Full equality is still a lingerie way away

It’s to the credit of the women’s movement that very few men now dare question the need for International Women’s Day. So instead of some of my more douchebaggy brothers try to run that tiresome argument that there should be an International Men’s Day as well. “If you want equality,” they bray, “shouldn’t we be treated exactly the same?”

Arguing that men are subject to “reverse sexism” and “political correctness gone mad” is one of the few complaints about feminism that men are still socially comfortable with making,  and while of course it’s no less misconceived than any of the others, it does deserve some credit for at least conceding the ideal of equality. This silly line of argument should be confined to the realm of talkback radio, where there are practically no female announcers*, neatly illustrating why we in no way need an International Men’s Day.

(And yes, I’m aware that I’m yet another male radio announcer, and have therefore probably undermined my entire argument. Ahem.)

(Oh, and by the way, it turns out that there is an International Men’s Day. Honestly, I give up.)

For every area in which women have made impressive strides forward, there is some new devilish concoction devised by the patriarchy to try and reverse it. Sure, we may be unspeakably evil, but you have to admire our ingenuity. Which is why, women of Australia, we give you the Lingerie Football League.

An email announcing the LFL’s impending arrival on our shores popped into my inbox yesterday, on International Women’s Eve. It was sent by a woman working in one of the most female-dominated of professions, public relations. So I can only conclude that the spirit of Vichy France is alive and well at Ferris Davies PRM.

“US’ LINGERIE FOOTBALL LEAGUE SET TO LACE ‘EM UP IN AUSTRALIA”, shouted the headline. Let’s just stop there for a moment to admire the ingenuity of the pun. Just in case you missed it, footballers lace up their boots – but lace is also whatlingerie is made of! Hang onto your codpieces, boys, the fun’s just starting!

“Can females play serious contact sport?” it asks. “You bet!” And it was at this point that my irony detector overloaded.

The marketing pitch for the LFL is a curious one. While it offers all the scantily-clad sophistication of mud-wrestling, it simultaneously claims to be a serious sport. “Don’t make the same mistake others have made elsewhere,” the press release urged. “Don’t let the uniforms, or lack thereof, deceive you!” What a coincidence! That’s exactly what it did for me.

“These women know how to play ball,” it continues. Ball, get it – oh, god, let’s just move on. “And they do just that with all the passion, skill and athleticism of their male counterparts but with an added touch of glamour and finesse and a whole lot of attitude!” Not enough attitude to tell the male owner of the LFL, Mitch Mortaza, exactly where to shove his padded brassieres, evidently, but enough to want to win.

I can believe that, most sincerely. Focusing on the contest and ignoring your outfit is probably the only way to get through such a demeaning experience. And given the lack of exposure given to women’s sport in general, and particularly football, who can blame the players for taking one of the few television paychecks on offer in any women’s sport?

I mean, it’s called the Lingerie Football League. Why is that not the end of any discussion about its athletic credibility?

And yet, it seems desperate to reassure its viewers that it’s a proper sport, as this highlightclip illustrates. Practically every soundbite is of a (male, naturally) commentator insisting that yes, it is a real football contest. Perhaps that suspension of disbelief is also required by certain male viewers, who can’t quite bring themselves to watch several hours of women cavorting in their underwear without telling themselves that their primary interest is a sporting one. Claiming you watch the LFL for the contest is surely the boofhead equivalent of claiming to read Playboy for the articles.

Lingerie football is notionally raunchy and yet thoroughly unsexy, a characteristically American blend which probably reflects the psychological baggage of their Puritan past. It reminds me of those Hooters restaurants which, despite all the winking focus on the waitress’ cleavage, offer a strangely anodyne experience, so much so that it’s not entirely incongruous for the chain to offer a children’s menu. The evolution of high-school cheerleading is a similarly curious attempt to de-eroticise and legitimise male ogling by pretending it’s a serious athletic activity.

American football is a tedious, technical sport no matter what clothes the players wear, and if you recall just how much protective gear is worn in any gridiron game, you can probably begin to understand why the LFL offers a viewing experience that’s roughly as voyeuristic as, say, regrouting your bathroom tiles. While the skimpy panties and frequent bending over will certainly delight buttock fetishists, the LFL players also wear helmets and shoulderpads, making for a peculiar form of eye candy; half-feminine and half-butch.

Although the press release boasts of the fanbase that LFL enjoys in Australia on Fuel TV, I fully expect the sport to fail in Australia. For one thing, we don’t much enjoy gridiron, let alone understand it. And Hooters has struggled to establish itself in Australia, even failing at its first attempt in the late 1990s, even though tasty ribs are far more popular here than tasty touchdowns. This, I suspect, is because Aussies find that kind of overt boobage either unremarkable or embarrassing.

Besides, the gap in the Australian market for bizarre, exploitative male fantasy hybrids has already been taken by Bacon Busters, that curious magazine that combines hotte babez with pig shooting.

International Women’s Day is a time to remember how much feminism has achieved, and with a female Prime Minister and Governor-General, hearty pats on the back are no doubt in order today among the sisterhood. But the fact a Lingerie Football League is a serious commercial proposition in 2012 instead of being laughed right off the drawing board shows how much is still to be done for the status of women.

And if we must suffer the LFL, let’s at least even the score by creating a Gentlemen’s Netball League, where barechested players who look exactly like Ryan Gosling have to stop and say something sensitive and affirming every time they get the ball. Hey girl, happy International Women’s Day.

This post first appeared on Daily Life.

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