You never know when a bar conversation will wind up being some sociologist’s blog post. Earlier this week, I was hanging out at the Golden Eagle Saloon, a favorite local bar in Ester, AK. There were footballs games playing silently on the TV. At some point, I mused that I had seen college women volleyball teams on TV who wore makeup while playing and I found that simply astounding, given that women sweat as mightily as men when they compete. My conversation partner noted that women athletes wear eye makeup for the same reason that (men) football players wear black grease under their eyes: to reduce glare. After my initial guffaw, I realized my friend was serious, so like the professional sociologist that I am, I decided to google it.
As it turns out, women college athletes do indeed wear tons of makeup, and also wear their hair long, shave their legs and armpits, and are otherwise required to look pretty and feminine. But it’s not because lipstick or eye makeup reduce glare and improve performance. It’s because of social expectation that women always look attractive for the male gaze.
Consider the 2016 brouhaha over women athletes at the Olympics when Fox News asked two male commentators about whether women should be wearing makeup while competing: ““I think when you see an athlete, why should I have to look at some chick’s zits? Why not a little blush on her lips and cover those zits?” Click here for more insights from this pair: http://www.si.com/tech-media/2016/08/11/rio-olympics-fox-news-women-wearing-makeup-segment
While googling “women athletes and makeup” I stumbled upon another insight. Team photos of women’s college teams differ sharply from team photos of men’s college teams. Men stand or sit casually together, their arms often folded over their chests or their hands clasped either behind or in front. Men’s knees and feet are spread in a natural fashion. But women’s teams usually sit in ladylike fashion, their knees together, hands clasped demurely on their laps. They often cross their legs, or cross their ankles. When women’s teams stand for the photograph, often they pose with their hands on the knees in the stereotypical sorority girl pose, or they put one hand on their hip and throw it out, like a fashion model.
The differences in the way that men and women college athletes appear in photographs is most stark in co-ed swim teams. Men stand shoulder to shoulder, hands relaxing at their sides, clasped behind or in front, in natural, comfortable, relaxed ways. But women on the team sit with their knees tightly locked together, hands uniformly clasped in their lap.
This all feels like some kind of bizarre time warp to me.
I could go on and on, but I will leave you with just this video of a college volleyball player demonstrating how to put on her game face. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6UyZ2QRjd8