anigif_enhanced-buzz-1977-1369859294-34Living under a rock? Then perhaps you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s great profile of Brittney Griner in ESPN-W and ESPN The Magazine in which she says so many awesome things that I have a crush all over again.

Too busy to read? Take a look at Buzzfeed’s piece, “13 Moments Brittney Griner Stole Our Hearts in Her ESPN Profile.”

Wish my school had enough money to bring her here to speak.

The photos don’t hurt, either. No they do not.

otl_griner_02_1600The only distressing part of the profile was the recent behavior of Kim Mulkey, Griner’s old coach at Baylor. I can rationalize but not excuse that behavior. And I’m disappointed because I find Mulkey to be a interesting gender case all her own. Oh well — a girl’s gotta live with the contract she signed with a conservative university. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Women’s basketball phenomenon Brittney Griner has been an out lesbian since her freshman year in high school, but most fans only learned about it after an interview she did last month with Sports Illustrated. Turns out that’s because her university told her to be quiet about it.

Credit: Jeff Wilson

2013-04-15-brittney-griner-3_4_r537_c0-0-534-712She now chalks it up to recruiting — coaches told her that parents wouldn’t let their kids come to Baylor if it appeared this private, religious, conservative university condoned the gay, as she explains in an interview with ESPN.

Because Baylor, which has “affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm,” explains in its sexual misconduct rules that “Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching” and that the university will “strive to deal in a constructive and redemptive manner with all who fail to live up to this high standard.”


Which raises a few interesting questions. First, did anyone at the university ever tell Griner she had “failed” to adhere to their rules for sexual conduct, and seek to “deal” with her? Second, did the university set those standards aside in Griner’s case — because she was, after all, leading the women’s basketball team to glory — but not in the case of other LGBTQ students who, like Griner, are gay in plain sight? And finally, will the public acknowledgment of Griner’s out identity change the anti-gay culture at Baylor, given that people will ask these questions?


For four years now I’ve been a old-fashioned fangirl for Brittney Griner, the basketball standout at Baylor University. And this year I have something kind of amazing to hope for: that she might beat the all-time women’s college basketball scoring record, which has been locked up for twelve years. Griner’s currently holding at #2 as Baylor makes its way through the women’s college basketball version of March madness. If Baylor keeps winning, and if Griner keeps having these amazing scoring nights, she might just beat it.

In 2001 the amazing Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State finished her senior year with a grand total of 3,393 points — blowing away the previous record (Patricia Hoskins of Mississippi Valley State, who had ended her senior year with 3,122 points twelve years earlier). Stiles’ record is all the more impressive because she was a full foot shorter than Griner — at 5’8″, Stiles is the shortest of the 8 women to score over 3,000 points in their college careers.

Brittney GrinerFor Griner to beat Stiles’ record is almost impossible: she needs to score 157 more points, and at best Baylor has only 5 more games left in the tournament. That works out to, on average, about 31 points per game. Whew — 31 points per game. Criminey.

Almost impossible. Or is it?

Don’t you want to know whether she can do it? I do.

So why dontcha watch with me? Baylor is matched up tonight against #8 Florida State — 10pm EST. Let’s follow this one into history.

[By the way: a previous version of this post got the numbers wrong (hey, I wasn’t a math major) — I had thought she had only 4 more games, and hence had to score 40 points per. Correction made!]

Those of you who’ve been following my Griner obsession know that one of the things I find most fascinating is the way she up-ends typical gender expectations. Like when she won the ESPN Female Athlete of the Year award and wore that awesome suit. Or when I wrote about the crazy list of search terms people used to find stories about her on this blog.

(I still get those crazy searches, BTW — every single day. But lately I’ve been extra pleased to see that people are misspelling her last name slightly — they’ve been calling her Brittney Grinder. Which gives me no end of happiness to think that they’re also ending up at Grindr, and that they’re getting a little bit of an education in social networking. [Happy.]

Oh yeah, and this:


I can count on one hand the things I miss about Texas, but oh, what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in the stands to watch Brittney Griner open up a can o’ whoop-ass on her opponents.

Did you see Baylor beat UConn last night? Griner scored her 3,000th career point, placing her in an elite group of only 8 powerhouse women’s basketball stars in history to score so many.


I’ve been marveling at the wonder of Brittney Griner since her first year. At 6’8″ and now in her senior year,  Griner and her amazing teammates — with the god-like names of Brooklyn Pope, Destiny Williams, and Odyssey Sims — barely face any competition anymore. They’ve had a grand total of two serious games this year; and they lost the first one to Stanford back in November, a loss that stunned me and has made them a better team.

All the more reason why this highly-hyped matchup made me shiver with excitement even before it began. Last night when the back-to-#1 Bears faced #3 UConn (long a powerhouse of women’s basketball), they started out alarmingly slow and were close, but still trailing, at the half. Griner had only 4 points at halftime — 4! for a woman who averages 19 per game! — but scored 21 additional points in the second half, crumbling the UConn defense.

So I’m looking at this list of 3,000-point stars and doing the math. Could Brittney move into 2nd place by the end of her senior-year season? (Could she even top Jackie Stiles, who scored 3,393?)


So I got up this morning to discover a radical spike in hits on this blog overnight — which can mean one of two things: either suddenly my nuanced analysis of the South Korean film Poetry has finally found a mass audience, OR basketball star Brittney Griner is in the news.

Sure enough: at last night’s awards show honoring the best athletic performances of the year (called the ESPYs because, shamelessly, they are sponsored by and shown on the sports channel ESPN), Brittney Griner received two awards: Best Female Athlete of the Year and Best Female College Athlete of the Year!

The 6’8″ college junior Griner helped to lead the Baylor women’s team to an undefeated 40-0 season, culminating at the Division I playoffs at which the Bears swatted away other teams like inconsequential flies. They won the final against Notre Dame by 20 points. Not that this was solely Griner’s doing — her team included the spectacularly talented guards, Brooklyn Pope and Odyssey Sims, who like Griner will be back next year to blow the rest of college women’s basketball out of the water.

Now, why are people coming to my obscure little feminist film & pop culture blog for info about Griner? Because they’re doing the same web searches they did when I wrote about Griner during her freshman year, and again during her sophomore year, all of which have to do with her sex/ gender/ orientation:

  • brittney griner a man
  • is brittney griner a man
  • brittney griner girlfriend
  • brittney griner makeover
  • brittney griner in a dress
  • brittney griner gender
  • brittney griner lesbian?
  • is brittney griner xxy
  • brittney griner in regular clothes
  • brittney griner dressed up

And yeah, in response to those posts a number of readers held forth about how she must be something other than a woman — based on nothing except their own notions of how girls are made up of sugar and spice. Based on my own unscientific analysis, I pronounce that Griner provokes extreme sex anxiety in straight people.

The best thing about all this? Griner herself has always been ahead of the curve, in on the joke. She plays with her gender performance all the time, and last night was no exception: she wore a suit. And looked smokin’. And when she bent down to give teensy-tiny 5’2″ actress/ presenter Hayden Panettiere a hug in thanks, Panettiere couldn’t help herself:

Now, what is that look on Panettiere’s face? Is this the B-list actress version of straight-people anxiety about a tall, hot woman in a suit bounding up onstage and giving her a grab? Is she looking for a cheap laugh — to get the audience to giggle with her in shared nervousness? Or was she genuinely flustered/ impressed by Griner’s sex appeal, leading her to overcompensate with the goofiness?

Whatever. I just want to recount a small moment from a talk I attended by the scholar Judith/ Jack Halberstam, whose Female Masculinity is the bible of analysis of gender transgressions by women. During the Q&A session, an anxious woman in the audience asked the brilliant Halberstam a strange, rambling question that amounted to something like, “Do butch women dress this way because they have given up on looking sexually attractive?”

The very butch Halberstam could not have been more kind — or more sexy — in answering with a sly smile on her face. “That has not been my experience,” she said with perhaps a little more thoughtfulness than she required. The obvious fact of Halberstam’s sex appeal, and the weirdness of the woman’s question, led the rest of the audience to laugh. “It has been my experience that femme women and many straight women alike are drawn powerfully to masculine/ butch women,” Halberstam continued. Some ten or fifteen women in the audience proceeded to whoop with approval.

Whooping with approval from my end, I say Brittney Griner is doing her best to upset the male/ female gender binary — which is why I keep writing about her and the weird gender & sex issues our culture seems to have with female athletes.

Also: “I wouldn’t be here without Title IX,” Griner said backstage after winning. Amen. And squeee!

Gentle readers:

There are a few foods that are so perfect as to rank in the “cures all ills” category, and oysters are one of them. Best served with beer and one’s excellent old college friend whose conversation sparkles, along with her fabulous new specs. I am looking into how much more income I will need to eat these every day. Will report back.

Also, thanks to Sociological Images:

In other news: The Hunger Games made $68.3 million on opening day, a new record for a non-sequel, and the fifth highest opening-day box office of all time in the US. Still waiting to hear, obviously, how it does on opening weekend — but this is all good for pushing harder for films with female leads, as I rant about all the time. Stay tuned for my “conversation” with blogger JustMeMike about the film, due to get posted Tuesday (or very late Monday).

And in still other Excellent Ladies news, I hope you’re all following the Brittney Griner news, because I sure am. The Baylor University women’s basketball team — featuring the amazing 6’8″ Griner, who dunks and shoots and blocks alongside her amazing teammates — is rolling ahead in the NCAA tournament with stunning (and what look like easy) wins. They’re now in the Elite Eight and will play Tennessee on Monday night. The fact that I featured a few stories about Griner during her freshman and sophomore seasons means that my blog has had record numbers of hits for the past few weeks. It’s going to be very sad when the tournament’s over and my stats go back down to normal.

In case you’re wondering: yes, all the web searches that lead people to my site still sound like “brittney griner a man?” “brittney griner xxy” or “brittney griner in a dress.” Whatevs — I’ve said my piece about that bullshit.

And finally, I’m off to NYC for an extended research trip and complete immersion into NY film life. Judging by the listings in Time Out, I’m so overwhelmed by possibilities that I’m not sure where to start; the real question becomes, is it actually possible to see more than one film a day? More soon when I get settled into my borrowed apartment, locate a decent bagel and the blackest espresso known to man, and decide which one of the IFC Center’s t-shirts to buy — those t-shirts, that is, which use 1970s metal band imagery to decorate classic directors’ names:

A record number of people came to this blog yesterday. Was it to find my review of La Princesse de Montpensier? To enjoy my appreciation for women with real noses? With the hope that I might have some kind of silly seasonal comments on holiday shoppers (of whom I am very afraid)?

Nope! It was to read my post from last March on Baylor basketball goddess Brittney Grinerand most of them found Feminéma using a variant of the search, is Brittney Griner a man? Glad to have set y’all straight, so to speak!

And why yesterday? Because Griner handed some UConn ass right back to those previously undefeated No. 2s. She had 25 points, 9 rebounds and 9 blocks in a game that saw Baylor overcoming being down by 11 points during the last 13 minutes of the game.

UConn: “Please, ma’am, would you like to hit us some more?”

Now, Griner has amazing games all the time, and posts some phenomenal stats on a regular basis, but you don’t often see a stunning game like this against the No. 2 team in the country, one of the most winningest teams in women’s basketball history. It was Griner’s game, and it was a thing of beauty.

Thus, I pronounce Griner to be La Jefita — the Boss of Baylor Basketball, who’s still only a junior!

Isn’t it interesting that so many would watch this amazing woman and think to themselves, “This woman is blowing so many of my brain cells with her superiority and goddessness that I must do a web search in which I ask, is she secretly a man?”

Whatever. Let’s watch this nifty Baylor video of her from way back in her freshman year. Maybe you’ll start thinking about forming a local goddess cult around her. The Baylor Bears will be back on TV for your viewing pleasure for their Jan. 15 game against the University of Texas (sorry, Longhorns, you haven’t got a chance).

Meanwhile, I’m having fantasies about what I’d be eating if I’d been in Waco for last night’s game: tamales. Oh, December in Texas is a very good time indeed.

I don’t remember exactly when I started watching Chrissie Evert closely, but I’m guessing it was about 1977 or 1978, just about the time that I started to take tennis a little more seriously. It was also about the time that mean girls in my class started to emerge to taunt the rest of us about our clothes, musical tastes, whatever. They lurked, menacingly, in hallways. Chris Evert was my solution.

Evert seemed unmatched at the top during those years, even though women’s tennis was only a shadow of what it would become later. Entire games went by during which the two players simply lobbed the ball, back and forth, endlessly. It was boring, honestly.

Not that it mattered to me: watching Evert play was like watching someone figure out a problem. I was too young to understand her strategy, or what made her win. What I paid attention to was her laser focus, the set of her jaw, the unsentimentality of her play. She never cried or whined or threw her racquet — like a lot of the male players of the day. Neither was she very girly, despite the blonde hair and short skirts. She drove every single one of her emotions into winning games and sets and matches. She never seemed to get distracted by unimportant details. She’d squint her eyes and get down to business.

Watching Evert was therapeutic.

I started playing tennis in 12-and-under tournaments and realized quickly that tennis is full of mean girls, and that tennis is an emotional game. If you were picking up your balls, your opponent might throw one at you so it’d whiz by your face. “Sorry,” she’d say disingenuously. Or she’d interrupt play and waste some time rifling through her bag looking for some chapstick while she caught her breath. Or she might not shake hands after the match, or she’d cry. Plus, it’s really annoying to have someone lob balls at you for an entire game — enough that you get frustrated and make mistakes.

Clearly, Evert’s steeliness was hard-won.

Then, of course, Martina Navratilova came along. She was strong — ridiculously strong — and tall and left-handed, and she played a man’s game, serve-and-volley rather than that feminine baseline game. She was emotional. She was also Czech, which seemed dangerous and scary to my 12-year-old self. She started winning tournaments, and she didn’t stop. (Martina won Wimbledon titles nine times. Nine! as well as nine other Grand Slam titles — tying Chris’s own record.)

I hated her on Chrissie’s behalf. When she started losing matches to Martina, she seemed flummoxed. How do you solve a problem like Martina? It was as if the rules had changed.

Which is exactly what had happened. Evert has spoken many times in recent years about how Martina brought the entire women’s game to a new level because they all realized they had to start getting stronger and smarter. I didn’t know that then, though. I also didn’t know that she and Martina were great friends off the court. I felt myself caught up in Chrissie’s confusion.

Evert got stronger and smarter. She stopped being “Chrissie,” even for me, and was just Chris. The whole women’s game changed, and younger players of all kinds swarmed onto the court. Even my school’s tennis coach had us do weight training.

But what I really learned from Evert was to squint your eyes at the problem — stop getting all weepy-eyed and emotional, and figure it out. It was a subconscious realization for a while. My first Evert-inspired shift came during those tennis tournaments: I decided I would never be bitchy or bratty toward my opponents; in fact, I’d treat them exactly the way I wanted to be treated. I reasoned that whether I won or lost, I didn’t want to dirty myself with the bullshit.

I’m not sure at what point during the horrors of junior high and high school that I consciously realized what I’d learned from watching Evert. At some point I learned that being smart could make up for weaknesses in your game. It was a huge revelation. It sounds facile now, but I became a much better player when I stopped focusing on my opponent’s attempts to annoy me, and more on what I could do to move her around the court till she got tired.

I squinted my eyes and saw around the problem.

Not that the mean girls went away. The worst of them became a terrific tennis player late in high school, accentuating her skills with great use of her capacity for bitchiness. But by then I’d learned a kind of mental toughness that allowed me to set aside her worst behavior. It really didn’t matter that much anymore.

I’ve been thinking lately about how much I learned as a kid by over-identifying with female athletic heroes. I’ve wondered whether tennis taught particular lessons because it’s so personal and emotional and intellectual — as opposed to team sports, which dilute the focus on individuals — or whether young girls in Waco, Texas watch the Baylor women’s basketball team, which includes phenomenon Brittney Griner (whose complex gender performance seems to flummox so many commentators), and learn lessons of their own.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of gender options for girls back in 1977: Farrah Fawcett was probably at the top of a very short list. So you’ll have to take my word for it that Chrissie Evert nevertheless taught me how to be smart, how not to be just a girl, and how to get my mind right for dealing with mean girls. Watching her address the problem of Martina Navratilova helped me figure out problems of my own. Considering the Charlie’s Angels of contemporary television, Evert was mind-blowingly interesting and complex.

What does it mean for girls now to have female athletes as wide-ranging as the fiercely muscled tennis genius Serena Williams, the highly masculine-looking/ gender-bending Griner, the openly gay soccer player Abby Wambach? I wish I were 11 years old and could figure it out on my own — and go on to change the world.

Brittney Griner!

21 March 2011

Apparently if I want to achieve true popularity as a blogger, I’ll stop talking about silent film and focus on women’s basketball phenom Brittney Griner, who’s a sophomore at Baylor. Yesterday 150 people came to this site for Griner alone — and they didn’t get here due to searching for more info about her amazing basketball chops, or even just her physical dimensions (she’s 6’8″, wears a men’s size 17 shoe, and her wingspan stretches to 86″). No, the Google searches that bring people to my site have to do with gender, biological sex, and sexual orientation:

  • brittney griner a man
  • is brittney griner a man
  • brittney griner girlfriend
  • brittney griner makeover
  • brittney griner in a dress
  • brittney griner gender
  • brittney griner lesbian?
  • is brittney griner xxy
  • brittney griner in regular clothes
  • brittney griner dressed up

This isn’t new. Ever since reporting on Griner a couple of times last year I’ve seen searches like this. So the question is, should I get cranky about these searches, or view them with a certain optimism? Should I explode and yell, Do you honestly think that anyone who plays basketball this well must be a man? Do you honestly think that this fact would have slipped by unnoticed by the NCAA, just like Barack Obama’s “Kenyan” birth supposedly slipped by US Constitutional rules?

On the other hand, maybe people read this blog and conclude, “Hey, maybe it doesn’t matter whether she’s XXY or gay or whatever, and I can just focus on thinking she’s awesome!” Or that women search for brittney griner lesbian? because they’re hoping they might have a chance with her. That they look at this image above, which I found last year on her personal website, precisely because it doesn’t try to prettify her according to some Vogue magazine version of sex appeal — instead it shows exactly the kind of female masculinity that Judith/Jack Halberstam discusses (and embodies).

Most of all, searches like this are a reminder to me that women’s sports remains one of those weird zones where a lot of people want to police gender lines and norms for femininity. Get over it, people, and — in the immortal words of En Vogue, free your minds, and the rest will follow. (But damn, remember how much En Vogue traded on their Vogue-ready looks and hotness quotient? Why oh why must it be this way?)

Feminizing female athletes

13 September 2010

When it comes to diagnosing our crazy, conflicted relationship to powerful women, what better subject than female athletes?  These women can kick just about anyone’s ass, yet somehow discussion of their talent now has to include catty comments about their clothes and personalities.  Some athletes themselves seem to get caught up in this, wearing tight designer dresses and improbably small bikinis when playing their sports, makeup, and distracting nail polish, as if to feminize their hard muscles, aggression, and athletic superiority.         

Case in point:  Caroline Wozniacki’s US Open dress (designed by Stella McCartney!) was so tight that it persisted in riding up her butt during each point, requiring vigorous tugging down afterward.  Did it occur to no one that she needed to play tennis in this dress, because she is a world-class athlete, not a pretty plaything?  I vote that McCartney be banned from designing athletes’ dresses until she can be bothered to show that women can move while wearing them.  I became so annoyed by this display that I vented on the phone to a friend that if it’s all about pleasing male TV viewers, they should just make all women tennis players wear bikinis, as in beach volleyball.

But although that comment was intended to be a joke, it wasn’t a joke to the Olympics in 1994 and the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) in 1999, which passed rules that female beach volleyball players had to wear bikinis of a certain skimpiness, while men wore baggy shorts and sometimes t-shirts.  That rule seems to have been relaxed in recent years due to vigorous objections by various international teams.  During the height of this controversy a few competitors, most notably Holly McPeak, shilled for the FIVB by insisting these “uniforms” are both practical and comfortable, but most admit it’s about drawing a large TV audience of men.  Really, “comfortable”? 

And then there’s the makeup, which for me is most objectionable on the girls who participate in international gymnastics.  It’s not just that the makeup and sparkles in their hair makes me wonder what ranking these competitions have amongst pedophiles (whose other favorite show might well be “Little Miss Perfect,” the reality TV show about pre-pubescent girls’ beauty contests).  It’s that these diminutive girl gymnasts are getting the message that if you’re going to compete at the highest level, you’ve got to girl-ify yourself — but for whom?  The judges?  The TV audience?  Please tell me they’ll keep bikinis off gymnasts, at least. 

Finally — and most revealing — are those female athletes who don’t play nice and prettify themselves, but embrace the fact that they’re blazing new ground for gender performance for all of us would-be tomboys.  There’s Brittney Griner, the sophomore basketball star from Baylor University, who decorates her own webpage with this (decidedly un-girlie) photo showing off her 6’8″ lankiness.  If I were to read the message of this photo, I’d say it tells us that she’s going to be sexy on her own damn terms.  (Ahem:  it’s working.)  Yet just last winter the New York Times put an entire article in its sports section asking a series of designers and modeling agents how they might prettify Griner.

Finally — and perhaps most special to my heart — there’s Caster Semenya, the South African middle-distance runner and winner of the gold medal in the 800 meter race at the 2009 World Championships.  After winning last summer, she was forced to undergo a series of tests — mysterious ones at first, as they didn’t explain to her what was going on — to determine whether she was really female.  Despite worldwide controversy over this incident, it took the International Association of Athletics Foundations (IAAF) almost a year to clear her for competition.  (Nota bene: when she was finally cleared, she immediately won two races in Finland.)  Despite having undergone perhaps the most  excruciating and potentially career-killing gender scrutiny of all, Semenya’s race appearances show her to be the super-human being she is.  She’s all about streamlined power and muscles.  I’m sorry, TV viewers, if that doesn’t seem quite feminine enough for you.  Women’s sports doesn’t have to be a site for confirming mainstream notions of femininity, much less pornified notions.  So let me suggest you just get over it.