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02 July 2012

Policing Gender in Tennis with a dB Meter

The Women's Tennis Association, the International Tennis Federation, and the Grand Slam Committee are trying to teach upcoming girl tennis players not to grunt, and they're contemplating adding a rule to the sport that would penalize grunting as measured by a decibel meter. Why is this just about women, though? From the article:
Although men from Jimmy Connors to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have also been high-profile, high-volume grunters, only the women seem to draw much ire. "I do think that this issue is a bit unfair to the women," Stacey Allaster, Women's Tennis Association chief executive officer, told "Outside the Lines" recently. "But obviously our DNA is different -- men have deeper voices; we were blessed with a higher pitch."
While Allaster's interpretation is biologically essentialist (and just plain silly), this is really all about policing gender in sport. When the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate displays become unclear or, more often, when the boundaries are being actively challenged, there is typically a bureaucrat or some other institutional actor waiting in the wings to pronounce judgment and to enact punishment. In this case, Ms. Allaster, an "official" with the WTA is attempting to clarify "proper" feminine behavior by redrafting the overt rules of a sport to better align with the tacit social norms.

In related news, the International Olympic Committee just implemented new rules governing "normal" levels of testosterone. The enigmatic SocProf has a nice takedown of this over at the Global Sociology Blog:
...[W]ouldn't it be unfair to have men with lower levels of [testosterone] compete with those with "normal" levels? Also note the arbitrariness of the rule. What level is the male threshold? The average? What average? Why is it at issue that a woman with higher level of testosterone be forced to undergo treatment to reduce her performance? And shouldn't [men's] levels be equalized before competition so as to have a level playing field?... Funny how this came up only when a woman performed exceptionally. Exceptional performance from male athletes is never questioned in terms of gender or whether some male athlete had some extra testosterone and therefore some unearned, illegitimate advantage.

Grunting, evidently, is masculine, too, and it makes us uncomfortable to hear so many powerful women doing it--especially when engaging with other women.

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