The Sex of Sports

runningIn her Festival talk on the role of gender in sports, UB Professor of History Susan Cahn will discuss the evolving cultural image of the female athlete. Once considered “masculine” intruders in a male realm, women athletes were long characterized as “mannish amazons.”  For more than a century, women have had to fight for the right to compete in athletic competitions and be taken seriously as competitors.

Now, in high school and college, women’s participation rates are approaching parity with their male peers.  But old stereotypes linger and many doubt that women can ever be “equal” to men in sports. For example, in the wake of the US women’s soccer team’s victory at the world cup, there have also been reports about the horrible playing conditions that the athletes were forced to compete in and the outrageous pay gaps between female and male soccer players. Even at the highest levels, female athletes still garner less respect than male athletes.

Susan Cahn’s presentation, which will be held on September 26th from 3—4pm at Ketchum Hall, will examine the history of women’s sports in the United States to explore the many ways gender, sexuality, and sports intersect.  This history offers surprising insights about today’s sports world and the struggles that female athletes still face.

At the University at Buffalo, Susan Cahn teaches U.S. history, women’s history, and the history of sexuality.  She recently published Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Sport (2nd edition). In this edition of her book, “Susan K. Cahn updates her detailed history of women’s sport and the struggles over gender, sexuality, race, class, and policy that have often defined it. A new chapter explores the impact of Title IX and how the opportunities and interest in sports it helped create reshaped women’s lives even as the legislation itself came under sustained attack.” If you’re interested in reading it in advance of the Festival, you can get a copy here.

Proudly Presenting Jimmy Janowski!

Janowski dragJimmy Janowski is Buffalo’s foremost interpreter of gender bending roles, and we’re delighted to have him present at this year’s Buffalo Humanities Festival! On Saturday, Sept. 26th from 3—4pm at the Burchfield Penney Auditorium he will discuss his life in drag. Working with the avant-garde theater collective, Buffalo United Artists, Janowski has recreated female heroines from such film classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and The Birds, Imitation of Life, and The Poseidon Adventure.  In this Festival session, Janowski will talk about his career of tapping into the Golden Age of gay screen icons. The discussion will be moderated by theater critic Anthony Chase, Assistant Dean of Arts and Humanities at SUNY Buffalo State.

Artvoice has featured articles on Janowski many times throughout his career, but if you aren’t yet familiar with his work, this interview by Anthony Chase will get you up to speed.

When asked by Chase what defines a Jimmy Janowski role, Janowski has this to say:

“Especially for gay people who had always veered toward the highly emotional and dramatic Susan Hayward and the Bette Davises, the early ’60s brought us a different kind of heroine . . . For me, there is burning hot emotion inside of Tippi Hedren’s cool veneer. I never really believed that Grace Kelly was vulnerable—not ever. I bet a lot of gay men feel the same way. We love her, but I would be surprised if any gay man chose Grace Kelly as a role model. Straight men love her. Susan Hayward? Gay men love her and straight men don’t even remember who she was! Not at all. She was a volcano waiting to erupt in films like I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Valley of the Dolls, and I Want to Live. I gravitate toward volcanic women who confronted incredible adversity, but with enormous emotion. Almost like Anna Magnani in their intensity.”

Janowski’s latest theater production, Bette and Joan: The Final Curtain, opens on July 24th at the Alleyway’s Main Street Cabaret and will run until August 16th. Get your tickets now and don’t miss this chance to see Jimmy Janowski at his best!

The Buffalo News calls Jimmy Janowski “One of the funniest men performing on Buffalo stages!”  He has been delighting local audiences with his “gender bending” characters for over twenty years.  The recipient of several Artvoice “Artie” awards, Janowski was named “Favorite Actor” by Buffalo Spree in 2013. Don’t miss out on what will surely be an entertaining and enlightening talk!

The Real Eunuchs of Constantinople

Byzantine mosaicTo counter the popular belief that gender-bending is a relatively modern-day phenomenon, Prof. John Arnold will give a talk on Saturday, Sept. 26th from 3—4pm in Ketchum Hall at SUNY Buffalo State about the history of non-binary gendered people, particularly the eunuchs of Constantinople.  Eunuchs formed a visible and powerful group in the ancient city.

Castrated men such as Eutropius and Narses held high political and military positions even though they were deprived of the prime markers of male authority, the ability to penetrate and impregnate.  As such, eunuchs stood opposed to the uncut male bodies that normally wielded power.  Eunuchs were dangerously exposed to political opponents who construed their absent genitalia as signs of femininity and who used misogynistic language to marginalize eunuchs as “queer.”

If you want to read up on your history before Prof. Arnold’s talk, here’s a quick primer for you. According to the article,

“The Byzantine empire was a melting pot of East and West, with the Eastern Orthodox church reigning supreme and influencing almost all aspects of people’s lives, while the pagan elements from the time when Emperor Constantine relocated Rome to Byzantium as an intended new capital for the Roman empire, provided for an interesting and strange mixture of pious and fanatical Orthodoxy with a simultaneous exploration of ancient thought and lifestyle. As might be expected in such a situation there were many contrasts within the empire’s way of life and belief-system, the Byzantine eunuch being one of these.”

Prof. Arnold’s talk will also counter the common-held belief that the Middle Ages were somehow ignorant or backwards in regards to many of the values we hold today. In the battle for gender equality and LGBTQ rights, we often hear proponents of reform accuse conservatives of “trying to bring us back to the Middle Ages” when in fact these statements do a great injustice to history.

John Charles Arnold is Associate Professor of History at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses on the ancient and medieval worlds.  His research concerns angel veneration in early Christianity and the sanctuary of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.