Editorials and Opinions

A fresh take on the yearly Powderpuff debate

By Aron Milberg
Published: November 2009

I know it is annoying that every year you have to hear someone argue against Powderpuff. You’re probably thinking, “Why can’t you just let us have fun?

Well, the answer is simple: Powderpuff is sexist.

Normally, drag is a subversive break with the norm of gender. In Powderpuff, however, the drag is a mockery of gender, an attack on women. Male cheerleading at the event is a form of drag as well, usually mocking its feminine counterpart as licentious, prissy, and weak.

Meanwhile, the girls play football. And while there is nothing wrong with girls playing football, in this context, it is implied that girls playing football is a reverse of the norm, thus reinforcing the notion that girls are weak, incompetent, and unfit to play.

Changing the name from the mocking term “Powderpuff, which refers to female frivolity in a derogatory manner, to “girls football would make little difference. As we learned in freshmen year English, Powderpuff by any other name still smells as sexist.

Girls should be able to play football whenever they want; there should not need to be a special event that makes a spectacle out of it. It is not an anomaly for someone of the feminine gender to be athletic.

There is no novelty in girls playing sports anymore than there is in boys doing the same. The special significance placed on the event demonstrates the belief, conscious or unconscious, that girls exercising more “masculine qualities of strength, athleticism, force, and stamina is wrong and warrants notice.

But so what? It’s just girls playing football, and they have a good time, right? That, too, is invalid. It completely belies the fact that gender, and specifically gender as it stands in the patriarchy, is just an institution. Moreover, women, the victims of the system, internalize the ideas of male superiority. It isn’t such an unheard of concept; countless studies of slaves and death camp victims demonstrate that victims identify with their masters.

The argument is often made that Powderpuff is justifiable because the girls’ participation is voluntary. But it is important to remember that opportunities for girls to participate in sports, the more “masculine sports especially, are limited. This event allows girls one of those rare opportunities to participate in one of those traditionally masculine sports.

When girls are given the opportunity to do something they have not been able to do before, it is natural that they will want to do it. The point is, the opportunity should have been given before.

In a world where sexual violence is still unfortunately prevalent, and gender dichotomies still have an oppressive skew, it is discouraging that a school like South, which emphasizes equality and tolerance, backs’€both financially and emotionally’€events like Powderpuff that reinforce patriarchal norms and satirize women.

In the interest of equality, feminism, and good athleticism, Powderpuff should be abolished immediately. Girls should be given full opportunity to participate in any sport they choose, whenever they choose, and Powderpuff should be replaced with a more egalitarian school-wide event, like a huge game of capture-the-flag or even a paintball match. Anything would be better.

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