Oops, I did it again—I offended the delicate sensibilities of man-baseball fandom with talk of those pesky domestic abuse allegations and … morals. My qualms about alleged domestic violence claims against Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia have been declared, amongst other gems, “just another lady thinkpiece” (#thanksforthetitle).
Now, dear reader, this is nothing new; I’ve been called all manner of names by the baseball internet before, for “thinkpieces,” as well as historical overviews, draft picks, and purely statistic-based claims. The hardest lesson I’ve learned as a writer/human is that it doesn’t actually matter what the opinion is, it mattes that a woman is having it. (Case in point—the idea that perpetrators of domestic violence and their enablers might not make the best role models should not be a controversial thesis, no math necessary.) Nevertheless, having woken up this morning still a Mets fan and still in possession of a uterus (curses!), I’m going to double down. Presenting: a lady thinkpiece about the MLB’s ban on hazing rookies by dressing them as women.
To be honest, I didn’t really care about players’ propensity to put rookies in dresses, which is to say I hadn’t thought about it all that much. I, too, had internalized the arguments for leaving them be—it’s funny and all in good fun; it occurred outside of game time and therefore (until recently) out of the public eye.
But then I woke up Tuesday morning to a Twitter feed full of (straight white) dudes ranting about the liberal wussification of the sport. In reading their arguments, I realized the reasons for keeping a tradition were mainly misogyny and fear of change couched in the rhetoric of fun and freedom. Consequently, they’re very easy to take down.
So why is a man dressing up as a woman funny in some cases, and offensive in others? Context. Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire—universally beloved. Nathan Lane as Mother Coleman in The Birdcage—hysterical. These instances of drag are imbedded in a narrative and the characters have morally upstanding motiviations for their actions: Williams’ character, an inherently good (if messy) guy, is overwhelmed by love for his children despite a difficult ex and justice system. Lane’s character must subvert gender roles and homophobia so that his son can marry the love of his life. Good reasons. Even more importantly, the characters act with agency—they make conscious choices rather than being forced into action by their groupthink superiors.
Baseball rookies, on the other hand, are dressed up as women as part of hazing rituals. In their new labor deal last Tuesday, the MLB introduced the revamped Anti-Hazing/Bullying policy and the players’ association let it pass—from this mutual agreement we can deduce that both sides consider “hazing” a correct description of the activities at hand. And here’s where it gets tricky:
hazing (ˈhāziNG/) noun, verb: to haze
- the imposition of strenuous, often humiliating, tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training and initiation.
- humiliating and sometimes dangerous initiation rituals, especially as imposed on college students seeking membership to a fraternity or sorority.
The use of the word “imposition/imposed” in both definitions suggests a lack of agency on the part of the rookies. And both definitions also cite “humiliation” as a main goal of hazing. Which begs the question—why is being put in a dress humiliating?
Is it because women are the lesser gender—weaker, submissive? Or is it more a matter of drag’s ties to the LGBTQ community? To be clear, the imposing players themselves don’t have to be actively misogynistic or homophobic (though of course we’ve seen outright cases of both on our own team) to uphold centuries’ old power hierarchies and discriminatory systems of thinking. If being forcibly dressed as a woman is super humiliating, a way to “take a man down a peg,” then it follows that actually being a woman (or effeminate, or in drag, or trans) is humiliating, or inferior to the man dressed in his regular clothes.
Baseball has long had an inclusivity problem—with its dwindling popularity in African-American communities, with its traditions misogyny and lukewarm punishments for domestic violence, with homophobia amongst its players and on the jumbotron, etc. And today’s social media age means there’s no such thing as being a jerk only in private. With respect to the new ban, the MLB cited photos of players dressed as women surfacing on the internet as one of their causes for concern. And rightly so. Slowly they’re learning that if baseball is going to continue to exist, the organization needs to welcome as big and diverse an audience as possible. (So if you’re not much for feminism or ethics—think of the money!) The old generation and its boys’ club proclivities cannot live forever—it’s already shrinking. And given that according to MLB vice president Paul Mifsud, “a number of players have complained about the [hazing],” it appears these attitudes are changing amongst players themselves, too.
Change is hard; change can be sad—we humans are creatures of habit and pattern and tradition, and that’s part of what makes us sports fans in the first place. But change is necessary both on the moral level and for baseball’s bottom line. The internet has forced us to look at what has always been bad, but was just easier to ignore. The hate mail I’ll get for writing this article is proof of that.
Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA Today Sports