feminism

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman delivers her impact statement during the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who pled guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault. (Photo by Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP)

For most of January 2018, one of the worst sexual abuse scandals ever in sports dominated the news cycle, as former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, more than 100 sexual abuse victims testified about the predatory environment Nassar had created. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman delivered an awe-inspiring 13-minute testimony that received national praise. Raisman, who identified herself as a powerful voice and advocate for all victims of sexual abuse, embodied the persona of feminist advocate and champion for abuse victims. However, Raisman’s credibility as a feminist advocate has come into scrutiny in light of her decision to pose – for the second time – for the 2018 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This case raises several questions: Can Raisman still be considered a feminist advocate in light of her choice to pose for a sexist, white, heteronormative, and objectifying magazine feature? Where is the line between empowerment and objectification? As a rhetoric scholar, I am interested in how both Raisman’s traditional form of activism (public address) and her embodied rhetoric are compatible feminist discourses. My purpose is to explain Raisman’s multi-modal activism through the lens of feminist rhetorical criticism – highlighting the concept of “power feminism” – in order to complicate what feminist sports scholars and hosts of the Burn It All Down podcast call the “Sports Illustrated swimsuit conundrum.”

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As shown on these scorecards, women are continually reminded that they are “ladies” in the sport of golf. (Photo by Jane Stangl)

I am golfer, and people often ask, “since when?,” or “for how long?” I can’t answer that accurately, and my response is generally, “since my aunt took me out on early summer mornings when I was a youngster.” Seven years old? Maybe nine or ten—I’m not sure. But I do recall my Red Ball Jets being thoroughly saturated by the morning dew. My aunt loved to play, and I loved it too. The etiquette, she reminded me often, was what really mattered. Little did I realize back then just how much that etiquette, especially as it relates to being a “lady,” would speak to my place in the larger world.

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