Sexual politics has entered the locker room

October 07, 1990|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Susan Reimer is a sportswriter for The Sun.

We are all part of a larger landscape -- even we humble women sportswriters -- and so it is that the controversy over our access to locker rooms has less to do, perhaps, with the First Amendment than it does with the evolving role of women in society.

I don't know. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe the controversy surrounding Lisa Olson and the New England Patriots means that some men are just plain animals and some are just plain bigots and that when they take their clothes off it is just plain hard to tell the difference.

But something tells me that such incidents do not happen in vacuum. That perhaps what happened to Ms. Olson and Denise Tom of USA Today, who was barred from the Cincinnati Bengals locker room by head coach Sam Wyche out of some misguided sense of paternalism, has to do with a huge pendulum swing in how women are viewed in this country.

I cannot offer any sociological theories here, or andemographics. But the hair on the back of my neck stands up every time I read about these kinds of incidents, and it has less to do with my feminist outrage than it does with some eerie, frightening sense that the clock is ticking backward for women.

The Supreme Court and Roe vs. Wade. The death of affirmativaction. Rape, spousal rape, wife abuse, sexual exploitation of children. Even the contrived and illusory "war" between working moms and stay-at-home moms.

All of these things point to a backlash against women and the ground they gained, the changes they made, the rights they earned for themselves in the 1960s and 1970s.

Am I wrong, or is a pattern starting to develop here? Perhaps what happened to Ms. Olson is just a red flag in this time line of events.

What New England Patriots player Zeke Mowatt apparently did in shaking his penis in Olson's face was beyond rude and indecent. It was absolutely primal. It was a taunt so base -- and so basic -- that I am simply too terrified to plumb its depths.

And what Victor Kiam, the New England Patriots owner, did isaying that such an incident was a "fly speck in the ocean" was nothing less than an institutional endorsement of Mr. Mowatt's instincts.

I'm sorry, but that is scary.

Don't get me wrong. I am not afraid to go into an NFL lockeroom. In 12 years as a sportswriter, I have had experiences in locker rooms that have made me sick, made me cry and caused me to stay in bed with my covers over my head for, literally, days.

But it is part of my job, and I am not afraid to do my job.

What does frighten me is this: How do I prepare my 4-year-old daughter for this world? If it is spinning backward for women now, at what point will it be when she is ready to take her place in it?

When she arrived, I thought it would be easy. Just follow in my footsteps, sweetheart. Mom already fought all these battles, see? The road is clear for you.

But the road is no longer clear, and I am too frightened to look toward the horizon. Because it isn't the horizon anymore; it is the past. And it is gaining on me.

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