Can We Leave The Sexism Out When Talking About Misty Copeland?

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I thought that Friday’s WSJR segment with Gordon Deal was going to be about Misty Copeland bringing more diversity into the Ballet world, as his tweet announced. But the segment ended with sexist comments about Misty and other female dancer’s bodies. How did that happen? 

Friday, The Wall Street Journal released this article about American Ballet Theatre Misty  Copeland, soloist ballerina being the face of Project Plié. This project is ABT’s initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and to diversify America’s ballet companies.

Misty, a black woman who made it to the front rows of ABT where female dancers are mostly white, is a role model for youth who come from different racial and cultural backgrounds.  Her Dr. Pepper commercial was inspiring:

So, given Misty’s career, and the possibilities that ABT’s diversity project opens up, why did the WSJR host have to focus on Misty and other female dancer’s bodies and looks for the entire last segment. I felt that such focus was unfair, demeaning the hard work of female dancers, and entirely missing the point of the theme of the talk, which was about inclusion.

To quote Gordon:

“This is gonna sound sexist, but I’m gonna say it anyway. She is unbelievably good looking, do good looks help?”

Well Gordon, thanks for clarifying your position as sexist before you make a sexist comment. I understand your comment as saying that only through favoritism based on looks rather than work and commitment, a woman of color made it as a soloist for ABT. Further, I understand your comment to imply this: Had she not been “good looking” she would have not made it to the front rows. I hope I’m wrong.

But more sad was Pia Catton’s response to Gordon’s comment. She might have been caught off guard, but it was a little upsetting that she went along with this, as her response just perpetuates an endless cycle of sexism ingrained both in men and women:

“Their costumes are beautiful, their bodies are beautiful, even if their faces don’t appeal to you…”

And, last but not least, here is Gordon, admitting how he checks out ladies in short skirts who have “dancer’s calves”:

“These ballet dancers! You can spot them in a crowd wearing a short skirt. Those calve muscles.”

Maybe Gordon is a soccer coach and just doesn’t get Ballet. But as a listener, I wanted to hear more about how underrepresented youth will be introduced to this art form, how it will give different audiences a chance to experience dance, and about Misty being a great role model because of her career and hard work, not because of her looks. Instead, I learned that dancers who wear skirts have calve muscles. Thumbs Down.

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