Shocking Revelation: WNBA Players Don’t Exist to Earn the Approval of Men

Feature image via WNBA’s Instagram

This is a column dedicated to all gay WNBA content all the time — and yes, that includes queer thirst. And boy, is there a lot of thirst to be had when it comes to W players. But apparently, not everyone got the memo.

A man with the Twitter name “Squirtbender” (I don’t want to know) took to the hellsite over the weekend to say something both clever and original, and definitely not at all sexist, nope not even a tiny bit.

J/K, Squirtbender said something incredibly sexist, super queerphobic, and — probably without knowing it because I’m willing to bet Squirtbender doesn’t know a whole lot — something that feeds into over a century of concern-trolling rhetoric about women athletes. Well done, Squirtbender! It’s cute that you think WNBA players care if you think they’re hot! I’ve written so many versions of this column over the last several years, and here is another one because straight men are still over here being terrible!

There are two major issues happening when men make comments like this: the first is that it implies an athlete’s appearance should matter at all when it comes to deciding whether to watch them play their sport. I mean, I’m sure he watches the NBA so he can check out the fine men on the court, right (though there are plenty of them)?

Of course, for generations, women who play sports have been expected to cater to the cishet male gaze in order to make them appealing and non-threatening, and in the hopes of drawing in viewers. You know, in case men refuse to respect women as talented athletes, at least they can check them out while they engage in athletic endeavors, I guess.

But this is real. In the early days of the WNBA, players were required to attend makeup classes. The league used to play up their sex appeal and (perceived or actual) heterosexuality. “[WNBA officials] believe that if they’re ever truly going to make it, they need to emphasize traditional femininity because the institutions that have power and control will find it more palatable,” Mary Jo Kane, then-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Women in Sport at Minnesota told Sports Illustrated in 2002.

This, of course, is par for the course when it comes to advertising women athletes. A 2013 study in the Journal of Communication and Sport found that media portrayals of female athletes emphasized femininity and heterosexuality, rather than athleticism (this recent Twitter thread showing women and girls posing versus men and boys in active roles is a good example of the downplaying of the athleticism of women).

All of this actually ties into the second problem with Squirtbender’s hottake, which is that, at its heart, all of this is rooted in homophobia. The real reason that women athletes have had to cave to pressure to be feminine looking, have had to avoid mentioning same-sex partners, and dodge concerns that playing sports would make them “too mannish” or damage their reproductive potential? Plain ol’ homophobia. All of this was to avoid the athletes being perceived as lesbians, which many of them were (though of course, not all! Another stereotype women athletes have to deal with!).

You see, women have been taught our whole lives that our worth lies in how attractive we are to men. Our entire goal in life is supposed to be to be considered desirable by men. Queer women, and women who present an aesthetic that does not cater to the cishet male gaze, one that is unconcerned with being appealing to men, is the biggest threat to traditional, straight masculinity there is. The idea that women don’t want or need men is terrifying to them. Women who quite literally do. not. want. them. undermine their entire worldview and sense of importance (which, good).

And as WNBA players have had more agency over their own public image, queer players in particular have portrayed an image that feels truer to who they are. The WNBA is the only sports league I know of that centers a decidedly queer, often masculine-of-center aesthetic. It is still a radical act, especially on a public stage, to wear clothing that breaks from traditional gender norms. These women are fucking hot, many of them just happen to not conform to some dude’s idea of what they should look like, which, sorry not sorry bro.

Butch and masculine-of-center women don’t often get to be represented as attractive and desirable in mainstream culture or the public sphere. Meanwhile, queer femmes often have cishet men’s gaze and desire imposed on their femininity and presentation. But at the end of the day, when women step out in clothing or in a profession that divests from everything they’ve been taught they’re supposed to be, they’re sending a message loud and clear to the men of the world: this is not for you. I am not for you.

Gay content from the Wubble this week

Breanna Stewart is starting a podcast; listen to the first episode of Stewie’s World here.

A series of photos of Courtney Williams at the beach? Yes, thank you.

This week’s Brittney and Cherelle Griner content is their adventure cooking gumbo for the first time.

Co-parents DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree played each other this week when the Connecticut Sun took on the Indiana Fever. We stan the competition on the court and collaboration off it.

Megan Rapinoe is continuing her gay Little Edie drag.

Courtney Vandersloot wore gay shoes AND managed to be player of the game on the same day.

Britni is a freelance writer whose work sits at the intersection of sports, gender, & queerness. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, The Atlantic, Vox, and many more.

Britni has written 11 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Damn. I thought those makeup classes were a relic of the AAGPBL type days. I had no idea about the WNBA. Guess I should have figured.

    Thanks for posting the Imani McGee-Stafford tweet. AS is my only real source of social media things, and I’m glad I got to see that response.

  2. I am so glad you are writing for autostraddle now and that autostraddle has regular sports content! I love sports and I love being queer and I love community so it’s always great when there are places that have all three!

    I will always remember how homophobic the WNBA was when it started out and its marketing plan vs the rival and independent ABL was to imply the ABL was too gay and the WNBA was more straight “family friendly” etc. I will always support the players in the WNBA but my feelings about the league itself will always be mixed. (I know they have gotten better, mostly because the players pushed them to be!) Ooh and maybe a look at some of the most badass womens sports couples of all time? Across sports and countries? This has been done before but I always love badass jock couples.

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