Lingerie Football League foes are missing the point: sexuality has a place in sports, but must be accompanied with respect

Sexy sports uniforms are not a new concept, especially in women’s sports.

As a feminist who promotes positive sexuality, I have a particular interest in people’s responses to the Lingerie Football League. Most of my female friends are against the league; they feel that it is degrading to women and ridicules female athletes. When I ask my male friends how they feel about the league, the most common answer is a cautious, “That depends, how do you feel about the league?”

I cannot guarantee that the original purpose of the league wasn’t to objectify women. It probably was, but that is not how I view the league. I appreciate that a woman is sexy without sexualizing her, and I honestly believe that men can too. It is simple: place her value beyond the bedroom. Lingerie football players are hot, but they can also kick your ass.

Sexualization of women by men is a male problem, not a female problem. Rather than telling women that they need to avoid being objectified by covering themselves up and behaving conservatively, we should simply tell men not to objectify us. A society that respects women is not one that makes us hide our bodies and our sexuality, but one that encourages us to embrace and enjoy them.

Sexy sports uniforms are not a new concept, especially in female sports. Volleyball players wear tight booty shorts, beach volleyball is played in bikinis and tennis players wear skirts. It isn’t absent in male sports either: swimmers and divers are in Speedos, sumo wrestlers are essentially in thongs, and ancient Greek Olympians wrestled naked. Some other sports opt for tight or little clothing for performance reasons. Whatever the reason for it, lingerie football does not win the award for most revealing uniform.

Why do we disapprove of sexuality in sports? It might be because of a masculinization of sports. We have a very male-standard view of sports. I consider “masculine” sports to be those with a “goal” system that determines who wins and by how much. They also include, to a lesser extent, sports where whoever is the fastest at something, or whoever can last the longest, is the winner.

Masculine sports are considered to be more legitimate than “feminine” sports, the latter being under-appreciated, especially considering the amount of athleticism they require. Dance, gymnastics and figure skating, as examples, require tremendous athleticism; they are competitive and entertaining. Yet they are not what comes to mind when we think of sports.

Pole dancing, while still used for sexy entertainment, is a fun way to increase strength and flexibility. You can even compete in it, and the competitions are spectacular to watch. Sexuality in sports doesn’t have to be eliminated, or considered a bad thing. Enjoy the beauty of movement, and the athleticism and passion it takes to create that movement.

To empower women through lingerie football, there needs to be more of a female focus. In addition to female players we need female managers, coaches, announcers and, of course, fans. We have the power to change how males and females perceive lingerie football players by changing our own perceptions of the sport and encouraging a positive attitude toward female athletes.

What it comes down to — and feminists will agree with me — is female choice. Our body, our choice. Women choose to play lingerie football for their own reasons and they have a right to that choice. Preventing them from playing in the Lingerie Football League, or criticizing them for it, is female oppression.

I support all women’s right to choice, even if they choose to do things that I don’t necessarily agree with. Besides, I find aggressive physical contact more problematic in sports than sexuality. So although I do promote the players, you probably won’t find me at any of the games. Football is not my ideal girl-on-girl action.


Photo: Terence Kearns/Flickr

  • http://www.facebook.com/york.underwood York Underwood

    This is a fairly tiring argument for power-balance by sexuality. A women can choose to wear what ever she wants. However, in the case of Lingerie Football the issue is about the message. It’s not “The female football league”; it’s the lingerie football league. The women are just the padding for the lingerie parading around the field. The women are getting to play football because they are doing it sexy, not to appreciate the feminine-side of football. This is degrading to women. One could argue that porn is incredibly athletic, that it takes skill and strength, but the message and reason behind people watching it would never be confused with “appreciating the woman’s empowerment”.

    I realize the feminist-movement has many factions, including those who prescribe themselves to sexual-capital theory as a positive thing, but let us ponder what the message is to young women who are going to be exposed to lingerie football by their adolescent boyfriends.

    1. This is what female athletes look like.

    2. This is what excelling in sport looks like.

    3. You’re not empowered unless you’re comfortable dressing like that.

    Sexuality is a choice, and once again marketers, and business MEN are telling women what is sexy, and men what sexy women are. It’s a removal of choice. It’s always sad to see the feminist label used in this way. It reminds me of a turkey on thanksgiving arguing that it’s an equal member at the dinner table–instead of the main course.

    • UI_Student

      I’m tired of the argument that marketers are telling men what sexy is. Marketers are only giving what us men want to see.

    • Yorkunderwood

      That is bullshit. Communication is persuasion–that’s the whole point of the industry. If marketing was about giving people what they want it would be a social program.

    • UI_Student

      I don’t like long legged, flat stomach, round butt, big breasted women because a marketer told me I do. I like them because evolution has wired my brain that way. Healthy women with toned legs and flat stomach were more likely to survive in prehistoric time. A round butt means they have hips wide enough to support bearing a child and giving birth. Big breasts shows that the woman has adequate food.

      I don’t think about that stuff when I get turned on by seeing a woman with those characteristics, but I do get turned on because my brain is wired to look for them.

      The only influence that marketers have on males is that they can find women that have had artificial enhancements that enhance what we naturally look for beyond what a normal woman would have. Add on makeup and special effects and you have created an individual that doesn’t exist in the real world. But all of that is only an enhancement of what we already find attractive.

    • Bvondewitz

      What roll does shaved legs, arm pits and other areas have in your “evolutionary attraction”?

    • UI_Student

      None. Hair removal is a case of marketing. It is a matter of preference. Just like some women prefer their men to have thick beards and chest hair, some men prefer their women to have unshaved pubic areas. However, hair, or the lack thereof, are secondary concerns.

    • York Underwood

      Well, I guess a quick refresher in the history of beauty would remind you that toned and flat stomached have not always been the staples of beauty. Sexual selection is largely socially constructed as a mean of dominance–ie. I can get what others want. Evolutionarily speaking, which would be very minor in the few hundred thousands years of the human species, would be focused on birth ability. So they definitely wouldn’t look like swim-suit models.

      Our brains wiring, including reward centres, and understanding of symbols into meaning, is affected by our culture, language, and up bringing.

    • Dreám Bongo

      “What roll does shaved legs, arm pits and other areas have in your “evolutionary attraction”?” <<– Youth. Most men are biologically programmed to find youth(teens to mid 20s) more attractive than older women. The aforementioned age group tend to have less body hair; which increases the older they get if not removed

    • Karina

      Actually for a long time (during the 1500’s) fat girls were more desired because the idea was fat = rich family that could afford a lot of food and not work. Which was partially true, since at the time they didn’t have fast food and empty carbs. You had to pay a lot to get fat while low born girls had to go out and earn their living and have only a little bit of food. They also had wide hips that were highly sought after for child bearing.
      Breast and butt tissue is fat. You either have to hit the genetic jackpot or eat specific foods and do belly-centric workouts to get the ‘ideal’ breast-butt-belly ratio.
      People with flat stomachs and toned legs (dancer-type bodies) tend to have smaller boobs because their body has low fat content.
      People with big boobs and butts have rounded bellies because– well, fat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/york.underwood York Underwood

    Also, “sexualization of women is male problem, not a female problem”. I may not have the best understanding of Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf, Simone de Beauvoir, or Gertrude Stein, but the logic of that statement is one that should be reviewed. Think of any other discriminatory process and apply that logic, or replace the word sexualization with objectification, and then research the effects of female objectification and misogyny by men. The tendency for this to be a precursor of violence against women, rape, and abuse, might make one rethink such facile assertions.

  • Michael

    This article lost all credibility when pole dancing was included.

  • Rachel

    There’s really no comparison between beach volleyball bikinis, men’s speedos and LFL. Bikinis are worn because beach volleyball is on a beach. Speedos are worn in the water to make the swimmer faster. But in the LFL, the only purpose of the lingerie is to make the player sexually appealing—at the expense of her safety and of her ability to play the sport properly. Sexualization is the fundamental purpose of the uniform, rather than a byproduct. Tennis players and swimmers are taken seriously as athletes whether they wear a miniskirt or a speedo or not. Their sexuality is icing on the cake. On the other hand, LFL players are chosen primarily for their appearance rather than athletic talent. In my opinion, an LFL that doesn’t prioritize athleticism and include women of all body types can never be truly feminist.

    On the same note, there’s a movement among some volleyball and tennis players to get rid of rules that require them to wear bikinis and miniskirts. There’s also been a lot of backlash among Olympic boxers against a proposed rule that would force them to wear miniskirts in order to attract more male viewers–even though this isn’t a traditional part of their uniform.

    This is why I can’t support the LFL. While I respect that women can make a free choice to play lingerie football, I worry about the message that this projects onto ALL female athletes, including those who don’t want to be sexualized and certainly didn’t choose that path. It’s important to remember that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who view LFL are not seeing it in a sex-positive feminist kind of way (which I’m not even sure that it is, because it markets exclusive sexuality). For the viewership that LFL is intended, this is yet more proof that women’s bodies aren’t useful unless they’re performing for someone else’s pleasure. Like York Underwood said, it’s not about the choice. It’s about the message.

    Is there room for improvement? Maybe. But a truly woman-friendly LFL would look pretty different from what it is today. And as long as people keep supporting it in its current form, it’s not going to change.

    • Nicole

      “at the expense of her safety and of her ability to play the sport properly.”

      This. First time I saw LFL I thought “They are not wearing the appropriate amount of protective apparel.”

    • Joshua Bertram

      How so? They wear helmets, shoulder, knee, and elbow pads, and mouth guards. That’s significantly more protection than rugby players wear, and their sport is just as if not more dangerous.

  • Chris Davy

    This is how I see it… Does the LFL provide sex appeal? Of course it does! But… Does it also showcase the talent of these women as football players at the same time? Absolutely!! These women are true athletes and are not wearing thongs, G-strings or in any other ways, showing off assets that can’t be seen in a pair of shorts and a top that most women wear during the summer anyways. We can all say that we can see most women in their shape, wear far less coverage and clothing at the beach. Take women’s beach volleyball. Look at what they wear to compete. It is pretty close to, if not less than the LFL uniforms. So why is it that people have to have such a problem with this sport? These women love what they do, choose to do it willingly and honestly… kick ass at it!!! I have seen these women take some hard hits in this sport, get up, shake it off and keep going. They are true athletes and should be recognized as such, not just “sex objects”. Are they sexy? Definitely but not just because of their looks, it’s their talent, abilities and even their overall love for the game that makes them just as sexy. I have been a fan and supporter of these women and their sport since the beginning and will continue to be regardless. Stop assuming that ALL men just look at them as sex objects and know that more of us respect them as athletes and people!!

  • David Stephenson

    Too many people in this country have a hang up about sex and need to get over it. Women have a right to feel comfortable in their own bodies and should not have to cover up to avoid offending another’s sense of decorum. I’m tired of defending my support of the LFL to narrow minded people. The formula for success in the LFL is the synergy of athleticism and aesthetics, not sexualization. The detractors of the LFL know nothing about the former and their tendency to deride the league based on the latter is indeed a reflection of their own inadequacy. Grow up!

    • Yorkunderwood

      I’m not sure asserting your sexual confidence on a comment thread is an indication of maturity or security.

      However, if you think a straw man argument like “women have the right to feel comfortable in their own bodies” is in anyway a support for the objectification and degradation of women, maybe you were using the term narrow minded ironically.

    • Lrpmemories7

      I have watched a few of the lfl games on mtv2. At first just from curiosity, I was looking to ridicule the league as many others have. However, I found myself extremely impressed with the toughness and gameness of these women. I am cheering them on. Bottom line who has the right to take choice from these women. If you don’t like the lfl do not support it, and since it is not a threat to you why do you fight it?

    • Fr3shest

      No you just perv and you like what u see and want it to stay on tv

  • http://twitter.com/LBauer42 Leann McKee

    If it were all about women expressing their sexuality along with their athleticism in a sport that people actually want to see that’s fine. It’s naive to think that this wasn’t born out of a man’s desire to have a place where he can see sexy women scantily clad. So perhaps the women of the LFL are pioneers and the goal should be to focus on the athletics and competition so that the viewers come to appreciate that aspect more than they appreciate their bodies.
    But, if this is about women choosing to don the lingerie uniform and putting their skills to the test then here is something that has to change. Right now when they hold tryouts, they test their physical abilities and put them through a mini training camp. So far so good, lets make sure we have good athletes in there. Speaking for myself, I did tryout. I am in great shape, already play tackle football in the WFA and play well there. So you’d think I would have been able to go through camp and try out. Nope – the head honcho of the league was there that day and as soon as he saw me, he had his assistant come tell me they didn’t need me to finish the tryout. Why? Apparently I’m not sexy enough. I admit I’m not poster babe material. While I’m fit and certainly not overweight and men still check me out as I walk down the street, I’m a good 15 years older than any other women in the league and my hips are narrow and I’m just not shapely. So because I’m not cute & sexy, my athletic ability counts as zero.
    So until all women can compete based on their ability, and oh by the way here is your uniform, it will remain a show put on for men to objectify women.

  • Fr3shestPrinc3

    No I totally disagree with you and this is why. For one what if the LFL where fully padded like their male counter parts and the were called the WNFL would they get the same attention they get now. Would people watch mainly would men watch. And looking at leagues like the WNBA compare to the NBA I totally doubt it. This are to league where both male and female wear the same exact attire even the teams in the same city have same main color scheme in way, though some are make more girlish in color department but pretty much the same attire. Yet the female don’t get supported like there male counter part people hardly go to there games or buy there products. You see more people about there male counter parts and if people do know the popular players in the league they still don’t show the support that the male counter parts get. You will find more men AND women wearing Kobe Bryant attire than Lisa Leslie

  • Fr3shest

    No I totally disagree…If the LFL was fully padded like the male counter parts and was named the WNFL  would it get the same attention specially from men and looking leagues like the WNBA my guess is no . Compare the WNBA to the NBA a sport where both male and female wear the same attire both fully clothes even teams in the same city wear the same main colors. The women might feminize it a bit in the colors but pretty much the same. But they don’t get the same support as there male counter parts you will see more Women AND Men going to NBA games then to WNBA. You see more Men even Women supporting the Male counter part than the woman wearing more NBA attire. More people know more about the male basketball players than the female players and even if people know them they still don’t support them like the male counter parts by wear the attire. You really don’t catch to many people wearing Lisa Leslie’s Jeresy compare to a Kobe Bryant Jeresy  which you could  see both Men and Females wearing you won’t catch man in a Lisa Leslie’s Jeresy . I also think the WNBA had finical troubles just because of the fact no one was really coming to games and buying their products. Which is another reason why they don’t get payed as much as male players. Then you talk about beach volleyball, tennis and indoor volleyball and it’s it’s not even close to being the same they aren’t playing in their underwear. Now beach volleyball both Men and Women are pretty much wearing the same thing guys are shirtless or tight tank top and women are in bikini but not reviling bikinis. Then come on they are at the beach were people wear that type of attire I mean what would they look like wearing the same think the indoor player are wearing they would burn up from the sun reflecting off the sand its more comfy for the players to wear less clothing plus this sport is not to popular in the main stream anyway football is. Tennis are you serious most of the time those woman wear shorts and when they do wear skirts they have shorts underneath you make it sound like they are wearing thongs and it’s all hanging out and to me they are dress just like men as well. Now Indoor Volleyball yea the girls wear the skin tight shorts but guy wear the super short shorts to me those 3 sports are about even I really don’t see any thing sexy about them I might give a little bit of an edge to Indoor Female Volleyball  because of the shorts but you gotta look at the whole out fit mostly everything covered. Then you try to prove you point by use sports like dance, ice skating, gymnastic where you use more grace and feminacy now you are talking about 2 different types of athleticism Hockey players won’t be able to do what a ice skater does on the ice and vice verse different muscle are be used one using all power and one is using grace. Gymnastic you can tell what sex is more better in certain events. There are events where the judges looks for power and  men tend to be better and more people will find it more entertaining for that event just like the events where the women are more entertaining with there flexibility and grace and judges and everyone are looking for that because that the point or key to the event same goes for dancing.  Pole dancing though really I think you just trying to up one men because you hate them, but with the Pole Dancing it will never be a sport anyone can swing and hang on a pole now I give them one thing and thats holding poses on the pole that takes strong abs  but everything else takes no effort. But now it funny how strippers are athletes now and all of a sudden are inspiration to women. You are probably the worst feminist ever if you think that just like you don’t think LFL isn’t disrespectful to other female athletes that earn that credit with our playing in there underwear a lot of those girls aren’t even good or athletic the are just something to look at then the one that are so called ugly and good don’t get the credit because the pretty one are getting the praise because of what they are wearing not the talent. The the worst part is you bring in sports that have been on this planet longer than most and the way of thinking was different, so you think it was ok then to rape woman in public and marry 9 years old thats you but in today its not going to fly. You just sound like a confused Feminist. But I’m leave it at this put LFL players in NFL attire and see how many people stay and support it.