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Why Female Ice Skaters Suck and Female TV Characters Rock

By Mary Ladd

The Problem

Every winter season kicks up a new crop of prime-time ice skating specials like Ice Wars, knee-bashing good times and back flips for the asking. Now, I'm no skating critic, but since the latest proliferation of skating-as-entertainment took over a chunk of last winter's programming, I feel obliged to comment on this issue. Women skaters suck. They're boring. Men have cornered the market on bravado, it would seem. And they have a monopoly on a strong sense of self, as well.

Even the chicks with chutzpah are far below par when it comes to putting on a good show. I blame the idealized portrait of a frou-frou female ice skater they must aspire to, the perfect figure-8 ice princess. Don't they know our GenerationX-ified, brave-new-world, liberated girrrl finds this kind of fragile character obsolete? Their ornately sequined show-frocks are complicated. Unfortunately, their performances are not. I'm very curious to know what kind of severe pressure from coaches, parents, the weird tribe of skating itself, forces a woman skater into being typically graceful and frilly? Even gutsy broads like Kristy Yamaguchi and Katarina Witt are dull. Katarina has attitude for sure, and Kristy has done some creative, often beautiful performances (her recent "duet" with Sarah Brightman was noteworthy). But they don't compare to the Kurt Brownings and Brian Boitanos of this skating world. And the answer to a hyper-graceful, cliche femininity isn't a hyper-buff cliche masculinity (Elvis Stojko) which is just as boring. It takes an interesting program, some originality.


What women skaters need to do

  • Make eye contact with the audience/or judges, be cheeky.
  • Have a sense of humor. In your outfit.
  • Have a little attitude. And flaunt it.
  • Hold the audience in the palm of your hand.
  • Be a little creative with your numbers. No more ballerina schlock.

Kurt Browning is a good example of everything above. His performances have panache! His tribute to Gene Kelly and Singin' In The Rain was brilliant. His ode to Disco another electrifying show stopper. Brian Boitano, although his self-abusing perfectionism is off-putting, his throwback numbers occasionally dull and his Kerriganisms duly stiff, scores high with breathtaking creativity, namely the routine he did while skating with a red chair. Even Scott Hamilton, for all his Aerosmith and back-flipping, is an inspiring skater's skater and his personality is endearingly captivating. He works a crowd well.

Speaking of back-flipping and physio-technics, both Surya Bonaly and Tonya Harding are guilty of hiding behind athletics. Speaking of Tonya Harding, the dull skating-antics of Nancy Kerrigan are Ice Princess to the worst degree. She's just plain stiff. Kerrigan, who was thrust into the role of a skating heroine by the brute force of media, is mighty like card-bored.

Now Oksana Baiul (who gets points for skating to Cher songs, as does Katarina Witt), there's hope for her yet -- if she can stay sober. Her gold-winning, Olympic performance was surreally graceful. Now she's been there, done that and is exploring other things. Thank God. But who knows what will happen with Oksana or the newbies Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. I'm taking a wait-until-next-Olympics-and-see attitude.


But turning to sitcom TV, we now see everything we want in a female figure skater:

  • TVLand gives us reruns of Sanford and Son and Aunt Esther. Imagine Aunt Esther on the ice, her quivering hat and in-your-face scowling. Never before or since have we seen a portrayal of such venomous flair. "Skate over here, FOOL!"
  • 3rd Rock From the Sun's Sally Solomon would be an inspiration on ice, a big boned, confident, direct (she pounds things in a fury!), tower of womanhood, ignoring nonsensical sexism as the alien concept that it is.
  • Lois, mother of Malcolm, Dewey, Reese, Francis and wife to Hal on Malcolm in the Middle is her own tour de force. This woman would be fierce in skates. A mother who makes few compromises and runs the house like a raging ship captain. She holds her own in the house of testosterone.
  • That '70s Show teen Donna Pinciotti shows adolescence in rare powerful form. She makes up her own mind. She moons the yearbook photographer, has self-esteem in spades and doesn't let her boyfriend get away with any crap.

That's all I want to see on the ice: the modern, take-no-crap woman. They're not always right, they have insecurities but what are you gonna do about it? They're not whiners. And they're immune to formula. They are freight trains. These are the role models we demand. In movies, sitcoms, and on ice rinks. Freight trains. I want freight trains. And I want them now, FOOL!

Tell us your thoughts on chicks on skates and chicks on TV.


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