Thursday, June 23, 2011

Germany's Playboy Players & the "Butch Cliché"

As many readers of this blog will know, some German women who play competitive football posed for Playboy. These are not members of the national team, but they are women who play high level football in the country.

March Presentation of 2011 WWC kit
Titus Chalk from When Saturday Comes does a nice job with this story. Chalk explains that these are not rogue players: the German press has been itching for a story like this, and the national federation gave this "project" a green light, as did Steffi Jones, president of the World Cup organizing committee.

This photo spread is in keeping, in fact, with early publicity for the 2011 Germany team. When Adidas premiered the World Cup kit, they sent a woman in body paint down the runway. Steffi Jones and other officials from the 2011 World Cup team were in attendance, smiling cooperative smiles.

The Playboy players present the world with what German officials think the women's game needs. Tits.

As those familiar with my scholarship already know: I don't have a problem with public nudity, in and of itself. But, as I've written over and over again: this is not a good marketing strategy - as sports media scholar Mary Kane has demonstrated in her research, fans are turned off by this stuff. Someone who wants to see a great rack goes not to a soccer match, but a strip club. Fans are insulted. It confirms the attitudes of those already not interested in women's sports and alienates the rest of us.

Maybe these Playboy girls are more interested in modeling than they are in playing soccer. Lord knows there's more money in the former than in the latter. So, who can blame them for using the World Cup to advance their careers off the pitch.

What is offensive to me: the issuing of this photo spread as "proof" that female players are "beautiful" (against the assumption they aren't) and that women soccer players aren't butch (as if butches weren't beautiful!). Chalk quotes one of these women as explaining "We want to disprove [our sport’s] butch women cliché."

Oh dear.

I'm going to let my imagination run a little wild here: Maybe in German soccer, butches are so dominant, so overwhelming in their presence, so celebrated and privileged that coaches look at a ponytail and think "She's nowhere near butch enough to be any good."

Maybe femmes feel oppressed by the roughhousing tomboys, by the transmen, by the intensity of the female masculinity in German soccer. Maybe this Playboy spread is a femme manifesto of sorts - declaring for all who look at women's soccer and only see hard, fab butches in short hair and broad shoulders: "Hey, femmes are here too!"

Would that were the case.  No - look at publicity and you'll see an intensely manicured vision of women's soccer.

The butchness of female athletes is treated by national federations (and the corporations that launder their money through them) as a constant source of shame and embarrassment. This can be brutally explicit as butch athletes might be called out onto the field in front of their teammates and humiliated as "bad examples" of womanhood - their short hair, musculature, mannerisms - all might be called out as something to be suppressed, hidden or eliminated. (See the stories about what's going on in Nigeria's camp, for example - but this is hardly a rare phenomenon confined to that country!)  Long haired, feminine looking women might be pointed to as paragons of virtue.

Every female soccer player in the World Cup who shaves her head, opts for super short hair, or a shag makes a statement, whether she means to or not. And she didn't need to take off her sports bra to do it.


  1. Nudity for me involves a tension between accepting-body-empowerment vs. chattel-for-product. I view these ad campaigns as the latter.

    I also agree that it's bad marketing - the MLS has had success in the US by focusing on the die-hard folks who love soccer. This campaign is the opposite, trying to expand the tent by sexism. I think the goal is to tap into the big walleted and free spending 25-35 single male population, but most of these guys will get their rocks off at the magazine but never show up to a soccer game.

  2. Ok - I'm a guy and thus, I like boobs. I also like soccer. But I want a team of winners and excellent play over "hot" athletes.

    Women's soccer needs to step up marketing towards athletes and nationalism. Let's see "our" women take on the rest of the world.


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