling chocolate bars and T-shirts to searching for sponsors, but found this the most effective.”

That’s what bothers me. That this is the most effective fundraiser.

And yes, men do this too. Since 2010, the male rowers of the University of Warwick Boat Crew have been producing a nude calendar to help raise funds for the club. You can read about it, and see lots of pictures from the calendar, on the website So So Gay. The willingness of straight men, particularly straight male athletes (and yes, not all of the athletes are straight but statistically speaking, most are) to pose nearly nude for other men is new and fascinating. They’re even giving a percentage of their earnings from the calendar to an anti bullying foundation. See Naked rowers battling homophobia.

But that men do this too doesn’t mean it’s okay. How about instead we fund men’s and women’s sports adequately and put nude calendars on the shelf with bake sales and chocolate bars?

And of course nude rugby calendars are a completely different thing than the nude rugby the sport! That started in Dunedin, New Zealand where I recently spent a sabbatical term at the University of Otago philosophy department. You can read more about the nude rugby tradition here. Sadly I didn’t get to watch a game when I was there.

3 thoughts on “Naked rugby? I prefer prom dress rugby personally…

  1. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I play roller derby – a sport where there’s a lot of tension between “sexy” and “athlete”. There’s been a movement away from the booty shorts and fishnets because there’s a sense that legitimate athletes need more traditional uniforms. I wonder what that says about how we, as a society, think about the separation between femininity, sex appeal, and serious athleticism? As someone who never was into the fishnets, and personally prefers an athletic team uniform, I still think that they said something about how women could be competitors in a rough sport and own their gender presentation at the same time. It’s interesting how it becomes a binary, too – it’s either fishnets or fitness, choose how you’re representing yourself (and your team, and your league). There are some players that manage to exist on both sides of the coin, but there seem to be many who choose a side.

    A local league raised a lot of money doing a topless calendar fundraiser. My team won’t do that because too many of my teammates aren’t comfortable, but we still pick the players with quite conventional sex appeal to market ourselves. It’s hard to find money for amateur sports, so we use whatever we can. I completely agree that it shouldn’t be necessary; while there is an intersection between sexuality and sports, why can’t the athletic achievement be the focus?

    I have no answers, only observations.

  2. I view the sexy-athlete tension for women athletes, when posed in an overtly “but there’s nothing wrong with that” [calendar] or “I’m not an anti-sex, second-wave feminist” way, as missing the point. The point is that femininity as traditionally construted does posit a mutually exclusive relationship between active, athletic, strong, capable bodies and femininity. That isn’t to say that even traditional views of femininity wouldn’t allow women to be athletes, or to view those women as to some degree feminine, but the degree to which a woman is “sexy” (read: feminine) is lessened by the degree to which one is active, athletic, strong, and capable. That’s just how these particular cultural logics work. Femininity and “sexiness” are just the fetishization of passivity, weakness, incapability, and general bodily restriction in women.

    John Stoltenberg wrote a good article recently– I don’t know if anyone here has read it– called “Why talking about ‘healthy masculinity’ is like talking about ‘healthy cancer’.” He wrote this article in response to an ad featuring men holding signs like “real men don’t buy girls.” His point was that although that ad was intending to sport and promote a “healthy masculinity,” by using the logic of masculinity (“real men do x, y, z”), the ad necessarily fails to be “healthy.”

    I think Stoltenberg’s point is good one and can draw an instructive analogy to the femininity/sexiness-women athlete issue. Although some women may choose– albeit in a highly charged and violent sex-class / gender melieux– to present themselves as sexy, or as sexy athletes, that doesn’t negate the fact that there is no “healthy femininity,” since femininity is itself the fetishizing of unhealthy characteristics or body-states.

    It’s great when women feel great about their bodies, but it seems awfully suspicious that the “I feel rewarded by seeing myself in a calendar” of the professional athlete is built upon the foundation of prostituted women and girls (as traditionally the “calendar” has featured porn, or women recruited from the porn industry, and the women and girls seen in porn are in fact prostituted women who happened to have their “work” captured on film).

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