Why You Should Care about Olympic Figure Skater Javier Fernandez, and Figure Skating in General

By Julianna Joyce

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These Winter Olympics have stood as a strong platform for discussion of LGBTQ rights in Russia, and truly the world at large. On a smaller scale, there are individual athletes breaking down stereotypes both in and outside of the LGBTQ community with each performance. Take for example Olympic figure skater Javier Fernandez. A 22-year-old skater out of Madrid, Spain, Fernandez is the first skater from Spain to medal at the World Championships, European Championships or a Grand Prix event. When speaking with Johnny Weir, Fernandez said that he felt like “an Eskimo who plays volleyball.” In a soccer mad country such as Spain, ice skating has little footing to stand. However, it is also interesting to consider the standard patriarchal practices in many Spanish speaking countries, and how that plays into the lack of Olympic medals for the Spanish speaking world.

Figure skating has long been considered a more feminine sport, rooted in stereotypes of dance and the female body. The grace of movement, power and beauty of the art has long been associated with femininity, based on the notions of sensuality of dance and the male gaze. Men were expected to be the receptors or watchers of those dancing, making the female dancer an object. Throw in the notion of heteronormativity – heterosexuality as the norm, and you have an upsetting conclusion of dancing as effeminate.

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In many Spanish speaking countries, patriarchy is a deeply established and accepted power. Chauvinism is seen widely and the idea that “boys will be boys” is accepted far beyond childhood. Since Hispanic and Latin American families are rooted in the practice of patriarchal family structures, men are expected to run the family, thus making them vulnerable to antiquated gender characteristics. Men are expected to perform traditional masculine roles – think 1950’s family TV shows. Since masculinity is considered dichotomous to femininity, any show of more effeminate traits is considered a weakness. The very act of dancing, outside of cultural dance, which separates male and female roles, is considered more feminine.

You may counter with the strongly patriarchal society in Russia, and its strong prevalence on the medal podium for ice skating, but we must remember the long-standing tradition of male participation in ballet within the culture.

Could it be that these conditions of patriarchal masculinity have made ice skating a lesser sport in the eyes of Hispanic and Latin American countries? Is there less importance placed on non-traditional sports due to their more feminine structure?

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If we believe the answer to these questions could be yes, then we should strongly applaud Fernandez. Fernandez is defying the masculine label by asserting his presence as a Spanish skater in the ice skating world. His desire to inspire others to pursue the sport is revolutionary since he is urging against the standard practices of masculinity.

Rather than reiterating the notion to “be a man” –i.e. avoid effeminacy, his interests lie in creating a space where male participation in Spanish figure skating is as accepted as male participation in soccer. He aims to create a space where cultural masculinity does not impede participation in the sport.

Fernandez recently sided with Putin’s “Sport is sport bandwagon,” stating, “The Games are about sport and not politics. I have my opinions and I don’t get involved in what others think, but I think whether we like it or not, we have to respect the laws of the countries we visit. It’s not such a big dilemma. It’s better that homosexuals lie low a bit during the Games and then afterwards they can get on with their lives.”

Although we disagree with Fernandez’ stance on the LGBTQ community within the Olympics, we acknowledge that he is defying gender norms by participating in a sport which is not a standard for Spanish speaking males and that he is in fact fighting to break down stereotypes of traditional masculinity.

One Response to Why You Should Care about Olympic Figure Skater Javier Fernandez, and Figure Skating in General

  1. Paula Reply

    February 17, 2014 at 10:58 am

    I’m sorry but I deeply disagree with this article. It’s based in the cliché of “the Spanish male” and compares the LGBTQ community in Spanish speaking countries as if it were the same in all of them. In my opinion this is a big mistake. In the last 25 years Spain has developed a wide social acceptance of gay people wich crystalliced in 2005 by legallizing homosexual marriage. Of course there are a lot things to get better in what concerns LGBTQ community rights -i.e. the adoption policy- but the situation is very different from what you can see and live in some Central or Southern America countries.

    In Spain the success of Fernández (that was severely criticied for his comment on the LGBTQ community within the Olympics) was admired for being the result of his determination to stand out in an sport without any tradition and his courage when being very young he decided to move to Canada -leaving family and friends behind- just to improve his skills and became a professional. In Spain there isn’t a long tradition in winter sports, and figure skating is barely practice nor for women or men.

    You should think that in Spain sexual orientation is seen (every day more and more) like something normal or secondary. There are very important ballet dancers that have had a big success and appreciation whitout matter if they were gay or straight (i.e. Nacho Duato). And the same to very famous singers like Miguel Bosé or Rafa Sánchez, TV presenters (Jorge Javier Vázquez or Jaime Campuzano), directors like Pedro Almodóvar or actress like Elena Anaya; fashion designers, etc. And it hasn’t been a problem to them to be accepted by the spanish audience.

    For what regards the “spanish male” cliché it exists in some spanish social stratums -mostly the lowest. But in a general opinion it is seen like something out-of-date and non acceptable.

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