Davis, Laurel R. (1997) The Swimsuit Issue and Sport : Hegemonic
Masculinity in Sports Illustrated.
Subject of book
the first chapter of the book,
two is a historical sketch of the swimsuit issue, its evolution over the last
three decades, changing from a travel and fashion feature that only hinted at
the models sexuality in the 1960’s to a more explicit representation of sexual
meaning (“pin-up material”) in later years.
Davis, in chapter 3, describes how the consumers interpret the words and photos of the swimsuit issue and identifies the readers at whom the magazine is aimed (the “ideal readers”). Here Davis discusses how the elements of the texts, production, consumption, and the wider societal context all work together to produce a basic agreement over the content of the swimsuit issue; women’s bodies, femininity, ideal beauty and (hetero) sexuality; and the ideal readers; men.
four is an articulation of the strands of the debate over the sexual and
gendered meanings of the swimsuit issue. Almost
all consumers see sex and sensuality as themes in the swimsuit issue; what
differs among consumers is the extent to which they see the photographs as
portraying sexuality and the degree to which they approve, tolerate or
disapprove of the issue. This
Chapter four is an articulation of the strands of the debate over the sexual and gendered meanings of the swimsuit issue. Almost all consumers see sex and sensuality as themes in the swimsuit issue; what differs among consumers is the extent to which they see the photographs as portraying sexuality and the degree to which they approve, tolerate or disapprove of the issue. This chapter exemplifies
preceding four chapters lay the groundwork for the crucial fifth chapter where
seven, eight and nine are examinations of how the swimsuit issue’s
representations of gender (seven), race (eight), and inhabitants of post
colonized countries (nine) all serve the interests of hegemonic masculinity.
In each case, such representations symbolically reaffirm the superiority
of hegemonic masculinity.
the concluding chapter,
In the concluding chapter,
are contradictions in the book thus it is unclear whether hegemonic masculinity
is intended as a term that participants use, or Davis’ own analytic concept
(or both). Sometimes she conflates
the two levels implying that hegemonic masculinity is a concept that producers
actually have a prior awareness and understanding of, and that they work towards
this goal. This we are told that ‘Sports
Illustrated producers attempt to increase their profit by fashioning Sports
Illustrated to be a magazine about hegemonic masculinity rather than a
sports magazine’ (p.117). Such
statements clash awkwardly elsewhere with assertions that “I do not think that
Sports Illustrated producers
consciously pursue content that reflects the theme of hegemonic masculinity’
(p.61), and that ‘most consumers do not explicitly link the swimsuit issue to
the 1960’s, men began to feel threatened by women demanding equality.
It was during this period of a widespread masculinity crisis in U.S.
culture that Sports Illustrated
exploited men’s anxiety level by increasing coverage of hard sports, mostly at
the professional level (football, basketball and boxing) as opposed to soft
sports (tennis, golf and swimming). This
the military or interpersonal violence, “sports” is a masculine preserve
where men can symbolically exercise power and domination.
Sport holds out the prospect of intimate, touching, homosocial, and
indeed homosexual relations between men. Given
this homosocial nature of sports, one of the few arenas where men are permitted
to touch each other and to admire male bodies, the swimsuit issue of Sports
Illustrated especially exists to reinforce heterosexuality and hegemonic
is the purpose of the swimsuit issue as a vehicle in American society?
book essentially examines the issues of power.
Davis demonstrates how masculine views of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual
orientation and nationalism inflect the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and how these dominant relations
intersect to produce the audience to which the issue is aimed; white, affluent
heterosexual males of Euro-American descent.
The issue represents and perpetuates, not only sexism, but also
heterosexism, racism and ethnocentrism. Constructions
of hegemonic masculinity are made on the backs of, first, people of color
(through the perpetuation of the white, blonde, "ideal" woman), and,
then the symbolic dominance of the feminized post colonized other, often as
exotic backdrops to adventures, fantasies, and tests of manhood.
interested in exploring the social meanings of the swimsuit issue, why it is so
popular with some people and so unpopular with others,
Sports Illustrated is concerned, we
also learn that in addition to the flagrant (although predictably denied) use of
female sexuality to sell copy, attract advertising dollars, and secure a largely
male audience, the magazine has over the years adopted numerous proactive and
reactive strategies to maximize profit. These strategies include hiring models
who are perceived to symbolize a particular brand of "femininity," or
what producers and models describe as "wholesomeness" and the
"girl-next-door" look (p. 35)--a claim made all the more absurd by the
fact that the pictures are routinely touched up to remove any unwanted fat,
hair, wrinkles, and so on. The strategies also include fanning the flames
between supporters and critics of the issue by publishing their often
aggressively articulated letters side by side on the editorial pages.
has different opinions on the swimsuit issue, and Sports Illustrated itself seems to encourage these varying points of
views, perhaps in and of themselves a form of publicity.
Most of the producers and consumers interviewed agree that the display of
women’s bodies and representations of (hetero) sexuality have been central
themes in the swimsuit issue since its inception, but there the consensus ends.
Even feminists split themselves along ideological lines.
Liberal heterosexual feminists ask only that Sports
Illustrated give them some images of male models in swimsuits, while more
radical feminists call upon the magazine to stop engaging in the sexual
objectification of women that they see as inherently oppressive.
I tend to agree with
For some time now, researchers have highlighted the
differential treatment of male and female athletes in the sports media, both in
terms of the amount of coverage each receives, and with respect to the nature of
the coverage itself. Many of these studies conclude that the sports media play a
central role in constructing and perpetuating gender inequality, and maintaining
an ideology of dichotomous sex differences. For example, broadcasters often
refer to women as ‘ladies’, which portrays them as delicate, or ‘girls’
which infantilizes them. Men, on the other hand, are hardly ever referred to as
gentlemen’ or ‘boys’. Sport
itself polices the limits of appropriate masculinity and femininity, which is
officially legitimated with the sex-testing of Olympic athletes and the division
of sport into men’s and women’s events. Women who subvert gender norms in
and through sport – by developing and displaying an athletic, muscular body
– are often ridiculed as not ‘proper’ women, and labeled as ‘butch’ or
‘dykes’. Any analysis of how gender inequalities are displayed, justified
and legitimated in sports texts, then, is of central importance, not only to the
sociology of sport, but also to feminist debates around essentialist and
constructionist theories of sex and gender. The Swimsuit Issue and Sport offers
an examination of the discursive textual construction of the gender order in and
through sport, and thus represents an important contribution to this body of
more broadly; to be a Hegemon, a “state” must have three attributes:
The Capability to enforce the rules of the system;
The Will to do so;
A Commitment to a system which is perceived as mutually beneficial
to the major states.
Applying this to masculinity
and gender relations, both in the past and currently, men have certainly had all
concept of hegemonic masculinity was created to replace the concept of
man’s role. There are masculinities which are subordinate to the
hegemony of some men, such as young and gay men. The concept allows us to see
masculinity as a structure of social relationships, not a static role. Hegemonic
masculinity is maintained with social norms and structures. Heterosexism is one
of the essential parts of hegemonic
masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a cultural construction, and it is largely
constructed in the public. One is
left wondering after reading this book whether there will always be a hegemonic
form of masculinity even if society reaches a situation of more equitable gender
does not require a complete demolition of hegemonic masculinity
to democratize gender
The many forms of patriarchal ideology point to many ways of contesting it--in
sexual life, in mass media, in the workplace, in formal politics, in
conversation, in raising children. If conventional gender is an
"accomplishment"--something made by the way we conduct ourselves, then
we can certainly accomplish something better.
our current social arrangements women are, as a group, massively disadvantaged;
and men as moral and political agents ought to be involved in changing that. In
the long run, the democratization of gender will require profound social change,
and the dismantling of conventional masculinities. Many of the conventions of
such as restraining one's emotions and always trying to dominate in a conflict
are outrageously inappropriate in the care of young children. We can recognize
this, without expecting most men to swallow the dose in one gulp. The alliance
politics that has begun to emerge in some settings has the possibility of making
worthwhile gains in the short run, while building up the experience and
imagination needed for the dangerous moves that finally have to be made.
given that patriarchy (and hegemonic views of masculinity) is a historical
structure, not a timeless dichotomy of men abusing women, it will be ended by a
historical process. The strategic problem is to generate pressures that will
culminate in the long run in a transformation of the structure.
Will the swimsuit issue go away? Not
until society itself goes through some basic changes, and I doubt that I will
see those changes in my lifetime.