By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com November 12 2013 8:59 PM ET
One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies involved the beauty and charm school that the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were told they must complete to keep playing ball in A League of Their Own. I like to think that I would have been a mix between Kit — the charm school instructor says she looks "very nice" before she sees her sister Dottie, who is "very nice" — and Rosie O'Donnell's character Doris, who shoveled food in her mouth while she was supposed to learn how to nibble daintily. (Just kidding! I'm black — they wouldn't have allowed me in the league, but a gal can dream!)
Meanwhile, their manager, retired Major League Baseball star Jimmy Dugan, was the antithesis of dainty, let alone gentlemanly, or even sober. He was a fall-down drunk who chewed tobacco, peed epically, and swore like his life depended on it. He was a tough man who played a professional sport. He was almost expected to act like that. But his players — skilled professional ballplayers who happened to be female — could not. They had to wear skirts and makeup while playing baseball. In fact, Lavonne "Pepper" Paire-Davis, who was the real-life inspiration for Geena Davis's Dottie Hinson, accidentally cut her hair too short and was ejected from the league for looking like a lesbian.
But that was the 1940s. Our views on femininity and women in sports have changed drastically. We've got professional women's soccer and basketball leagues, Title IX, and pink baseball jerseys for female fans. Women have fought for my right to wear pants at work and snack on birth control pills. We're equal now, right?
Nope. Top WNBA draft pick and college basketball phenom Brittney Griner shared that WNBA rookies are actually offered a session to learn about makeup application and how to dress. Griner declined to participate.
“I don’t need that shit,” she later told Elle. Damn right she doesn't, and nor should any professional athlete.
It doesn't matter how much progress women make. For whatever reason, female professional athletes still have to prove that they can be tough on the court, but only if they girl it up off the court. And even that hinges on what your view of "girl" is.
Are sports marketers, team owners, and agents worried that insecure men and narrow-minded "fans" can only stomach games as long as the female athletes still adhere to their confining view of what a woman is? Sure, that gal can sink three-pointers all day, but she bakes a mean apple pie and twists a sick French braid, so she won't completely castrate you — so tune in on ESPN 2!
Some may joke that female sports is a breeding ground where lesbians and bisexual women flourish. While that may be true compared to men's sports, that's not completely accurate either. There's only one openly gay female Division I women's basketball coach (Sherri Murrell at Portland State University), in addition to a handful of brave coaches in other sports among all levels in the NCAA as well as athletic directors.
But I'll let you in on a little secret. You want to know why coaches put the clamp down on lesbians athletes coming out? So high school students' parents won't get scared when the recruiter comes knocking. I would let my hypothetical state champion basketball-playing daughter play with a team full of LGBT women and a coach as gay as Gertrude Stein, but lots of other parents of star athletes in Middle America might not be so open to the idea. Especially when they have their pick of multiple colleges.
Little do they know that their teenage daughters are counting down the hours before they head to college so they can finally meet a bunch of other lesbians. And then, by the time they get to the pros, some of these rookies who have risen through the ranks haven't exactly been told it's perfectly fine to just be a lesbian and be proud about it. Especially if they're being told they literally have to be lipstick (and eyeshadow and mascara) lesbians.
The fact that the WNBA has a rookie orientation session about makeup application and how to dress is just degrading. I'm sure the NBA has something similar, but this just feels worse. And even still, so many female players seem to adhere to this unspoken rule that dictates ponytails and nail polish must be as visible as your jersey number. Are they scared they might look too much like a lesbian if they forget the blush? If league execs are worried that they're not getting enough hetero male viewers because the players don't appear to be women, they're targeting the wrong audience.
Personally, there was never a moment where I learned how to wear makeup. My mother has flawless, perfect skin, and all of the teen rags I read in middle school rarely had makeup tips for anyone darker than "tan." To top it off, drugstore makeup lines, especially back then, only carried one shade of brown, so no, I rarely wore/wear makeup. And I don't expect my professional athletes to wear it either. Unless they're Dennis Rodman.
MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's managing editor. She makes sure to do everything "gracefully and grandly." Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.