Saturday, January 22, 2011

A tale of two kinds of voyeurism: the bad kind (when Erin Andrews was victimized), and the kind no one cares about (when thousands of male athletes were victimized)

Erin Andrews Nude Video: A Symbol of Female Oppression

In July, 2009, a major news story broke when a video surfaced on the Internet showing attractive ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews in the nude. Ms. Andrews had been surreptitiously videotaped without her knowledge or consent through a hotel peephole.

The story became not just an international sensation that was featured in every major news daily and on shows ranging from Oprah to Bill O’Reilly and pretty much everything in between, it also became a symbol of the way women purportedly are commonly violated and men aren’t. The gender police used the incident to tie the felonious act of a dysfunctional voyeur to the way “women on television are judged for not just what they know but what they look like.” See here. The fact that there is, of course, no such valid connection between the two is beside the point.  In any event, saying that women are judged on their looks conveniently ignores the elephant in the room: Erin Andrew’s appeal to her mostly male audience is largely attributable to her indisputable beauty.

The feminist blogosphere was atwitter. Jessica Valenti wrote: “A lot of people have been talking and writing about Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who had a video taken without her knowledge – of her walking around a hotel room naked. Both FOX and CBS news have featured clips or pictures of the video and it’s a top Google Search right now.. . . Folks want to watch this – and people find it interesting – precisely because Erin Andrews didn’t know she was being filmed. And that reveals something really fucked up about the way American culture views women. That what we consider hot or sexy, is looking at naked pictures of women without their consent.” See here.  It never occurred to Valenti that a lot of people consider it hot and sexy to look at naked young men without their consent.  That doesn't fit the narrative.

The man who took the video was convicted. Ms. Andrews fumed that the court should not take mercy on the him: "I want him to stay in jail as long as possible," she said. "He's a threat to women everywhere. . . . I don't want somebody else's career to be ruined by this." See here.  He was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment. See here.

Thousands and Thousands of Naked Male Athletes

Of course, most of us have heard all about the Erin Andrews affair. But how many of us have heard about the unauthorized videotapes made of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of naked male athletes at a wrestling tournament weigh-in and in locker rooms shot at several sporting events in the in the mid-to-late 90s?

This is how the New York Times described it: “Without their knowledge, the athletes were videotaped at urinals, at showers or weighing in unclothed at competitions. No camera was ever in open view, the students said. The tapes were made by employees or students working for video companies. Posing as athletic trainers, they were able to slip into the locker rooms carrying hidden cameras in gym bags.” See here.  Their faces are shown, so it’s not difficult to identify them. See here.  One of the violated athletes who saw one of the tapes conceded: "I could pick out everyone on the team and everyone on the other teams." See here.

A handful of the athletes who learned that their naked bodies were being used for erotic commerce sued the producers and marketers of the tapes. Their attorney, Louis S. Goldstein, got his hands on eight tapes, and he noted that there were many more out there. Read Mr. Goldstein's chilling quotation carefully: ''I know that we have at least 1,000 kids on eight tapes. There are many more tapes than eight, and usually there may be from 5 to 10 schools on each tape. This could eventually involve thousands and thousands of college athletes shown naked and being marketed and distributed world wide on videos and on the Web.'' See here.

What do you suppose would be the reaction if 1,000 young female college athletes were videotaped naked without their consent?  Isn't it a reasonable assumption that it would be considered a landmark news story, and an iconic symbol of women's oppression, bigger than Lorena Bobbitt and Crystal Mangum (when she was still regarded as a "victim")?

The revelation about these tapes didn’t startle Todd Crosset, a sports-management professor at the University of Massachusetts with expertise in college sports sexuality issues. This was merely an escalation of a practice that is not unheard of, Crosset said. "People have been aware of videotaping in locker rooms and [are] sometimes suspicious of what individuals were doing with cameras," he said. See here.

If you think the young men were flattered by the attention, or that their victimization was somehow less important, less traumatic, or less humiliating than Erin Andrew’s, you’d be wrong: '''I pulled up the home page and I am looking at myself naked on the Internet,' said [one] former athlete, who spoke on the condition that neither his name nor his sport be identified. 'And everyone in the world has access to it. My parents have seen it now, and they are very upset. It is terrible because I have no control over it.’'' See here.  One of the athletes, who spoke at a news conference from behind a screen said: "It's extremely violating. It's kind of like a lifelong illness."  See here.

Unlike the Andrews case where everyone knew that a wrong had been committed, no one seemed so certain in the case of the male athletes: “Within the legal community, there is a debate on what criminal laws were violated, if any.” See here.

Some 46 athletes, just a fraction of the young men violated, sued the producers and marketers in a class action and were awarded a $506 million.  See here. It seems unlikely any were able to recover on the judgment since the companies were not legitimate to begin with. The incidents did not lead to any criminal prosecutions.

No More Nude Weigh-Ins

In fact, in the age of cellphones, video voyeurism is a major concern at male wrestling weigh-ins, at both the high school and college level.  Until very recently, weighing-in nude was a common practice in both.  This custom was not a manifestation of perversity or a macho narcissism; rather, it was the product of a very competitive sport where a fraction of a pound can be crucial to victory or defeat.  Unfortunately, the slow parade of nude athletes waiting their turn presented a golden opportunity for video voyeurs. Mainly due to privacy issues, in 2009, the NCAA enacted a rule change that wrestlers must weigh in wearing briefs, boxers or a competition singlet. Last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations ruled that competitors must weigh in wearing "suitable" undergarments to cover the buttocks and groin. See here

Young athletes looking to do nothing more than make weight were thus punished by a rule change telling them to cover up, all because there are some sick video voyeurs out there.  Funny, I heard no one use the term "victim blaming" here.

While privacy issues were important to these rules changes, they weren't the only concern.  Can you guess the other concern? Yep: the NCAA cited "the increased number of female athletic trainers, doctors and administrators" as a reason to force the male athletes to cover their genitals. The National Federation of State High School Associations justified the rule change by noting, among other things: ". . . the rule accommodates female doctors and athletic trainers doing skin checks on males and vice versa so as 'not to exclude some of those people.'" Id. (The "vice versa seems gratuitous, since the vast majority of high wrestlers are male.) 

So, you see, the naked weigh-in custom was just another form of female oppression.

Who Merits More Attention: One Hot ESPN Blond or Thousands and Thousands of Violated Male Athletes?

The question posed in the sub-heading scarcely survives its statement.

In fact, neither incident should be used to teach "gender" lessons. These stories merely illustrate that both men and women are victimized by dysfunctional criminals, but neither gender has a monopoly on victimization to crime (the fact is, men are victimized by strangers far more than women). But that doesn't stop people from assuming any time a woman is victimized, the incident holds wider "gender" lessons about female oppression.  Erin Andrews' violation became an international issue; a hand-wringing talking point on the feminist blogosphere; and a symbol of an entire gender's purported oppression. 

In contrast, the violation of a staggering number of male athletes was little publicized and quickly forgotten; no one suggested it was symptomatic, in any way, shape, or form, of oppression of males as a class; and it generated no outrage beyond the outrage from the young men violated and their families.

The lesson was that young male wrestlers really ought to cover up, because there are women present.