There's one thing I'm not thrilled about, however: the fact that the World Cup craze, in addition to fueling enthusiasm for soccer, has also intensified the Chilean media's already pervasive objectification of women. Television channel Canal 13 -- owned by Chile's Catholic University -- provided ample evidence of this the other day. Around lunchtime, Canal 13 camera crews set up and broadcast impromptu pep rallies in the Plaza de Armas, downtown Santiago's central square, and the La Vega food market. The group that gathered in the Plaza de Armas was almost exclusively male -- except, that is, for the women who paraded through the crowd in tight, tiny outfits based on the national flags of World Cup teams. Within seconds, the men in the crowd had transitioned from jumping and cheering for the Chilean team to leering and whistling at the group of women. I remember watching one woman -- probably freezing in the winter cold in her crop top and short skirt -- maintaining her smile as one of the men repeatedly tried to grab and kiss her. No one tried to stop him.
When the show cut to the rally outside La Vega, I was pleased to see that the women present -- who appeared to be market workers -- were participating as fans and not as eye candy. Oh, how wrong I was. Before long, these women too were urged to parade in front of their male counterparts to garner applause.
I couldn't watch anymore. I didn't need to. The message was clear: The only place for women at a sports-related event is as entertainment for men. We're obviously not there to support our team; we're there to be oggled. Not only that: Treating women as sex objects, segments like this imply, is a natural and even necessary part of being a sports fan.
But Canal 13 didn't stop there. Later that night, the talk show Tonka Tanka -- presided over by the generally well-respected and well-liked female host Tonka Tomicic -- featured a group of women in loin cloths performing a dance to the official song of this year's World Cup, Shakira's "Waka Waka." Obviously, sexism was only one of the objectionable elements involved here.
And it's not just TV. As one might expect, the mannequins in department store display windows here are decked out to support La Roja. While both male and female mannequins sport the national team's jersey, the way in which they wear it is frequently very different. The plastic men wear it the way the players do; comfortably loose. The plastic women, on the other hand, wear it hiked up to reveal their stomachs, pulled tight across their chests and knotted in back. And, of course, the ensemble wouldn't be complete without a pair of jeans unzipped to reveal -- that's right -- La Roja underwear.
See, ladies? You can be soccer fans, too! Just make sure you're sexy ones.
In no way do I believe that the female body is something to be ashamed of and covered up. What I do have a problem with is the objectification of women's bodies for mass consumption. And that is exactly what the World Cup media blitz is doing in Chile. Aside from the fact that sex indeed sells, this can be explained -- I believe -- by the male-dominated culture surrounding soccer here. The next time you walk past a pickup game or kids' soccer clinic at a Chilean park, check out the gender of the participants. If I had 100 pesos for every woman (myself excluded) I've seen taking part . . . I'd be poor. Men here are expected to be into soccer; although there are female fans and players (the latter of whom receive a miniscule amount of media attention in comparison to their male counterparts), the same expectation does not apply to women. Case in point: When my (male Chilean) roommate and I sat down to have a drink with our three new (male Chilean) roommates, one of the latter asked him if he liked soccer but didn't address the same question to me. A Chilean TV commercial I recently saw reinforces this stereotype: A woman gets increasingly frustrated while struggling to understand soccer before finally deciding she doesn't care. Lucky for her and women everywhere, this channel didn't get the rights to broadcast World Cup games and will be showing programs that won't make our pretty little heads explode.
It's far from shocking that the male-dominated -- and heteronormative -- universe of Chilean soccer fandom would incorporate women on its own terms: as objects of the male gaze. Which, in the end, is what soccer itself is perceived to be.
Sorry, Canal 13. I, for one, will be watching Chile's games in a red T-shirt. And I'm not going to knot it above my belly button.
I'm well aware that sports-related sexism is not limited to Chile. This ad proves as much. Therefore, I'd be interested to hear what people living both here and in other countries have to say on this topic. Please share your thoughts in the comments!