Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A defense of Russian divas

I consider myself a fairly nationalistic gymnastics fan--I root pretty hard for the Americans (even if I can appreciate the fine qualities of other countries' gymnast.) But recently, I've found myself defending the U.S.' chief rival a lot.

So why am I suddenly defending the Russians from detractors? Because if there is one thing I hate more than American gymnasts not winning medals, it's misogyny.

Specifically, I'm talking about the misogyny implied in the "diva" label. The term can be positive, but the way that it's used by Americans in general and NBC in particular was decidedly negative. It was only leveled at the Russians and generally for relatively innocuous behavior that was deemed "dramatic" in a feminine way. It was their coded way of calling the Russian women bitches for the sin of expressing their true emotional reactions.

How should they have handled the disappointment of silver and a poor team performance on the floor exercise? If tears are held up as diva-like behavior then what of Jordyn Wieber's tears after failing to qualify to the individual all around? Personally, I think her tears were a perfectly expected reaction to disappointment. But why are hers acceptable and Komova's a problem?

There are two problems. First, there is the narrow spectrum of emotions that are allotted to female gymnasts--basically, they can be only happy or sad. Certainly not angry. Never angry. Cause you can't be adorable if you're angry and if you're not adorable, then why are people paying attention? (This is not to denigrate gymnasts who are bubbly and adorable on the competition floor--if that's how you're feeling and you're being true to who you are then I'm pleased to share in your enthusiasm.)

But in general, there's an unwillingness to accept emotional reactions that make us uncomfortable, no matter how valid those reactions are. We don't like being around angry people and so when we see someone reacting with anger, we are quick to disqualify this reaction as uncalled for. I personally think that being angry with oneself after falling at the Olympic Games is a perfectly reasonable reaction. I can't fault Aliya Mustafina for not wanting to be coddled afterwards. That's not how she wanted to handle the situation. Why must she concern herself with our preferences when her coach seems to get over it?

Read the rest of my rant here.


noplain said...

I only just got truly interested in artistic gymnastics a few months ago while sick and stuck on the couch. I'd always enjoyed watching the sport, but this was the first time I really started understanding it: the rules, the elements, the scoring, and the gymnasts. But in some ways it's been a hard slog learning, because there is so much nastiness directed at these young women. I find it incredibly disheartening. Thank you for being a writer who is not only informative, but is also positive and celebratory.

Dvora Meyers said...

Blushing--thanks. Well, as you can tell I love the sport so even when I'm being critical of gymnasts or certain elements, it comes out of a place of love.