Episode 42: Olympics, Pride, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Conundrum
In Episode 42, Amira, Brenda, and Lindsay join forces to discuss their complicated feelings about the “woke” Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Is it empowering, exploitation, or both?
Plus, we have two extra special interviews: Shireen talks with Keph Senett about the Pride House in Pyeongchang, and Brenda interviews Amy Bass about what happens behind the scenes in production at the Olympics.
As always, there’s a massive burn pile, and we hand out our own medals to our BAWOTW.
Intro (5:38) Brenda interviews Amy Bass (17:27) Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue (35:21) Shireen interviews Keph Senett (45:13) Burn Pile (54:10) Bad Ass Woman of the Week (56:43) What’s Good (1:00:04) Outro
For links and a transcript…
“Meet the First Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of the #MeToo Era” https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/02/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-metoo-era
“In the #MeToo era, SI’s latest swimsuit issue is a clumsy compromise” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/02/12/in-the-metoo-era-sports-illustrateds-swimsuit-issue-tries-to-have-it-both-ways/?utm_term=.fcb8474111c7
“NBC’s botched attempt to ignore the sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White” https://thinkprogress.org/shaun-white-mike-tirico-metoo-bd05b12ef29a/
“New Mexico’s Bob Davie Suspended For 30 Days Amid Misconduct Probe” https://www.si.com/college-football/2018/02/08/new-mexico-bob-davie-suspension-investigation
“Snowboarder Ester Ledecka wins shocking Alpine skiing gold” https://www.nbcolympics.com/video/snowboarder-ester-ledecka-wins-shocking-alpine-skiing-gold
“‘Brazilian women’s team is only the 9th best in the world’, says Emily Lima” https://esportes.r7.com/esportes-olimpicos/selecao-brasileira-feminina-e-so-a-9-melhor-do-mundo-diz-emily-lima-06022018
“Transgender first for Australian football as Hannah Mouncey is accepted” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-43044082
“Danica Patrick is at peace with her retirement from NASCAR: ‘I’m ready'” http://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/02/danica-patrick-nascar-daytona-500-retire-last-race-no-7-godaddy-danica-double
Amira: Welcome to this week’s episode of Burn It All Down. It may not be the feminist sports podcast you want, but it’s the feminist sports podcast you need. This week, we have the brilliant and hilarious Brenda Elsey, Associate Professor of History at Hofstra University in New York, and the indomitable magnificent Lindsay Gibbs, the Sports Writer at Think Progress in D.C, and I’m Amira Rose Davis, Assistant Professor of History and WGSS at Penn State, and newest resident of Wakanda. Welcome, guys.
Lindsay: Welcome, good morning.
Amira: I want to take this time before we start to remind our flamethrowers out there about our Patreon campaign. You can pledge a certain amount monthly, as low as two dollars or as high as you want, to become an official Patreon of the podcast. In exchange for your contribution, you get access to special rewards. Right now for instance, you get extra segments of the podcast, a monthly newsletter, an opportunity to record on the Burn Pile, and right now we’re serving up special Olympic content over there. Reactions, extended interviews, and we even have a special giveaway coming up. So, jump on over to Patreon.com/burnitalldown, that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/burnitalldown to unlock more flaming hot content today.
Alright guys. This week, Brenda’s gonna chat with doctor Amy Bass, historian, author, and longtime Olympic contributor, about the Winter Games. Then we’re gonna wade into the complicated waters of Sports Illustrated’s most recent swimsuit issue. Lastly, Shireen brings us an amazing and important roundtable discussion on Pride House Pyeongchang, and the curation of safe spaces for LGBTQ athletes at these Olympics and beyond. Of course, we will highlight some badass women of the week, and burn some things that need to be burned.
But before we get started, do any of you guys have thoughts on, let’s say, figure skating?
Brenda: Oh my God.
Lindsay: Thank you for asking, Amira. I really appreciate it. I am still devastated for Nathan Chen in that short program. If anyone was listening to us two weeks ago, I said the only thing I wanted for the Olympics was for everyone to land all of their jumps and be happy. That did not happen, however, I am also still in tears of pride over his long program. Did anyone see that? Did you guys see that?
Brenda: Oh yeah, more than once.
Lindsay: Those six quads?
Lindsay: Oh my God, it was so good.
Brenda: [crosstalk 00:02:39] five were landed clean.
Lindsay: Right, but he attempted six quads.
Brenda: Because I think if he would have gotten six, wouldn’t he have gotten the bronze? I mean, I was on the edge of my seat saying, “What did that … Is it possible?”
Lindsay: It was possible. The other ones had to skate very, very well, and oh my gosh, Yuzuru. Is he not the most precious thing? I went through a really big rabbit hole of Twitter accounts dedicated solely to Yuzuru Hanyu, and he … There are so many wonderful GIFs and moments that these stan accounts capture. Pretty much all I want to do is just retweet those all day, because he and Javier-
Amira: I saw one of those.
Lindsay: Yeah, Javier Fernandez is like his best friend, the Spanish skater who got the bronze. Then the silver medalist is another Japanese skater who his thing … There are all these photos where Yuzuru’s in his teens and this kid is like eight. You can just see them through the years. Sorry, that’s been my happy place this week.
Amira: There’s one where he’s reacting … I forgot who the skater was he’s reacting to … He’s worried that he’s not gonna land the jump, and it’s a progression of his face being so concerned. It was so adorable. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Lindsay: It’s Javier Fernandez, who he trains with.
Amira: Oh, it’s that one?
Lindsay: Yeah, yeah.
Amira: Okay, yeah.
Brenda: Well, part of it too is that the technical level has gotten to this point where they’re attempting really big feats, and that’s leading to more falls. That’s why Adam Rippon took the quad out of his program, so that he could land everything cleanly. Watching it has become a whole heart wrenching exercise.
Amira: Right, exactly. The other thing that I was watching last night along the same lines was the … I don’t even know what it’s called other than X Games speed skating, when they’re jumping with skis. What is it called?
Lindsay: Oh, the slope style, free ski.
Amira: The slope style. That also.
Amira: I don’t know what it’s called. Half the time they’re skiing backwards before their next jump, and at one point the person … His ski got stuck on the first jump, so he skied backwards into the ramp and then fell over. It was the strangest thing I’ve seen, but it also reminded me of how effortless they make even really hard things look, like skiing backwards and jumping off of a ski jump.
Brenda: I’ve only skied backwards on accident. I’m so bad that I get turned around, and then I’m like, “Shit, I’m going backwards.”
Lindsay: Well, maybe that’s what they’re doing, too. Maybe it’s all an accident.
Brenda: No, they even landed backwards.
Lindsay: Oh, I know. No, I’m just kidding, they’re incredible.
Brenda: I was like, “Oh my God.”
Lindsay: They’re incredible. And of course Gus Kenworthy casually kissing his boyfriend while pride flags waved, what a lovely moment in slope style.
Amira: Brenda got to chat with Doctor Amy Bass for a behind the scenes look at how they get all that Olympic content to our screen. Brenda?
Brenda: I’m thrilled to have Doctor Amy Bass on our show today. She directs the honors program and is Professor of History at the College of New Rochelle. She’s worked as Senior Research Supervisor for NBC Olympic Sports since 1996, and she’s previously authored books on race in sports including Not The Triumph But The Struggle: The 1968 Olympic Games And The Making Of The Black Athlete. We’re very excited and awaiting her new book, called One Goal: A Coach, A Team, And The Game That Brought A Divided Town Together. It comes out February 27th, from Hachette Press.
Today we’re gonna talk to the good doctor a little bit about Olympic coverage. Amy, because we’re recording this is the midst of the Pyeongchang games I have to ask you: what do you think about the coverage so far?
Amy Bass: I … Because being a recovering Olympic addict workaholic because of my years with NBC, I tend to watch livestream, which … We live in this amazing moment to be a crazy Olympic fan, in that we can stream everything in real time. The NBC platform online is incredible. I logged in this morning at breakfast and watched women’s luge as it was happening. It will be repackaged, I assume, for primetime broadcast tonight, but I’m watching everything live because I can. I’m getting nothing else done. Don’t tell anybody that, because I do have a job, but you can watch everything. It’s an amazing moment to be an Olympic fan.
Brenda: But I do take it that you probably watched opening ceremonies?
Amy: Well, I watched in two different ways. My husband is there because he is with NBC, it’s where we met, we met in Australia in 2000, which is why the Australian national anthem was played at our wedding. I watched via FaceTime on Korean Television. He is that awesome a partner and he FaceTimed me and I got to watch it and I knew who lit the cauldron and I wept openly because I adore her. To see Queen Yuna light the cauldron was an amazing moment. Then I sort of watched it in bits and pieces I have to say, in terms of the coverage that evening, because it was the next day already in Pyeongchang and there was stuff going on.
Brenda: What did you think? I know there was that spoof about maybe the relationship between Korea and Japan … Is that kind of impossible to avoid when it’s a ceremony that’s going through so many different countries?
Amy: I am someone who has been on the ground floor working on that giant binder that gets put in front of talent for opening ceremony. It is a colossal project. This is no excuses. Then there’s ad lib and opinion, so you had a news analyst there who said something that was super unfortunate about the Japanese occupation of Korea. I admire NBCs fast response to that, direct response to that, up front apology about those comments. I think that overall … An opening ceremony is an impossible task. It’s a thankless task.
For me, the most important part of opening is the parade of nations, is to get to see athletes. I was super excited. I’m a Bates College alum. The [inaudible 00:09:09] Alpine skier is a Bates student right now and the giant shoutout to the Bobcats … That’s the kind of little, tiny moment. I’m there cheering on Cyprus, because I have that connection to it.
But, I also think it’s an opportunity for all of us to put our own lens on. We don’t necessarily need the lens of what we’re being told as much as … You’re watching the box of dignitaries. You’re watching the Vice President of the United States sit while everyone else stands. You get to make your own observations, and that was one of the interesting things about watching it via FaceTime on Korean television from my house in New York … We live in mad, crazy times that I can do that … Is that I was sort of able to watch it … I don’t speak Korean, and I had an unfiltered view to it, to be able to see that. I think the opening ceremony is just this giant Petri dish of figuring things out. Again, I have to say, it is a thankless task to put that broadcast together.
Brenda: I bet it is. Well, speaking of sitting and standing, a lot of your work has to do with politics and protests and race. Instead of someone taking a knee in this event, we had Vice President Pence taking a butt. What did you think? What was your reaction to that?
Amy: I think that sport is a wonderful place to take a rare spotlight and use it to announce your politics to are world. If those are Mike Pence’s politics, then I’m glad he had that opportunity to showcase them, just as I’m glad Colin Kaepernick has his, and I’m glad Adam Rippon has his, and Gus Kenworthy, and anyone else. I am so excited that Mike Pence is obviously going to be supportive of athletes doing the same exact thing moving forward.
Brenda: Have you ever seen a dignitary do that in the games before, in all your years?
Amy: Honestly, I don’t pay that much attention to dignitaries. I’m watching athletes. Who wants to watch dignitaries? If I’m gonna watch them because someone’s gonna take a picture of them, then fine, but no. I’m not watching dignitaries. I can say, I’ve been on the infield of … Never of opening, but closing. It’s just the best party ever. Paying attention to anything other than that, for me, is … No, I’m not watching dignitaries.
Brenda: You’re not watching that box. So far, you got a favorite moment?
Amy: I have to say, waking up early in the morning to watch a livestream of Chris Mazdzer winning a silver medal in luge and making sure that everyone had the word “Men’s” in there when they were talking about it, as a superlative feat for Americans, was really just exactly the kind of thrilling, awesome, “Oh my gosh, is his third run gonna be a good run?” And watching Marai Nagasu not just … It’s funny. I was thinking this morning that I have watched her land the triple axle a lot. I keep watching it, but I have watched her visceral reaction of joy more than I’ve watched anything else on replay, just that roar when she finishes and it was clean and she made history, and she just expressed awesome athletic awesomeness.
Brenda: That whole team seemed so joyous.
Amy: Yeah, it’s funny because you look at someone like Adam Rippon, who is such a charismatic skater, doesn’t really have a lot of quad, he took his quad out of his long program last night to ensure that he could skate clean, and this is his medal. He gets to stand on podium and take a medal. This is his moment. He’s gonna be in the Men’s Individual. He probably is not going to have the same experience, in terms of standing on a podium, so this was his moment. This was Marai Nagasu’s moment, although I have to say, I hope everyone’s on red alert about Marai Nagasu, because I think she indicated that she’s there to play.
Brenda: Did you see Adam’s interview after his skate where …
Brenda: Where he says he’d like a Xanax.
Amy: You know what else I loved about that interview is … Mike Tirico is a good casual, comfortable, conversational interview. This is our first Olympics with Mike Tirico in this seat, but the way Adam was like, “Mike, Mike, Mike,” every time he called him by his first name and the inflection and intonation … It was so amazing. It wasn’t just, “I’m so blessed to be here, I want to thank my family,” and that’s all fine, athletes should be saying those things. But this was just Adam unfiltered, and it’s just a joyous things to watch.
Brenda: He just seems like one of those perfect young professionals who’s been told, “Do this right, remember who you’re talking to, address them by name.”
Amy: And the great thing is, he’s not a kid. Adam has been around the block a lot. He’s one of the more seasoned … He’s an elder on this team.
Brenda: Yeah, he said it wasn’t his first rodeo, which was in fact another one of his amazing quips. The whole games have been really wittier for him.
Amy: Absolutely, absolutely. If you look at Gus Kenworthy’s Instagram … And if you’re not following Gus Kenworthy’s Instagram, you should be. It was something to the effect of, “Daddy is so proud.”
Brenda: There’s some good Instagram, Twitter [inaudible 00:14:28] out there. These Olympics have been really fascinating for that. It’s worth a whole recap at the end.
Last question on Olympics: what are you looking forward to?
Amy: I am really … This is funny. This happened to me in Rio with Michael Phelps. I was a long time, “Yes he’s really good, but I hate the word greatest because swimmers in ways that, say, discus throwers can’t,” and then Rio I said, “Alright. He is.” Lindsey Vonn, I have to say, is something I am so looking forward to. I think that she represents something in these games that we just haven’t seen in a lot of ways. She was politically overt leading into these games. She took a ton of backlash for her statements about Trump and representing America and what that means. She tweaked her back in January, and there were a whole bunch of people saying, “Oh, that’s because you dissed the president. Maybe you’ll break it next time.”
She marched in opening, and a lot of athletes don’t march in opening, especially when it’s that cold because it’s just not good for your athletic program. But I love the fact that superstars like Lindsay Vonn and Shaun White are back in such a different context than where they began. I think that being able to watch the long arc of an athlete’s career is an amazing thing. That’s something I’m super interested in. I love women’s hockey, I love that these games … And I give NBC a lot of mileage on this, that Canada versus the United States hockey is considered the rivalry of these games, women’s sports front and center in terms of how we talk about rivalries.
I love what’s … I have to say, short track is my guilty pleasure. I think short track is just this mad, crazy thing that we all get to watch every four years. I’m addicted to it. I’ve been to it. It’s the nuttiest venue there is at a Winter Games, and I’m obsessed.
Brenda: I’m actually just terrified of it. I watch it just through my fingers, and the mass start with bodies flying, and I’m just like, “Oh my God, how are they doing this? Don’t do this, it’s too fast.” Oh, it’s adrenaline.
Amy: First of all, you look at South Korea’s success in something like short track. You think, “They’re host and this is their gig.” Then you look back and the first time I ever saw short track was in Salt Lake and 2002. I was sitting there when Steven Bradbury from Australia won the gold medal for Australia, inexplicably, because he was literally the only guy who didn’t fall down. He stepped over carnage. He was so far behind, he was so slow, everybody else fell, he stepped over the carnage and won a gold media. I just thought, “This is the greatest sport I’ve ever seen.”
Brenda: It is amazing.
Amira: Alright. This week, Sports Illustrated released yet another swimsuit issue, as they do every year. This one featured many athletes, and I know for us, inspired a very complicated discussion. We want to kind of wade into that now. Lindsay, do you want to kick us off?
Lindsay: Yeah. I do. I’ve got a lot of, as Amira said, complicated thoughts about this. I’m kind of excited to work through that, but let’s just set the stage. It’s that time of year again, when in a rare moment, women grace the pages and the cover of the most prominent sports magazine, but of course this is for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. This has been heralded as the first swimsuit edition of the #MeToo era.
According to Vanity Fair, this year, “The team behind the media institution set out to make a magazine where models were as much participants as objects.” Just let that soak in for a minute.
There were five athletes who were really heavy featured in this issue. You had Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who are of course the tennis players. You had Aly Raisman the gymnast, and then you had Brenna Huckaby, who is a paralympic snowboarder. That was kind of interesting. She was the first paralympic athlete to be included. She has an amputated leg, so she was the first paralympic athlete to be included in the SI swimsuit edition. Also, you had Paige Spiranac. I don’t know if I’m saying her name right, but she is the golfer who is best known, not for even her starts on the LPGA tour, because there haven’t been that many, but for her Instagram following that she’s really garnered. She has 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
One of the things they did this year was to try and get this message across, that you don’t have to be modest to be respected, which is something that we here at Burn It All Down are … That is true, very much believe that. But one of the things they did, was they had a lot of photoshoots that didn’t include any swimsuits an all, and instead had these models and then some of the athletes completely nude with words painted on their body.
For example, Aly Raisman had “Trust yourself,” and “Life for you,” “Abuse is never okay,” “Women do not have to be modest to be respected,” that was written on her body. You also had Robyn Lawley who is an older model who had, “Nurturer, mother, creative, human,” written over her naked body. The point of this was to be in her own words. It was supposed to look at what’s empowering to these women.
It’s tough because, for me, this is complicated because it’s still all in a magazine that was intended for the male gaze and that has always used women’s bodies as a selling point. I hope that all these women were empowered, and they do seem like they were empowered, but is this the best way for the empowerment to happen, and where does this take the conversation? Amira?
Amira: Yeah, it was interesting. I was looking for posters for my office this week, and I was looking for women athletes. I went the Amazon, as I do for everything in my life, and I put in “Women athlete posters.” Legitimately the first five pages were pictures from ESPN’s Body issue, of women athletes blown up and decontextualized from the issue.
If you’re not familiar, the ESPN Body issue features a wide variety of athletes of shapes, sizes, colors, men, women, and it’s a celebration of body and athletic bodies. Removed from that context and to have the only posters returning for women athletes being when they don’t have clothes on was jarring to me. I think it was through that lens that I first encountered this SI issue, that I immediately thought about, “Well, what happens when these photos are removed from the context? When empowerment for one can also mean objectification for everybody else who’s passing the magazine around or going to take the pictures and then make a poster, print it and sell it on Amazon, and that becomes your go to image of your athletic body?”
That sits with me in a very troubling way. I guess the other part of me thinks about objectification, and how perhaps the conversation we have about the objectification of athletes happens certainly in a gendered context, but does that, at times, obscure the way that we … Even a few weeks ago, we were sitting here ogling about Pita Taufatofua’s oily, flag bearing body. I think about those kind of casual ways that I also participate in objectifying male athletes, which doesn’t necessarily have a system or avenue or institutional support behind it. We’re not necessarily getting the swimsuit issue like that, so there are kind of degrees of difference, but it has me thinking very deeply about what it means to objectify athletes in particular. Brenda?
Brenda: Yeah. I think … It’s so interesting, what you said about taking it out of the context. On the one had, you have this process by which they don’t get to control what happens to that image. It’s empowering for them, and I agree with Lindsay, I hope it is empowering for them, but we’re talking about images that go beyond their authors and owners of those images going forward. They’re owners of their bodies, right? But part of it too, is the context, which is that Sports Illustrated only features about 4% … Well, 4% of its covers are women. There was a study that was done recently in the International Journal of Sports Sociology that demonstrated that there were actually more women on Sports Illustrated covers between 1954 and 1965 than there was from 2000 to today.
This isn’t something that’s improved at all. I think it would be very different if women athletes had a lot more coverage in that magazine. I would wager that the 4% and change of women in Sports Illustrated would be cut in half if it wasn’t for the swimsuit issue.
Lindsay: I think that was not including the swimsuit issue, maybe. I don’t know.
Brenda: I think the study does include it, I think it does. In fact, though, if Sports Illustrated … I mean, who’s the audience for this? One of the things is that, in the subscription of Sports Illustrated, you can even opt out of swimsuit issue. They know very well that they’re trying to hit a particular demographic. In their marketing packages, they brag that this is the white male market between 18 and 35, that they’ll hit more people from the Superbowl.
I don’t care who the creative team is. The economic structural model there is exactly what we think it is. It’s about exploiting women and their bodies. They have the right to participate in that, and it’s not just one layer. It’s not so simple as that. But I do think if we step back, the business model is very simple.
Amira: Yeah. It got me thinking historically … Those covers that you mentioned, for instance, in the 50s and 60s … That’s right around the time that I’m researching in my women are appearing on some of these covers, but also in newspapers and black newspapers and Ebony and Jet. I find it a really interesting discussion because, one of the things that I see then a lot is the framing of these magazines, especially in Jet and Ebony, wanting to overemphasize femininity and demonstrate that one could be female and athletic, and that those two things could coincide and to kind of push back on the notion that athletics made you manly. They really had to play up this heterosexual inclination as well, at the time.
There’s a lot of photoshoots that, say, baseball player Toni Stone took, where they insisted, either she’s wearing a dress, there’s one picture of her topless laying down on a table while her husband is giving her a massage and they make sure to caption, “She’s getting a massage from her husband after the game.” There’s all this curation of image.
Part of it was strategic. That is for the Olympians. This is around the time where sex testing was happening, which was a really invasive test at the time, and particularly black women were more susceptible to these kind of invasive testing procedures, and scrutiny about their femininity, but it also makes me think that there’s a lot of parallels in terms of image and presentation that seem to be trying to still push back on this idea that somehow you can’t be athlete and a woman. What that means is you still kind of being a spectacle or defying the odds if you are a woman who’s an athlete and still wants to wear makeup or show off your body or whatnot. That kind of historical continuum, I think, is a bit disheartening that it’s still happening. It’s interesting to me to document that change over time. Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that concerns me the most about this is that I feel like we’re still setting up … The gold standard for women is still being viewed by men as sexy. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think that that’s my concern, is that that’s the message we’re still sending.
That’s where I think I get stuck on this, because I want all these women to feel empowered and beautiful. I follow a lot of models on social and athletes who have the SI swimsuit issue, and they all say great things about MJ Day, who is the full time editor of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. She does really seem to care about her models and create a really supportive environment, and they all just love here. That’s great, that they’re finding this empowerment.
I’ll read from that Vanity Fair piece again. MJ Day runs the swimsuit edition like a den mother. She pays attention to the comfort and emotions and comfort levels of her employees. MJ Day says, “This is a safe space.” But she then goes on, MJ, in this interview, to talk about how they’re trying to showcase a variety of images of beauty.
She says, “Why are we only saying to ourselves that there is one type of person who is worthy of being celebrated? It’s bullshit, and we all know it, and we live it, and yet it’s continued to be propagated in the media.” Okay, yes, I agree with that quote very much, but if you look at the SI swimsuit, it is a very narrow standard deviation of what is beauty.
Sloane Stephens might be slightly more muscular, but Sloane Stephens is one of the most gorgeous women in the world. There’s no doubt about the fact that Sloane Stephens is stunningly gorgeous by pretty much all standards. Same with Eugenie Bouchard and these other athletes they’re giving.
I think that’s where I really get caught up, is the fact that we’re still … I understand that for a swimsuit issue, putting people of color on there and putting women who are a size 10 instead of a size 2, that these are supposed to be hugely radical acts, but all of these people still fit into a very narrow standard of beauty.
How far can you take that empowerment? SI is still very much reinforcing these standards of beauty that we have.
Brenda: I always ask myself exactly what Lindsay just ended on, which is, how far does that empowerment go? Who is this empowering, besides? If it’s them, great, but how many girls are looking at the SI cover and being like, “I feel so empowered.” I’m sorry to say it, but it does absolutely nothing for the larger structure of sexism that exists. The fact that they’re trouncing around on Caribbean islands has a real gross thing for me. Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, but it’s so hot and sexy to roll around on a beach that could be whatever Caribbean island.
There’s also a whole context to both a very narrow standard of beauty, all of the bathing suits are typical of pornographic … Featuring and covering certain sort of styles.
Lindsay: Very minimalistic.
Brenda: But also very traditional. They’re not featuring the muscles. They’re actually not. I mean, the muscles are part of those women’s bodies and they come along with it, but it’s all about the peekaboo genital, breast, peep shots, and women occasionally licking their fingers or looking like they accidentally … Are just waiting for some man to come on to that beach.
Anyway, I can’t imagine a girl seeing it and being like, “Thank you so much for doing that. It’s really cleared stuff up.”
Lindsay: But I think that there are girls who see that, because there are girls … We’re still sending the message to girls that they need to be seen as sexy, and that that is the holy grail. On that note, I think that it is empowering to girls. I’m just not sure if it’s empowering to girls in the right way. I think that there are actually tons of younger girls who see this, maybe not you or I, but who do see this and say, “Yes, oh my gosh, this is great, because she can still be sexy, and I want to be sexy.” That’s what concerns me.
I follow all these athletes, and whenever these athletes are in SI and they post their photos on Instagram, those are the most likes they get. They repost them and repost them. Caroline Wozniacki, who is a phenomenal athlete, and love her so much … And she posts her SI swimsuit outtakes at least once a month, I feel like. Same with Eugenie Bouchard. They keep bringing up these images and they keep wanting to be validated that way and they keep showing that it’s important to be validated that way.
I don’t begrudge them at all, I just worry, why do they feel so proud of that? Why is that such a big thing to them, I think is where I get stuck.
Amira: It’s so interesting, because I really like ESPN’s Body issue. This is why for me it brings me back to the context. I think the way the layouts work in ESPN’s Body issue and the kind of celebration of athleticism is … I don’t know, I don’t have the same reaction and I don’t know why. I’m still kind of working through these things.
Brenda: [crosstalk 00:33:53] They’re posed entirely differently. They’re not laying down on a beach waiting for someone to take a picture of them or have sex with them, which these women in SI clearly are. The pose is absolutely central, whereas the ESPN Body issue … They’re running and leaping and jumping and flexing.
Lindsay: They are celebrating the athletic … What SI is doing is conforming these athletic or women of color bodies to still fit the standard poses and standard definition of sexy, whereas I feel like ESPN is more, “We are going to find what’s attractive about your specific body and cater to that.” Raisman has been very … Of course, this is all happening for her right after she’s come out about being abused by Nassar and she’s been such a great advocate for women and for survivors in that.
She did tell People magazine that she’s had people telling her, “I don’t understand how you can complain that you were molested, because you participate in Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine.” I just want to say, that is fucking disgusting. By sitting here and sorting through our comfort level with this and what it all means and the context, we want to in no way shame these women or say that they are anything but wonderful women.
Amira: This week, Shireen chatted with representative from Pride House International, in the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, to talk about Pride House Pyeongchang. Check it out.
Shireen: I am so excited for today’s interview on Burn It All Down. We’ve got Keph Senett, who is a writer, activist, and a trustee at Pride House International. [Candi Yun 00:35:45] is an activist specializing in international solidarity projects with the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, KSCRC, and [Min Woo Jung 00:35:57] is also with the Pyeongchang Pride House. His role today will primarily be to support Candi as a translator. Thank you so much, all three of you, for being here today.
Candi Yun: It’s a pleasure.
Keph Senett: Thank you for inviting us.
Shireen: First question is for Keph. Keph, can you please explain to our listener who might not know what Pride House is and why it’s so important that it’s the first one in the region in Pyeongchang?
Keph: The Pride House concept is based quite closely on the national Olympic house concept, which has traditionally created a safe space for people who are aligned by nation, for example Germany House or Canada House. In 2010, Dean Nelson, who is an LGBT activist in Vancouver, B.C and Whistler, came up with the concept to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ fans, athletes, and allies. The idea took off right away. He worked with local community groups, also some local businesses, to create a space both in Whistler and Vancouver. People really enjoyed tweaking that nation Olympic House idea to make it a bit more aligned around sexual minority and gender identity politics.
Since that first one in 2010, the past eight years we’ve had 12 others. They have been international, and that [inaudible 00:37:29] large scale sporting events. That’s our jam, that’s what we look to. That’s [inaudible 00:37:36] Women’s World Cup and the World Cup in the Pan American Games, Commonwealth Games, the European Football Championships, and of course the Olympics.
The first one was at the Olympics. There was also Pride House at the London Olympics in 2012, and at Rio in 2016. We tried to have Pride House in Sochi in 2014, but we were denied, so alternately we had remote Pride Houses internationally, which were sort of events and activism internationally in support with Russian LGBT people.
It remained very political, obviously. We’ve campaigned with two of the IOC asking for better protections. There’s been certainly attention paid to which places get chosen as the locations for these huge events. With the KSCRC coming to us in 2015 and saying, “We want to do something around this idea in Pyeongchang,” it was terrific. It was bringing that idea into a part of the world where it hadn’t existed before.
Shireen: Candi, what does this mean for the athletes and for the region in South Korea? I know you’re speaking to me from [Kangun 00:39:01]. What does this mean for the area and for the LGBTIQ communities there?
Min Woo Jung: I’ll translate.
Candi Yun: Actually this city, Kangun, is quite small. It’s really hard to find any community. The Pride House is being not only for the people in this city, but also I [inaudible 00:39:34] that it can go around Korea, I hope.
Shireen: Yeah, that’s very, very important. What, Candi, are you hoping comes after the Olympics, after the games in Pyeongchang are finished? What happens then? What are you hoping happens?
Candi Yun: There is not many [inaudible 00:39:54] sports [inaudible 00:39:58] as we [inaudible 00:39:59] in Korea. After the [inaudible 00:40:02] the Pride House, the awareness [inaudible 00:40:04] then people realize the LGBT+ people play sports together in their daily lives.
Shireen: You’re hoping that it continues the effusion of sports and awareness?
Candi Yun: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shireen: Okay, alright. What’s the response been from the athletes at the games for Pride House?
Keph: I don’t know. I don’t know, there was a lot of planning around the part of Pride House Pyeongchang that as a Canada House happened very last minute, and is still sort of happening on the go. Of course a lot of the athletes right now are competing. I’ve heard anecdotally that people are interested, and want to come and check it out, but the timing is a little bit awkward, because their sports are their other first priority at the minute.
Shireen: How far are you from where the athlete’s village is?
Keph: We’re right adjacent to it in terms of the Canada Olympic House part of Pride House Pyeongchang, but it’s important to not that that’s really only one aspect of what’s happening here. It’s the only piece of Pride House Pyeongchang that’s in the Olympic arena, but KSCRC is also offering a viewing party in Seoul later this week, and then some other actions throughout the rest of the games, in Seoul and also Candi will likely be coming back this week to work with me in the Canada Olympic House to hand out some information and make people a bit more aware about the status or lack thereof of LGBT people in Korea.
Shireen: This question is for anyone, and Min, please feel free to jump in as well.
Min Woo Jung: Yes.
Shireen: What would be the best result of success? How would you measure success from Pride House? What would you love to see happen? Is it attendance, is it awareness, is it moving forward in collaborations with other communities? What would be the best result of Pride House Pyeongchang?
Keph: From the perspective … I’ll go first, I definitely want Candi and Min also to speak on this, but from a Pride House International perspective, I think simply seeing the plans come to fruition and learning from how things work and don’t work and raising awareness … I mean, particularly for Korea, that has been a huge issue. That’s been something that the local media have asked a lot, is like, “What are you on about? What is even the issue? Why is this even a problem?” From a Pride House International perspective, I think success looks like these teams getting to raise their own issues and speak on their own behalfs. With that, I’m gonna ask them to speak on their own behalf to answer your question.
Min Woo Jung: I’ll just represent Pride House Pyeongchang, here. As part of the team, we expect that the best possible result for us would be increasing awareness, diversity, and inclusion in sports, especially in the local context where very few LGBT people, not to mention athletes, can openly come out and live their lives as who they are.
For example, we have been dealing with this issue of use of the public space for LGBTQ related events. Last year, a group called Queer Women’s Association tried to hold a sporting event for themselves, but then the public institutions denied access to this group. We’re hoping that the success of the Pride House Pyeongchang will lead a way to use these kind of public spaces for the queer people who’s interested in sports and human rights.
Shireen: Wow, that’s amazing, yes. Candi, do you hope that this project inspires other countries in Asia, in East Asia, South Asia to do what you’ve done?
Candi Yun: Of course. I know we have also [inaudible 00:44:20] maybe soon, and we have [inaudible 00:44:25] the 2010 [inaudible 00:44:27] Tokyo summer will be … There are lots of events in Asia, so after the Pride House, I hope another [inaudible 00:44:39] do their own Pride House.
Shireen: Yeah, I hope so too.
Candi Yun: To get the awareness.
Shireen: Yeah, to get the awareness. I think that’s so important, and I want to thank you all for coming on the program today to explain this to us. This is a really important story for this Pride House Pyeongchang to be the first in its region, and I wish you all the success in the world. Thank you so much for being on Burn It All Down.
Min Woo Jung: Thank you so much.
Candi Yun: Thank you.
Amira: Alright ladies, it’s time to burn some stuff. What do you have for me this week, Brenda?
Brenda: I have the shitshow that is college football, Amira. This week, with all that’s happening, with the Olympics, with it not being football season, it’s not getting a ton of attention. I would like to shine a little bit of light and throw some fire on what’s happening at University of New Mexico. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but the head football coach, Bob Davie, has been suspended for 30 days. The allegations include, and this is from the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and there’s another law firm investigating him … Many, many witnesses to Davie using the n-word, making derogatory remarks to four black players sitting on a golf course, saying, “What are you doing on a white man’s tractor?” Also encouraging players to “Find dirt on” women who accused one of the players of sexual assault. Oh, it’s … Davie’s no Nick Saban, but he is in a contract that runs through 2021 and pays him 820,000 without any bonuses, and over a million dollars with bonuses and incentives each year.
Again, not Nick Saban, but it’s still about 13, 14 professor salaries at University of New Mexico. This athletics program is five million dollars in debt to the university.
Amira: Oh my goodness.
Brenda: The president said, “We should probably just forget it. We should probably just forgive this debt so that the program can go forward.”
Amira: Oh, yeah.
Brenda: Yeah, that makes total sense. Why wouldn’t you? Just have the State of New Mexico, a historically non-wealthy, poor with problems putting air conditioning in public schools in a place that’s really freaking hot, to continue to pay this racist, sexist, man to coach a game where people run around and get concussions. I would like burn, I would like to really just burn the University of New Mexico’s football program, gods that be, for letting it get to this level.
Amira: Yeah, burn that.
Amira: Burn, burn, burn. Lindsay, what are you burning?
Lindsay: I’d like to burn Shaun White, Mike Tirico, and NBC. Just kind of in a collective. This week, Shaun White had an incredible run in the half-pipe to reclaim gold. Look, it was a thrilling competition and it was a great … Really entertaining to watch. But what NBC did not mention or bring up during its coverage of Shaun White, which was extensive because he’s essentially their focus, their face of the games, especially this first week, was the really disturbing sexual harassment lawsuit that Shaun White settled last year.
Look, I’d like to very clearly say that I don’t think that Shaun White should be banned from the Olympics or that we shouldn’t be able to enjoy this, but was really, really bothersome to me, the fact that this wasn’t even brought up. When you’re doing … They did one of those interviews with Mike Tirico and Shaun White. It was those soft spoken glowing Olympic features, but that went into Shaun White’s journey of self-discovery in the four years since Sochi. They talked about some of his hard times, so that is the perfect opportunity to bring this up, to make him answer for this.
They didn’t do it, and one of the reasons they might not have done that is because Mike Tirico, who was conducting this interview, who was hosting all the Olympics coverage, also has horrendous sexual harassment allegations against him, dating back to the 1990s at ESPN. He was suspended for three months without pay back in the 1990s.
While he’s never really talked publicly about it, that’s supposed to have been a … He suffered his consequences, but I can’t help but feel that NBC felt that the optics of that, of Mike Tirico interviewing Shaun White about sexual harassment, would not be great. Therefore, they decided to just completely bury it.
Now, that did not work out for them, thankfully. Because of the time we’re in, a lot of journalists did bring it up at his press conference after the run, after he won his gold medal. I don’t know what terminology Winter Olympics uses. At that time, Shaun White called it gossip. He said, “I can’t talk about this. It’s gossip.”
Now, he went on pretty much an apology tour after that. He spoke to the New York times and NBCs Today Show and gave much better answers at that point about, “Look, I really regret that I made this woman, especially who I was friends with, feel uncomfortable. I regret my actions and I’ve changed.” And honestly, was that so hard? If you had done that beforehand with NBC, that would’ve been good. We could’ve moved on from there.
I think people get caught in thinking we’re asking for extremes. They think that by us wanting these situations to be just brought up, that that means we want them scorched at the earth and never to be seen again. But most women I know are really happy to find a middle ground here, where we can not ignore these things and just address them, because that is part of dealing with this.
I would like to burn NBC and its attempt to shove this under the rug, despite our current climate. Burn.
Brenda: Light that rug on fire.
Amira: Burn. This week, I’m burning Laura Ingraham and her terribleness. On Thursday, she responded to a video of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, in which they criticize 45 and talked politics with Cari Champion. She responded by telling them to shut up and dribble, adding, “Look, there might be a cautionary tale in LeBron for kids. This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA, and it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid 100 million dollars a year to bounce a ball.”
LeBron James responded with his own hashtag, #WeWillNotShutUpAndDribble, saying, “I am more than an athlete.” I’m just so … They’ve thrown out dog whistles, they just have bullhorns over on Fox News. It’s actually quite ridiculous. I really enjoyed Chris Long’s response. A lot of athletes have come to LeBron’s defense, calling out how racist Laura Ingraham was being and clapping back at her. Chris Long did a really long thread of athletes and non politicians that were featured on her network, whose opinions were praised. I don’t hear you telling Curt Schilling that he needs to shut up and swing a bat or whatever he needs to do, evade taxes and sell casinos or whatever he does, because his politics align with yours.
Then, as this his continued to go on back and forth, she had the audacity to invite LeBron on her show to debate with her, which is … What kind of mindset do you have to be in to say, “Hey, I’m just gonna sit here and roast you for being dumb. You’re too dumb to talk politics, but also, come on my show and talk politics.” Your logic doesn’t make sense. I guess it makes sense if your logic’s racial logic.
Lindsay: When it’s racism, it makes perfect sense.
Amira: Right, exactly. But it’s really frustrating. What is heartening is to see the response in much of the athletic community, to see LeBron who was at All Star Weekend and said, “You know what? Whatever her name is, I’d like to thank her for giving me more of a spotlight, because we have the eyes of the world on us right now. This only amplifies that, and it gives me an even bigger platform to talk about social inequality and racism and police brutality, and I appreciate that.”
He’s part of a long line of athletes who have tried to use that platform as a driver in having these conversations, despite the best attempts of people always telling them to shut up and play or stick to sports or dribble a ball.
I am burning her comments, I am burning her audacity to then invite him on the show, and I am just burning it all down, this kind of racist, exploitative system that wants to see athletes, particularly black athletes, just play for their entertainment and not listen to their words. Burn it.
Amira: Okay, after all that burning, it’s time to recognize some badass women of the week. We have Czech skier, Esther Ledecká, who won a surprising gold medal in the Women’s Super G this week. It was really exciting. Everybody had already started moving on to crown the champion, and then they had to cut back to the Super G to watch her surprising run.
Her face, when she crossed the line at the bottom, was literally like, “What happened? What is happening?” It took so long for it to register. It was a wonderful moment, so congrats to you.
Lindsay: It was so good that she’s gonna be known more as a meme in 20 years than she is for that run. It was iconic.
Amira: It was. I also want to recognize Brazilian coach Emily Lima, who has been treated like absolute garbage by the Brazilian Federation. She’s now announced she has a new job coaching the [Glory Santos 00:55:07] team. Hurrah for you, and congrats on your new job.
Then, Hannah Mouncey, who’s a transgender handball player who announced that she will be joining the Australian national team after beginning her career in the men’s competition. Congrats to you, Hannah, and that is a huge barrier that is being broken over there.
Also, Danica Patrick, who is racing in her last NASCAR race this Sunday at the Daytona 500. Hats off to you, Danica.
Drum roll please. We’re really missing Shireen’s inspired drum rolls of late.
Lindsay: Does she do it on the desk, or does she do it [crosstalk 00:55:51]
Amira: I think so. Let me try. Drum roll.
Brenda: That’s me.
Amira: To Marai Nagasu, who was the first American woman to land a triple axle in the Olympic games. She helped Team USA secure the team bronze in figure skating, and she’s just an all around badass. After, she said, “I’m still on cloud nine.” She also added that, “Growing up, there weren’t a lot of Asian-Americans in sports. There’s a bit of a stigma that says Asian-Americans are more the nerdy type, so for me to be part of this successful sports team that has so many Asian-Americans on it and to represent that side of the United States means so much to me.”
Congrats Marai, you make us all very, very, very, very proud.
Amira: Okay. What is good in your life this week, Brenda?
Brenda: What’s good in my life is that yesterday I brought into my laundry room suitcases to pack for Argentina. Yeah, so I’m super excited to start my [inaudible 00:57:00] there, and I’ve never taught in Argentina and I’m thrilled to be doing it. It feels very real all of a sudden, putting stuff in there and putting the kids’ socks, all that kind of stuff. I’m psyched.
Amira: It’s really happening.
Brenda: Yeah, and I’ll be Burn It All Down from Argentina. Yeah.
Amira: Have you calculated the time? I was just asking about this. This is so exciting. We’re international.
Brenda: Yeah, totally. We’ve got Toronto, we’ve got top to bottom. We’re so … All of the Americas.
Amira: All the Americas, awesome. Lindsay, what’s your what’s good?
Lindsay: I got to see Amira this week and that was exciting. We had margaritas and that was great. Other than that, I’m just really enjoying the Olympics, despite all the bad things. I do have to say, to bring my episode full circle, I just discovered … Not that I check Twitter while we’re recording episodes, but I just discovered the most wonderful GIF of Shoma Uno, who was a silver medalist in the men’s skating. He and Yuzuru are doing an interview in a Japanese Olympic studio, and Shoma can’t get onto the stool. He literally just keeps getting on and falling off.
Amira: Oh my goodness.
Lindsay: After he wins a silver medal, and Yuzuru is just laughing so hard. That made me really happy. That’s what’s good.
Amira: That’s awesome. Well, what’s good for me is, I just finished my crazy week across the country, but I did get to see Jess, I got to see Lindsay. I was just racking up selfies with co-hosts this week. It was awesome. I also finally got to go to Wakanda and see Black Panther. Watching so many badass black women grace that screen. It was just … I can’t even articulate the collective experience of watching this in energized theaters with a lot of people just celebrating this moment. It really was something very, very good.
I also really enjoyed talking the political history of the Winter Games with Jules Boykoff and Minky Worden and Teresa [Runsevler 00:59:18], both in New York and then the next day in American. It was great, thank you Rosa Luxembourg and American University for hosting us for both talks. We had wonderful turnout, standing room only. We got a blurb in the New York Times, and we had a really necessary discussion about politics and human rights and diversity or lack thereof at the Winter Olympics. It was great to see all those people, to see my cousin who came down to hear, to see some friends of mine on Friday night.
Even though I was traveling and tired and everywhere, seeing the people that I got to see made it all worth it. That is my something good.
Brenda: Love it.
Amira: That’s it for this week in Burn It All Down. Burn It All Down is on SoundCloud, but also can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, wherever you get your podcasts. We appreciate your reviews and feedback, so please subscribe, rate, let us know what we did well, and give us critical feedback if you want to.
You can find us on Facebook at Burn It All Down, on Twitter @burnitalldownpod, or on Instagram @burnitalldownpod. You can email us at email@example.com, or check out our website, burnitalldownpod.com. You’ll find previous episodes, transcripts, links, and a link to our Patreon. That’s it for this week from Brenda, Lindsay, and me, Amira Rose Davis. See you next week, flamethrowers.