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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Masculinity in FS and FT

Over a decade ago, during the height of all the Tanya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan hoopla and the rising dominance of Michelle Kwan, my friend did her theater-major Ph.D. thesis on femininity in the figure skating culture. She is now a figure skating judge (they're all volunteers).

It seems that good ideas often come to me in showers. As I did this morning I suddenly realized that I'm fascinated by masculinity in the figure skating culture. How did I get to this thought? I traced my thoughts back to last night. I was looking up a folk tale and stumbled upon "Iron Hans" in Grimms's fairy tales (type 502 in the Aarne-Thompson system). In the early 1990s, the story became the basis of a men's self-help movement started by the poet Robert Bly known as "Iron John."

How does this relate to figure skating? I came upon the realization that figure skating is perhaps one of the few places in sports where masculinity, as it is represented, is ambiguous, diverse, and complex, while most other competitive sports present masculinity in a linear way: more versus less, win versus loss, or dominance versus surrender. This is perhaps because figure skating is not a "pure" competitive sport, but rather a mixture of performance and competition of physicality and athleticism. There is a constant tension in figure skating between the performance and the athleticism that divide not only fans but also the judges and rule-makers.

I read the Iron John story and it is curiously not about the competition among men or dominance of women. I need to look into it some more.

It is figure skating that has taught me the diversity and complexity of masculinity, instead of the reductionist and linear view that controls the American social culture, which I think is incredibly idiotic. Masculinity is not at all simple and deserves more extensive study.

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