Lingerie football's naked sexism


Lingerie Football LeagueThere are lessons to be learned from the debacle that is the American Lingerie Football League (LFL), a female gridiron competition that requires its players to wear bras, panties and garters as they come to blows on the field, to potentially forego payment for their efforts, and to sign a contract that requires them to wear clothing that might result in 'accidental nudity'.

The first is that we Australians are a gullible lot. While groups like Collective Shout and some individual columnists have done much to highlight the misogyny that is inherent to this form of entertainment, they have done so against a rousing tide of public support for this seedy American import.

Some 6000 people are reported to have attended the recent exhibition match in Brisbane; hundreds of commentators have clogged internet forums calling the LFL 'harmless fun', and pointing out that 'the players are happy that they're finally getting an audience'. People are flocking like sheep to join the LFL fanclub, insisting all the while that it's 'real sport' rather than female objectification.

It's hard to believe the crowds haven't noticed that the emperor, as it were, isn't wearing any clothes.

But this is just the response the league's founder, Mitchell Mortaza, will have been hoping for: televised LFL games in the US currently attract 40 million viewers; if the league is embraced by Australians, just imagine how much more enlarged his wallet will become .

As international expansion goes, the league's move to Australia has been too easy, with few people bothering to question Mortaza's disingenuousness.

On the one hand, he claims that the LFL is not sexually exploitative ('If we just based this on sex appeal, this sport never would have grown at the pace that it did in the States, because you can get far more sexier content anywhere else,' he told SBS). On the other hand, he implicitly concedes that the only way female athletes can attract attention in a saturated sports market is by taking off their clothes.

'I didn't create that environment,' he adds as if to vindicate himself . But the enthusiasm with which he is promoting his brand — and its 'True Fantasy Football' tagline — implies he's pleased as punch such an environment exists. And Australians, it seems, are happy to give him the platform he needs for success.

The second lesson is that we Australians are not the progressively egalitarian people we imagine ourselves to be. As much as we give lip service to female equality, women, it seems, will still be exploited whenever the opportunity arises, they will still be judged on their appearance, and those who carry the feminist flag will be vilified as though it were still 1972.

The popularity of the LFL is the perfect experiment in how women's physical attributes play a crucial role in their commercial success: according to the Australian Womensport and Recreation Association, male-dominated sports are represented in between 90 and 99 per cent of sports coverage in the Australian media, an imbalance that is repeated in other western nations. But the numbers change when the sportswomen in question remove some of their clothing, as the rip-roaring popularity of the LFL shows.

And the expectation that women become more interesting the less clothing they wear applies to even the most elite of athletes: in the lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the International Volleyball Federation introduced a rule (recently revoked) obliging female players to wear bikinis that were no more than six centimetres wide at the hip. (There was no similar demand on male players). In South Africa, a journalist was told by a Cricket SA official that the women's national team couldn't get sponsorship because 'they don't show enough skin'.

It's no surprise that there are plenty of young women happy to comply with this requirement, for it reinforces their desirability, and feeling beautiful is a powerful evolutionary imperative. What is surprising is the level of public support — in stadiums and on internet forums — for a practice that reduces women to a field full of breasts and bottoms and, somewhere amidst it all, a football.

The final lesson is that we will always have among us men who will never comprehend the damage that sexual objectification does to all women — their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters included. They are the ones who have claimed behind their anonymous online signatures that feminists are 'fat and ugly' (thus reinforcing feminists' assertions that women are judged on their looks); they refer back to Darwinism when excusing their treatment of women; they behave like teenage boys when the LFL comes to town.

These men — and all those who support or perpetuate spectacles like the LFL — could learn a lesson themselves: the 'red-blooded male' excuse has grown stale, and it is time to separate men's libido from the value that they attribute to women. Few women would sanction a 'sporting code' that required male athletes to run around nearly naked and unprotected on a sports field, all in the name of titillation; indeed, they would regard it as inhumane. Let's show women the same respect. 

Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a journalist and travel writer. 


Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, lingerie football



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Existing comments

Thank you, Catherine. I felt belittled as a woman and disgusted personally when I read about this exhibitionist "sport". Don't brave male players wore extensive padding for gridiron.? These women may be at risk...Mortaza would surely insist on a physically rough game.

Caroline Storm | 08 June 2012  

Catherine, you should not be surprised! Australia is an anti-feminist anti-intellectual society. I have seen about ten seconds of this Lingerie football on Fuel TV and it is garbage. Most of the 6,000 people who attended the exhibition game in Brisbane would have been intellectual moronic misogynonist males who live in the outer suburbs.

Mark Doyle | 08 June 2012  

I do not support radical feminism, but I do support those who try to protect modest dressing of both men and women. The media, from Hollywood, magazines, the internet, to many advertisements like to protray immodesty in dress, especially women in various states of undress. I find it offensive to walk down the street and see so much immodesty displayed by so many women. Our Lady warned in the early 20th century that fashions would come in the future that would be most displeasing to God and Our Lady. Our Lady is always totally modest in her dress and manners. Women and girls should dress modestly out of charity as they can prompt lust in men's hearts by wearing scanty clothing. Immodesty in dress easily causes some people (and from this article- many men)to be titillated by displays of womens' flesh which leads at least to an occasion of sin to outright Mortal Sin which if not sincerely repented leads to hell. No-one should dress in a manner that can lead themselves and others to Mortal Sin. Many people today don't even think about modesty in dress and behaviour and the serious consequences for the the loss of their own souls and the souls of others to the devil. Jan Dunlop said that the American gridiron Lingerie Football League, as promoted by Triple M, is showcasing games in Brisbane and Sydney next month, aiming to introduce it permanently across Australia next year. Players must be lingerie clad to better titillate - objectification is the game's obvious attraction. The league relies on the pornographic image of big-breasted, scantily clad women, replete with suspender belts and garters, doing battle. Promos highlight the voyeurism and violence. To argue that the league values women's sexuality above athleticism, is a poor role model and undermines female athletes is superfluous as those bringing this travesty to an arena near you know this. And they care not. They nevertheless will mouth platitudes about it being a real sport. This mockery will compound the negative impact of the overwhelming sexualisation of women and girls rampant in popular culture. Emphasising women's sexual attributes rather than dimensions such as intelligence and creativity has implications for the escalating depression, anxiety and eating disorder statistics among young women. Ask yourself who will be harmed and who will profit from this introduction.

Trent | 08 June 2012  

Picking up on Mark Doyle's point it would indeed be interesting to have a demographic breakdown of the 6,000 in Brisbane. My guess is that there would be as many intellectual inner-city, latte-drinking leftists as "intellectual moronic misogynist males who live in the outer suburbs". and of course even more interesting to know would be how many were female.

John R. Sabine | 08 June 2012  

Mark Doyle, When it comes to the sociological base of this kind of aberration, why is your suspicion confined to the 'intellectually moronic misogynists males who live in the outer suburbs'? My cynicism is a lot more far reaching.

David Timbs | 08 June 2012  

I have never been able to follow this line of argument. Sure, it's a disedifying spectacle you describe, but how does that equate to sexual objectification of all women? You say "Few women would sanction a 'sporting code' that required male athletes to run around nearly naked and unprotected on a sports field", but supposedly respectable people of all ages and sexes go to boxing matches and enjoy seeing nearly naked males trying to do physical damage to each other. Does that amount to objectifying all males - or all boofheads? People who engage in such activities get kudos and a living from them. The male interest in female bodies may be a regrettable evolutionary hangover, but it's there and still serves a function, and both sexes take advantage of it. There's not much use deploring it.

OldG | 08 June 2012  

I am reminded, Catherine, of the day my daughter came home in her last year at school and announced that I would be very proud of her. For the first time ever, she had achieved 0/20 for an English assignment. She had written on "the exploitation of women by popular women's magazines" and her thesis had upset her feminist teacher (my daughter's description, not mine). She had argued that women were not exploited nor downgraded by the magazines in-so-much as these magazines existed only because women flocked to buy them, titillated by the frothy nothingness (a bit like fairy floss) that the mags provided. Indeed, she argued, these magazines were what women wanted, and not to provide them would be discriminatory - if exploitation did exist women had created it for themselves and were thus not victims - 0/20! I do not find misogyny (hatred of all women) in this appalling "sport" you write of today, but rather debasement of Woman. But there are women prepared to this for exposure, fame and money. The "sport" would not exist if women refused the sick ideas of the male money-making promoters. But that is the human estate. I also know, Catherine , that there are many women, young and old alike, who scream with excitement at sports such as the AFL , wrestling, boxing and swimming at the sight of those innocently rippling male musculatures. Now that's not misogyny on my part - simply male chauvinistic piggery!

john frawley | 08 June 2012  

Yes, Catherine, I am of your ilk and was stunned to read my daughter's face book status enthusing about attending this Brisbane event...I will share your article and maybe she might offer some insight!Perhaps the fault lies with me seeing no harm bringing up my daughters on a diet of Xena Warrior Woman and the Gladiators filmed in Brisbane? Caught in a dilemma one might ask, What would Xena do? They had Roseanne's cynical, smart daughter Darlene as balance of course, but then we did threaten that if they started speaking like her fictional character we would switch it off! I despair when people don't despair at the continuation of female exploitation in sport or anything's all about consent they say. The women are choosing to take the opportunity to set themselves up in life - whether in lingerie on a football pitch or a pole-dancing bar. It's more than $20 an hour.

Julie | 08 June 2012  

aahhhsorry, got mixed up - between lingerie football and the female roller derby on recently in Brisbane.

Julie | 08 June 2012  

What's disgusting is how this article supports Neo Feminist extremists who believes they have the right to tell fully grown adult women what they can and cannot do. You should be ashamed of yourself.

it does not matter if hate or love the sport.

these women have a right to do it.

Anyone who says otherwise is a sexist pig.

you should be ashamed.

pegsoon | 08 June 2012  

Very nice article Catherine. Loved this paragraph, 'The final lesson is that we will always have among us men who will never comprehend the damage that sexual objectification does to all women — their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters included'. The problem I feel is how do we make these chauvinistic pigs understand? I feel so frustrated when dealing with men like this. I was brought up by a wonderful father who really made me believe that as a woman, there was nothing a male could do that I was not also capable of doing. I felt empowered. I chose a male dominated field and did a male dominated trade. My father passed away some 20 years ago now and since that time things have changed so dramatically that I now feel unless I get myself hooked up in the shallow, materialistic, beauty / fashion industry driven path that women are pressured to take, I will slowly become completely invisible. Our culture seems determined to follow a smut, sex, porn path, devoid of any morals, where women are simply meat in the market. Currently I am receiving therapy for a body image disorder (apparently I am actually quite attractive, and certainly not overweight - but to me I'm hideous, often contemplating suicide to avoid feeling so inadequate). It seems my brains, personality and compassionate nature mean nothing in this society. When things like the LFL come along it's so easy to feel the battle is being lost, and that the women who participate are too simple to see the bigger picture which affects all women kind. LFL ladies try using your brains, your choice to be a piece of meat, rather than a true athlete is unhealthy and immoral.

Kim | 08 June 2012  

Quick comment as I'm on the run......beautifully said. Love your work Catherine. An outstanding article which I shared on Facebook.

Jan Dunlop | 08 June 2012  

Good lord - the jargon, the absolute highly offensive words You write about LFL ... You will never win the war of free choice of Some women or the desire of some men to admire sexy women In skimpy clothes. Do not use feminism to hide behind your highly religious crap. Be happy in your own life and be the best you can.

Sandra Grey | 09 June 2012  

Bigotry based on perceived socio-economic factors is the issue here - perpetrated by the author and comments like Mark Doyle, Do you think the women involved are forced into this? And do you think women are offended by being admired for beauty? Misogyny is hatred of women. What about women who ogle at AFL players in their skimpy shorts and muscle tops? Admiring physical beauty is only objectification if that's all there is - but I'm sure beautiful men and women have brains and a day job too.

AURELIUS | 09 June 2012  

Is it safe to play this sport wearing these clothes? Seriously, I would think that there would be practical insurance issues, apart from the more philosophical issues raised about tackiness. Don't forget, women's soccer is very popular in the US, and they wear more practical clothes.

Penelope | 09 June 2012  

Aurelius, just to clarify the difference between AFL players and LFL players: the former are not required to compete in a gruelling game in their underwear; nor is the popularity of their sport dependent upon them wearing said underwear and agreeing to "accidental nudity": they are respected first and foremost as athletes, and their game would be broadcast whether they were wearing muscle-tops or not. Unfortunately, sponsorship and the public broadcast of women's sports is almost non-existent, unless they are wearing skimpy clothing. And this is where misogyny comes in: the women who play in this male-invented league are disrespected: they are not allowed to wear adequately protective and comfortable gear, they are not always paid for their efforts, they are treated gratuitously because what they wear - lingerie, "bedroom-wear" - is fundamental even to the name of their sport. In this way, these women - and the cause of women and female athletes in particular - is hurt, because it sets a standard that says women are more valuable when they are naked or scantily-clad. Yes, these women have agreed to play - but women will "prostitute" themselves in many ways in order to get ahead or to validate their desirability. I have no quarrel with beauty and sexuality and their role in human interaction; however, there are appropriate places for the express titillation of a crowd, and the sporting field is not one of them.

Catherine Marshall | 09 June 2012  

Why am I not surprised at the all pervasive misogeny in this country? Witness the vitriol (from both women and men) that our first woman PM receives. But what is more disconcering is that they come from so-called high profile faux feminists like Ita Buttrose, Dawn Fraser et al. Is it any wonder that the latest American import in the degradaion of the female persona attracted 6000 Queenslanders? By the way, Trent. What is "radical feminism"? I thought that it's enough just being a woman and be respected as such. After all, unless you're different from the rest us, we all came from the wombs of ordinary women.

Alex Njoo | 11 June 2012  

LFL: what utter tripe. Women who play Australian Rules - which they have been doing for a considerable time - struggle to get any recognition and media attention.

Maxine Barry | 11 June 2012  

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